Tips from the McMaster Community

How can I encourage my students to extend their learning outside of the classroom, and give them credit for doing so?"
Del Harnish, Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) Programme


In many meetings that involve discussion of undergraduate progammes, faculty members from several constituencies express that they wish that there were a mechanism to connect formal and informal learning for students and to promote active and informal learning. This is usually stated in a way that encompasses community involvement but not with the constraints inherent with some subsets of this issue, e.g. experiential learning.


Four years ago we initiated a course, HTH SCI 4X03, in the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) Programme at McMaster University ( The intent was that students would engage in a variety of activities that might include peer tutoring in local high schools, musician visits to hospital wards, buddy systems for students in the programme, peer tutoring of university students, peer tutoring in ESL programmes and many others. The activities would occur in each of the four years of the programme but students would register in the course and receive formal credit, only in Year IV of their studies.

This has worked rather well, encourages very rich activities and formally recognizes students for elements of learning that do not fit into a lecture. It also gives students a much stronger sense of community and informs their formal studies in various ways.

Early each year students submit a form that asks them to define specific learning objectives and goals or skills in this context. They then describe how they intend to engage themselves in activities that will help them achieve the goal. Year IV students receive feedback from their Inquiry course instructors. Year II and III students receive feedback from Year IV students using a specific rubric. Year IV students receive feedback from a course facilitator. At the end of each year students submit a form that describes their experience and evaluate whether they were able to achieve the goals and to what extent they did so. Year IV students discuss all four years of the experience during an individual exit interview.

There may be several keys to success. Tying activities to personal goals rather than restricting activities artificially, is essential. Reflection as a component of closure on experiences makes them better experiences even if the experience was not enjoyable. Encouraging students as a part of the review process is better than not including them. Encouraging activity over four years rather than in a term is much better.

If you would like additional information, please feel free to contact us (

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