The Benefits of Experiential Learning Through Co-operative Education — Thinushan Sandrasegaram

iheartcoopNearing the end of high school, students are pressured to select an academic path, one which they will be on for the next three to ten years (depending on program and level). I was lucky enough to have a relative who was enrolled into a co-op program at the undergraduate level to guide my decision making. She explained to me that co-operative education (co-op) provides a structured way of learning that incorporates in-class learning with periods of work placements. In addition, she shared personal experiences from her co-op terms to help me get a better understanding of how co-op can kick start my career. As a result, she strongly influenced me to enroll in a program that offered a co-op option.

Now having completed two co-op terms and nearing the end of my third term, I can proudly say that I have benefited greatly from my co-op experiences. In this blog post I will share some benefits that I have experienced from being enrolled into a co-op program.

  1. Additional source of income while gaining valuable work experience:

Through co-op most students have the opportunity to bring in a source of income while gaining work experience. I’ve used the money that I earned to help pay for housing/living expenses, tuition fees, and textbooks. As a result, I have reduced the total amount of funding needed from student loans.

  1. Networking and identifying the right industry and work environment for you:

Co-op provides students with a platform to network and meet new individuals. In addition, it is also an opportunity to work in different industries and work environments; this may allow you to determine which setting is the best fit for you. For example, I had the opportunity to work for a mental health clinic, an oil and gas company, and now a teaching centre; next I am hoping to land a placement in a governmental sector or a placement that requires extensive field work. As a result, when I complete my required co-op terms, I will be able to identify which industry and which work environment best complements my skills and interests.

  1. Learning new processes and software, while developing a diverse skill set:

Depending on the assigned task in your placement you may be given training on various organizational processes and software. The newly learnt processes and software can potentially provide you with a competitive advantage over other job applicants upon graduating. Likewise, co-op also provides the opportunity to enhance your skill set. For example, in my past co-op role, in order to improve my oral communication skills, I volunteered to present various topics to new clients. Furthermore, you can also schedule a performance evaluation with your supervisor(s) in order to gain feedback on your progress and continually improve your skills and performance.

  1. Exciting opportunities:

During your co-op term you may be presented with many exciting opportunities. In my past co-op term, I was able to attend two Toronto Raptors basketball games and visited Ripley’s Aquarium for the first time. Here at the Centre for Teaching Excellence, I have the chance to complete the Fundamentals of University Teaching certificate program, which is only offered to graduate students. Furthermore, my friends who worked for other organizations as co-op students have attended car shows and even got to travel parts of Canada. The opportunities that can arise throughout a co-op term largely depend on the organization itself and your role in the organization.

In short, being enrolled into a co-op program has many benefits. However, it is entirely up to you to decide if a co-op program aligns with your goals and interests. If you want to know more about co-op at the University of Waterloo visit the Co-operative Education website.


University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Co-operative Education. Retrieved from

Building Instructor-TA Rapport — Donata Gierczycka


If you have some free time, search the Internet for student reviews of the University of Waterloo. The results may be shocking. While some of the negative reviews are obviously biased, there are some common pieces of advice for the University, contributed by alumni or senior students. Most of these recommendations are related to teaching. Education is what students pay for, and in return they expect a proper environment to develop their hard skills and intellectual capacity. Students also expect to learn how to deal with daily challenges, and want guidance in mastering problem-solving skills as well as soft skills.

Continue reading Building Instructor-TA Rapport — Donata Gierczycka

“Transitioning from High School to a Post-Secondary Institution – What to Expect – Sunny Rakhra”

Every year thousands of students graduate from high school and look to pursue their life goals through post-secondary education. Leading up tstudents-with-laptopso the first day, students are excited about moving out, learning about a specific discipline, and having lots of freedom.  However by the end of the first week, some students are overwhelmed with the new responsibilities and changes.  I have described below four significant things I wish I knew prior to beginning my undergraduate studies.

  1. Professors are great!

Without a doubt, the relationship among students and professors is considerably different than the relationship between students and high school teachers. The class sizes are exponentially larger and some individuals may feel intimidated by professors. Consequently, students may be reluctant to ask professors for help.  Through personal experiences, I have come to a conclusion that professors are among the most helpful individuals on campus, because they hold scheduled office hours for students and are exceptional sources for career guidance.

  1. Independence

Whereas high school teachers might consistently remind students about upcoming assignments and exams, university professors might remind students about an upcoming assignment or exam only once or twice. Clearly, as students enter a post-secondary institution, it is the students’ responsibility to complete the assigned work and readings independently. Essentially, the university experience revolves around the goal of promoting independence.

  1. Sleep-Grades-Socialize

I am sure everyone has heard about how university students are only capable of choosing two-of-three options when it comes to sleeping, socializing, and obtaining good grades. However, such a statement is false, as many students are able to systematically balance all three options.  All it takes is excellent time-management skills, as such a skill will allow you to balance good grades, spending time with your friends, and obtaining the sleep your body requires.

  1. Make a schedule

Studies have indicated that it takes approximately twenty-one days to form a new habit or routine (Clear, n.d.).  With that in mind, establishing a study schedule will not only have a positive impact on an students’ grades and mental stress, but can also improve their time-management skills. Such positive outcomes are evident because once I began to follow a schedule, I saw a noticeable difference in my grades, while having much more leisure time.

In short, being prepared and recognizing the importance of making a schedule, understanding that professors are a vital tool for success, fostering the responsibility of independence, and defying the false ideology around sleep, grades, and friends will provide students a sufficient foundation on what to expect during the adjustment period

Finally, the University of Waterloo has Transition Programs  available for new students to make the adjustment process much smoother (University of Waterloo, n.d.).


Clear, J. (n.d.). How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? Retrieved 2015, from James Clear:

University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Access Ability Services. Retrieved from


Teaching and All The Feels — Aimée Morrison

This post has been reprinted (with permission) from the Hook & Eye blog

feelingsI have that nervous feeling in my stomach again–those butterflies, or that flip-flopping feeling, a vague nausea and discomfort. It’s final paper time, and while I’m not writing any myself, I assign them. And it makes me incredibly nervous, shepherding my grad students through their projects’ various stages. I want so badly for them to succeed; I worry so much about how tired they look, or frustrated, or, worse, how silent they get.

Teaching. It’s very emotional.

Over the past ten years, as I have wrestled with my teaching persona, teaching practices, teaching goals, one thread runs constant–trying to manage my own emotions. I started out perhaps over-attached to results: if a student did poorly on an exam, say, I would take all that on as a personal failure of mine. There was a lot of crying. It was not helpful. I tried to learn to not take it as a personal affront when students were often absent. I had to learn that sometimes it’s not about me when students look bored and tired every single semester once week 7 rolls around. I was very emotional but about the wrong things and it was gruelling and ineffective.

Then, for a while, I tried too hard to swing the other way. Teaching became more contractual and transactional. I would lay out some rules and try to enframe the teaching situation as mutually beneficial but largely impersonal: trying to protect my own feelings and recover from my over investment in outcomes that were beyond my control, I tried to take my feelings out of the classroom. But even as I tried to pull away from my misguided mother hen tendencies, my students still sometimes cried, or got angry, and I was doing them a new disservice by trying to deny them that reality.

Real learning is transformative–and all transformations are fraught with fear and excitement and loss and gain. The crucible of the new self is necessarily hot; it burns. Teaching, I find, is as emotionally and personally wrenching as learning is, and I need to find new ways to incorporate this reality into my work, even as I create some boundaries for myself and my students.

For me this starts with acknowledging that I care a lot about the material I teach, and I am, actually, really invested in having students learn it. This might be an ethical and respectful methodology for research on the internet, or it might be the history of the www, or it might be the difference between technological determinism and social construction, or it might be the design theory of affordance, or it might be feminist pragmatics, or it might be how to make a daguerrotype. It really matters to me a lot that students understand these things and, crucially, see the value in them.

When I teach, I necessarily make myself incredibly vulnerable to my students, by reaching out to them with ideas and sources and methods and assignments and illustrations, and asking them to hold on. It requires, I find, an incredible outlay of empathy for me to try to find where the students are at already, intellectually and ideologically or whatever, and go to them there to ask them to come with me to where the class is designed to take us. It is rarely the case now that I teach just from what I want to say; I’m always doing this sort of dance where I try to figure out the emotional temperature of the room, poll the interests, prod the knowledge base, and figure out a context-specific approach.

The best way I can find to describe it is this: It feels like being on a first date with 40 people at the same time. Every single time I teach.

To be clear, I’m not in it to be “loved” or even liked. I’m trying to put myself–Aimée Morrison, the situated human being–behind the ideas but of course teaching and learning are human acts so I’m still there. Reaching out, trying to get in 40 heads and hearts at the same time, trying to shift something in someone’s understanding: “even though this was a required course, it was surprisingly useful.”

I begin finally to understand that this is why teaching days are so gruelling. Why if I teach in the morning, I’m not going to be writing in the afternoon. It’s the interpersonal work, the mutual vulnerability, the work of empathy, the work of caring. In my worst moments I want to withdraw–I say things like, “If they won’t do the readings, to hell with them.” But really, I am usually overwhelmed with the sheer importance of the work I’m trying to do, and how much I care and how much I care about having students come to care about what I teach as well. I’m not naturally empathetic and I’m much more inclined to try to structure the world into rule-based interactions we can process cognitively and rationally, so the empathy required of teaching is not something I come to naturally. It’s something over time I’ve come to learn is crucial: learning is transformative, and thus scary and personal. Teaching must be these things too. All the feels.

— Aimée Morrison

Image courtesy of Nic Walker.

How Can Instructors and TAs support Student Mental Health? – Kristin Brown

when-we-break-a-bone-vs-how-we-deal-with-a-mental-health-issueStudent mental health is an issue that is close to my heart. Outside of my PhD research and work at CTE, I am the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Stand Up to Stigma, a student-led mental health initiative on campus partnered with Counselling Services and Health Services. Our goal is to start (and continue) a conversation about mental health at UW. Last term, I created a CTE workshop regarding how TAs and instructors can support student mental health – this blog post provides some of the resources available to help students in distress and promote mental well-being in the classroom.

What’s the issue?

A recent survey conducted by the American College Health Association (2013) highlights the current issues Ontario post-secondary students are facing with respect to mental health. Within the past year:

  • 59.2% of students had felt academics were traumatic or very difficult to handle;
  • 57.9% had felt overwhelming anxiety;
  • 40.1% had felt so depressed that it was difficult to function;
  • 12.2% had been diagnosed or treated by a professional for anxiety;
  • 10.0% had been diagnosed or treated by a professional for depression; and,
  • 10.9% had seriously considered suicide.

The link between mental health and learning

Mental health problems are negatively associated with several learning outcomes, including lower GPAs and an increased chance of withdrawal from academic programs (Eisenberg et al., 2009; Hysenbegasi et al., 2005). Several sources have advocated for a campus-wide approach to mental health, which posits that all members of post-secondary institutions (e.g., administrators, faculty, and staff) should play a role in student mental health instead of counselling services only (Kitzrow, 2003).

What mental health support resources are available for UW students?

  • Counselling Services: individual and group counselling, workshops (e.g., stress management, mindfulness, coping skills), emergency situations
  • Health Services: medical doctors, psychiatric services, emergency situations
  • Accessibility Services: academic accommodation for students
  • Good2Talk (1-866-925-5454): free, confidential, and anonymous helpline for any post-secondary student in Ontario; available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year
  • Here 24/7 (1-844-437-3247): connection to addiction, mental health, and crisis services at 12 agencies in Waterloo, Wellington, and Dufferin counties

How can faculty/staff support student mental health?

  • Queen’s University and Western University have excellent resources for staff and faculty that highlight common signs of distress, how to talk to a student in distress, and how to make referrals to support services.
  • The Council of Ontario Universities has developed a series of videos that explain the issue of mental health in the post-secondary population, how to support students in distress, and the role of the university community in supporting student mental health.

How can I incorporate mental well-being into my classroom?

  • Simon Fraser University: This evidence-based resource provides strategies and examples from Simon Fraser University faculty for how you can build well-being into your class.


Eisenberg, D., Golberstein, E., & Hunt, J. B. (2009). Mental health and academic success in college. The BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 9(1)

Hysenbegasi, A., Hass, S. L., & Rowland, C. R. (2005). The impact of depression on the academic productivity of university students. Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, 8(3), 145.

Kitzrow, M. A. (2003). The Mental Health Needs of Today’s College Students: Challenges and Recommendations. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice: 41(1): 167-181. doi: 10.2202/1949-6605.1310

Reading with the Warriors Pilot – Zara Rafferty

Varsity hockey players reading to elementary school students

Back in teacher’s college, I wrote a research paper about the challenges surrounding boys’ literacy in today’s classrooms. Having always been an avid reader myself, I have to admit that I knew very little about the social and pedagogical factors that can help or hurt young students’ acquisition of essential literacy skills (for an introduction to this discussion in the Ontario context, start here).

This year, I set out to create a program here at UW that brings varsity athletes into elementary school classrooms to promote literacy skills and an interest in reading. While I hope that this program will benefit all learners, I believe it could have a particular impact on boys’ literacy. Male reading role models are one of the key strategies that classroom teachers recommend to support both boys’ literacy skills, and their attitudes toward reading and writing.

To this end, Reading with the Warriors was created in partnership with the UW Athletics Department. Last week we launched the first of five pilot sessions with two student-athlete volunteers from the varsity hockey team. Justin and Andy (pictured above) joined two Gr. 2 classes for story time and a craft related to the books they had chosen to read (Thomas’ Snowsuit and Just One Goal!, respectively). Justin and Andy shared their own reading history (e.g., challenges they had with reading, favourite books, why reading is important to them), and answered a variety of student questions relating to school, hockey, and life in general.

The program has been well-received thus far, and I am looking forward to continuing our pilot throughout the month. I am particularly grateful to the five student-athletes who have agreed to participate in the pilot sessions – they have been wonderful! If all goes well, it’s my hope that this will become a regular part of varsity athletics’ community programming beginning this Fall.

At the end of the day, it isn’t necessarily about the stories (although, those are important, too), it’s about students having the opportunity to see interesting, articulate men reading and engaging with books. Research and practice show that male mentors from the community can help all students, but especially boys, see a purpose in reading. I love the idea that our students can collaborate with classroom teachers to strengthen literacy skills in our little guys.

This program has also gotten me thinking: how often do we bring role models and mentors from the community into our university classrooms? I would love to hear examples from the UW community.

If you’re interested in learning more about boys’ literacy, check out this guide from the Ontario Ministry of Education: Me Read? No Way!