First-Year Experiential Education (FYEE) Project

The First Year Experiential Education (FYEE) Project is an approved and funded “Advancing Education Renewal” (AER) project through the Office of the Provost and Vice-President Academic. This project brings together faculty members from Sociology and Geography and undergraduate research assistants who have strong evidence-based beliefs in the teaching and learning outcomes possible through high-quality experiential learning in the classroom.

In particular, we are interested in a deeper exploration of this pedagogical approach in large first-year classes, and have the intention to identify, analyze and address key barriers to engagement and teaching effectiveness for faculty members. As such, this project intends to build on the teaching and learning initiatives already developed and implemented by the applicants, incorporating some of the key findings of the Grain and Gerhard (2020) report on Experiential Education at UBC. 

In identifying and addressing the unique barriers faced at the first-year level, this project intends to build the foundations of a scaffolded vision of experiential education, which will incorporate rich existing experiential education capstone courses at UBC. 

For the purposes of our project, Experiential Education (EE) was defined as a learning philosophy that is based on the premise that certain knowledge can be acquired more effectively through experience rather than didactic classroom content. At the same time, a large class was defined as a course with more than 50 students, or even greater than 100 students, most common in large research universities such as UBC.

Why First Year?

Existing literature tends to emphasize experiential education as a successful learning strategy that is geared toward small upper-year level university classes, despite the well-documented benefits of experiential education across all educational levels 

With our study, we found that EE in first-year in the Faculty of Arts was often seen as a stepping stone to larger, more immersive and substantial EE opportunities in upper-year courses. The rationale being that first-year students may not have the capacity to handle more substantive EE experiences when they first join university.

So exposing students to EE as early as possible can help them build the strong foundations necessary to take full advantage of the more extensive hands-on educational opportunities that they may encounter in the upper years of their undergraduate degrees (where most EE is found).

This foundational built-up can be seen through 3 of the main benefits that we found EE has in first years students in the long run, which are:

  1. EE is a highly effective introduction to students’ discipline of choice.
  2. EE teaches students skills and knowledge that will be more easily retained throughout the course of their degree.
  3. EE helps students build an early strong sense of identity as members of the wider academic community.


Our study populations comprised instructors and students in the Faculty of Arts across various departments, and we aimed to answer the following research questions: 

  • How can first-year better prepare and scaffold students for 2-4th-year EE courses?
  • What prevents instructors from implementing EE in large FY classes?
  • What makes it possible to do EE in large first-year classes, and what motivates instructors to do so?

We interviewed 13 professors, all of whom had experience in EE in the faculty of Arts. While not all of them implemented EE in first year, some of them had experience with EE in large classes overall. Additionally, we conducted a focus group with approximately 30 Sociology upper-level students on their views and experiences of EE at UBC to gain a better student-side perspective. All interviews and focus groups were qualitatively coded and formed the basis for our preliminary findings and recommendations. 


Overview of some of our key findings:

  1. EE in lower years can help set the foundation for EE in upper years.

  2. First-year EE is widely (mis)understood as community-engaged and bitesize learning

  3. Institutional and equity-related barriers are hindrances to the implementation of EE.

  4. A strong support network is needed for the successful implementation of EE.

Check Resources below for the Literature Review and a full version of our Preliminary Findings.

The next steps for the project will be on dissemination and advocacy based on the findings above.


FYEE Team 


Research assistants: 

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