A University Course with a Difference: Discover Communications & Critical Thinking

May 9, 2018

Dr. Joel Baetz writes about unique capstone course in exclusive Trent Durham GTA program

Prof. Joel Baetz at the Capstone Presentation 2018

Every post-secondary classroom is a laboratory, allowing students to experiment with ideas, self-perceptions and versions of citizenship. Universities are excellent places for students to try out new ways of thinking, seeing themselves and relating to other people.

In the capstone course in Trent University Durham’s communications and critical thinking program, I carried out one of these experiments, leading students through a community research project. As a team, we worked together on a sustainability project assigned by the Region of Durham. Our focus was twofold: to identify the best storm water management fee and credit program for the region’s municipalities; and to develop a communications strategy to support those recommendations.

The course is unique, and required us to carry out our own research in the community. We interviewed municipal representatives, spoke with experts in storm water management, and had fruitful discussions about environmental communications.

The results are part of a report that we’ll be presenting in the coming weeks to the Durham Region Round Table on Climate Change. We’re proud of that report. It aims to contribute to the development of a more sustainable and resilient community. Climate change is a reality we all have to adjust to; we’re hopeful that our recommendations might help, even in a small way, our community adjust to wilder, warmer, and wetter weather.

But there are other results that are just as important. Students have told me that the course was a valuable experiment. Because they were accountable to each other and our stakeholders at the region, and because they were faced with an immense challenge to build their own understanding about an unfamiliar topic and translate it to make it accessible, the course was different from anything else they had ever taken. They were able to develop and refine durable and transferable skills in knowledge integration, project management, and communication. As one student said: it “has pushed me to deliver my best work;” “I am so much more confident in my writing, editing, and presentation skills ... I will remember this course for years to come.”

Learn more about the communications and critical thinking program: trentu.ca/commstudies.