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April 3, 2018

Teaching students practical academic skills and theoretical approaches early in their university education can build confidence, improve grades, and prepare them for life after Laurier.

It’s the rationale behind Wilfrid Laurier University’s Foundations courses offered at the Brantford campus. And it’s one that proves to working, says Judy Eaton, associate professor and Foundations coordinator.

“We want our students to hit the ground running when they start their degree. These courses give our students the basic foundations for succeeding in their courses, regardless of their previous education or current program,” says Eaton.

Laurier’s Brantford campus attracts high school and college graduates, as well as international and mature students. The four Foundations courses, a requirement of all undergraduate programs at the Brantford campus, ensures all students have a similar tool kit of practical academic skills and transferrable knowledge to support them in their studies.*

Exploring Ideas, Building Skills

Two Foundations courses are dedicated to the practice of critical thinking: BF190 and BF199. In these courses, students learn how to challenge assumptions, ask complicated questions, and to be open to new and innovative solutions. In the skills-based courses BF290 and BF299, students focus on developing academic literacy; writing effective essays, reviewing research findings, and active reading are some of the practical skills explored.

Fourth-year criminology student Idris Omar says exploring the ideologies of influential philosophers in BF190 and BF199 encourages students to arrive at their own opinions about contemporary political and ethical issues.

“Learning about philosophers whose ideas have so much influence on today’s contemporary world is important for students. As students, we must think critically and look at things from different aspects,” says Omar. “The Foundations courses are helping us think beyond our capacity, which has no limits.”

For mature student Maggie Lulkiewicz-Brooker, the skills she acquired through the Foundations courses have benefited her social work studies and her career.

“I wasn’t familiar with writing or citing sources according to APA style when I started at Laurier, but it’s something I can now do,” says Lulkiewicz-Brooker. “It’s been great to learn how to conduct research and write proper reports.”

Report writing, a critical skill in the social sciences, is also part of Lulkiewicz-Brooker’s job as a youth mental health worker.

Tried, Tested and True

Foundations faculty members assess the courses each year to ensure they are meeting their objectives. Eaton leads the assessment, surveying her campus colleagues about the quality of senior students’ work to determine if it has improved since the courses launched in 2015.

“Faculty have reported steady improvements in their senior students’ writing, research, and critical thinking skills since the Foundations courses started,” says Eaton. “We also survey our students in the Foundations courses, and most of them report feeling more confident in their abilities as a result of the Foundations. With such positive feedback from both students and faculty, we feel confident that the courses work.”

The curriculum of the Foundations courses contributes to improved student skills but so does the learning environment, says Eaton.

“One of the things students tell us that they love about the Foundations courses is the tutorials. They appreciate the chance to get to know their professors and for their professors to know them by name. We find that when they make these connections early in their academic career, they are more likely to reach out for support in the future.”

The interdisciplinary design of the Foundations courses encourages students to get to know their classmates from different degree programs. Establishing social connections and feelings of belonging can also contribute to overall student academic success, says Eaton.

Creating Engaged Student Citizens

Students in the Foundations courses are also encouraged to apply in-class learning to experiences outside the classroom. Engaging in experiential learning opportunities can solidify new knowledge while developing career-ready skills.

“We believe that a strong academic foundation doesn’t just come from the classroom. We want our students to be engaged in the broader community as well. By building experiential learning opportunities into the Foundations program, students learn early in their academic careers how to apply what they are learning to real-world situations,” says Eaton.

There are no shortage of experience-based learning opportunities at Laurier’s Brantford campus – ranging from student clubs to guest lectures or volunteering. Students are encouraged to reflect on their experiences in a written assignment for additional course credit.

“We are so fortunate to be able to offer this unique program on the Brantford campus,” says Eaton. “It’s wonderful to see the positive impact the Foundations has on our students’ success.”

*Undergraduate students registered in the Bachelor of Business Technology Management and Bachelor of Social Work program are only required to take two Foundations courses.

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