University of Toronto Outdoors brings together instructors, students, and community members interested in engaging forms of teaching and learning that we are calling expeditionary studies. We teach and learn in courses and special programs across the University that focus on experiential activities, service learning, inquiry-based projects, and community collaboration.
Students in UTO courses and programs have worked with local neighborhoods on historical preservation projects, documented oral histories with immigrants and long-time Toronto natives, mapped religious sites in Ontario, conducted imaginary medieval pilgrimages, lived in monasteries, and gone trekking in the Himalayas.
This project emerges from a set of pedagogical goals that have been described variously as “place-based education”, “land education,” or “expeditionary learning.” Placed-based education engages project-based or experiential tasks to help students understand how historical, cultural, environmental, geographical and other aspects of place are interconnected, and how they affect and effect learning. Land education inflects place-based learning models with decolonizing, postcolonial, and indigenous perspectives on the land. Expeditionary learning is a broader term, developed as a collaboration between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound, and it typically encompasses experiential, service- and community-based, outdoor, and/or adventure education programs that combine intellectual and physical challenge.
Although the phrase “expeditionary learning” may carry baggage of imperial projects which critical pedagogies of exploration hope to undercut, much research on expeditionary studies applies to place-based and land-based models as well, documenting how the well-known benefits of experiential learning can be extended through a pedagogical engagement with student travel, labour, and other physical challenges. The immersive experiences we are organizing in this project step beyond many experiential learning models by uniting intellectual and physical challenge in adventurous learning environments. Research points to the success of programs that demand self-sufficient living, physically demanding work, and sustained close contact with a group where students are isolated from their typical environments.
As a response to the University of Toronto President’s call to expand opportunities for experiential learning, this project aims to refine our community’s understanding of and approach to this form of education by supporting communities of practice engaging adventurous models of adventurous and immersive experiential learning.
Our long term project seeks to enrich and animate the University’s connection to our physical environment by developing a strong and immersive pedagogical practice in the humanities and social sciences around histories, cultures, and politics of our environment. We plan to continue our work building bridges between the University and local communities in remote mountain, lake and ocean areas in Asia & the Pacific as well as with First Nations communities in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada. Finally, we propose to interrogate and intensify experiential education at the University by providing new kinds of learning experiences that draw out the impact of lived, embodied experience on learning and knowing.