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A step ahead in university education

May 23 was a day of celebration for a group of students from Bishop Carroll High School, as they successfully completed their very first university course, English 1101, as part of a unique partnership with Mount Royal.

The agreement allows both parties to work together to create educational opportunities for students of both organizations and builds on a history of co-operation between the two institutions in selected areas of educational programming, which includes delivery of selected Mount Royal University courses to Bishop Carroll High School students — the agreement is the first of its kind that Mount Royal has signed with a high school.

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The students — a self selected group who signed up to take the course — brought their parents to the celebration dinner where Associate Professor Richard Harrison — who instructed the students — along with the Dean of the Faculty of Teaching and Learning Jim Zimmer, Associate Professor David Hyttenrauch and the principals and counsellors of Bishop Carroll toasted to the success of the pilot project.

“This is a grounding course for the requisite skills for every avenue of study students could take in university,” explains Harrison about the benefits of high school students learning this course material before entering university.

“You have to learn how to write and you must be able to communicate through writing, so offering English 1101 to high school students allows students to build university skills, experience thinking in a scholarly way and obtain university credit before they even start their program.”

The university credit the students acquired is transferable across the country.

A step ahead

Harrison was dedicated to making sure his students were able to think like university scholars, write like university students and be able to adjust to the university autonomy before they finished the program.

“First year courses expose students to think how people in their discipline think,” says Harrison. “They are the first steps in the long process of making the transition from studying a discipline to learning how to make a contribution to it.”

“Also, writing in a university setting doesn’t serve the same purposes that it does in high school. It builds on it, but it’s different [...] The pattern of essay in university is a lot more flexible. Part of what I wanted my students to understand is that, as a scholar, I wanted a piece of writing to compel me to read it because it was incredibly interesting.”

Harrison explains that students often take English 1101 alongside other first-year courses, which means they are learning the foundation of writing while being expected to write in other courses.

“Learning this course inline with other first-year courses can get a bit choppy,” he explains.

Lastly, the group spent time talking about university structure and university life.

“Being able to talk to students about what they’re going to face in university with the university professor on their turf makes a huge difference,” says Harrison. “This allows students a little more of a comfort zone to make that transition because they can consider it when they’re at home and run it through their minds and talk about it with their friends.”

Celebrating success

Harrison noted a progression in each of his students during the three months.

“Learning to take possession of the page is pivotal in being successful in university and each student was really eager to find their best,” says Harrison. “I asked the students to evaluate themselves and each student found something that learning how to write well helped them do better in school or outside of school.”

And Harrison also noticed that what he was teaching resonated with the group when he was presented with a small token of their appreciation.

“The students bought me a Captain America poster to say thank you and goodbye,” says Harrison. “Getting me this poster acknowledged what I was.

“They also knew that through the course of our discussions I have a problem with Marvel Comics bringing Bucky Barnes — Captain America’s sidekick in the 1940s comic — back from the dead as the character the Winter Soldier.”

In true scholarly form, Harrison put his personal taste in the matter aside and understood the resurrection theme the writers were going for — something he talked about with his students.

“I understood the choice the writers made, but I didn’t like it,” says Harrison with a chuckle. “But in bringing me that particular Winter Soldier: The Longest Winter, and they said to me, ‘you’ve given us a whole bunch of stuff to read for our benefit, now you try this for your own good.’ When the students try to improve the teacher (and this wasn’t the only advice they gave me, either) that says they really understood why we were there. By the way, the novel’s good; it makes me lean toward accepting the good in what I can’t change.”

— Angela Sengaus, June 13, 2013