• Pat Maher Cape Breton University
  • Emily Root Cape Breton University


Learning communities, experiential education, student engagement


Innovation in the classroom flourishes when learners become part of a collaborative and creative community. All too often, content heavy curriculum supersedes the equally important "process" component of learning in higher education. From our experience across a variety of disciplines, learning can be deepened by spending more time and paying greater attention to creating learning communities — a concept that is highlighted as a “high impact practice” in student recruitment and retention literature. Whether the setting is a conventional university classroom or lecture hall, a field or forest on the edge of campus, or a local neighbourhood, educators can facilitate a learning community through a progression of intra- and interpersonal explorations. This workshop engaged participants in a series of experiential activities that aim to foster initiative, leadership, self-awareness, and trust—factors that underlie effective collaborations for innovative learning. Workshop activities were debriefed from both the participant and facilitator perspectives.

Author Biographies

Pat Maher, Cape Breton University

Dr. Pat Maher (pat_maher@cbu.ca) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Studies at Cape Breton University. Pat is the editor of the Journal of Experiential Education, a 2014 3M National Teaching Fellow, and an active researcher in a variety of areas including sustainable tourism in the Polar Regions, outdoor and experiential learning, and leadership within teaching and learning in higher education.

Emily Root, Cape Breton University

Emily Root (emily_root@cbu.ca) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Community Studies at Cape Breton University. Her research and teaching interests include outdoor, experiential and environmental education, and decolonizing and Indigenous Land-based pedagogies.


Blackshaw, T. (2010). Key concepts in community studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Borton, T. (1970). Reach, touch, teach. New York: McGraw Hill.

Cameron, S.D. (1995). A certain degree of difference. New Maritimes Magazine. Available at: http://www.silverdonaldcameron.ca/certain-degree-difference. Accessed on Jan. 2, 2015.

Connell, J. & Seville, P. (2007). Process-based learning: A model of collaboration. In A. Hajek & E. Noseworthy (Eds.). Proceedings of the Association of Atlantic Universities 11th Teaching Showcase; October 28 2006, Memorial University of Newfoundland (pp. 89-100). Halifax: Association of Atlantic Universities.

Frank, L.S. (2004). Journey toward the caring classroom. Oklahoma City: Wood ‘N‘ Barnes.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2009). An educational psychology success story: Social interdependence theory and cooperative learning. Educational Researcher, 38(5), 365-379.

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Lewin, K. (1948). Resolving social conflicts: Selected papers on group dynamics. New York: Harper.

Maher, P.T., & Root, E.L. (2015). CBU: Community Studies and Outdoor Leadership. Pathways - The Ontario Journal of Outdoor Education, 27(2), 33-35.

McMillan, D., & Chavis, D. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 6-23.

NSSE (National Survey on Student Engagement). (2015). High impact practices. Available at http://nsse.iub.edu/html/high_impact_practices.cfm. Accessed on Jan. 2, 2015.

O‘Connell, T.S., & Cuthbertson, B. (2009). Group dynamics in recreation and leisure: Creating conscious groups through an experiential approach. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Outward Bound USA (2007). Leadership the Outward Bound way. Seattle: The Mountaineers.

Priest, S., & Gass, M.A. (2005). Effective leadership in adventure programming (2nd edition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Smith, T.E., & Knapp, C.E. (2011). Sourcebook of experiential education: Key thinkers and their contributions. New York: Routledge.

Tuckman, B.W. (1965). Developmental sequences in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399.