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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Arts
December 3, 2016
Canadian Excellence

The GES Residential Leaning Community in their walking seminar
The GES Residential Leaning Community in their walking seminar


Faculty of Arts

A Residential Learning Community and the Geography of Walking

Oct 5/11


Dave Shorey ( )


Dr, Bob Sharpe (

Last year the Faculty of Arts ran a Residential Learning Community (RLC) pilot project for first-year students in Geography and Environmental Studies (GES). The idea behind an RLC is that students enrol in two linked courses as a group and work closely with one another and their professors. In addition, the students live together on the same residence floor.

By placing smaller groups of students together in an intentional intellectual experience, an RLC makes the campus feel intimate and provides students with an identifiable scholarly peer group. As students get to know each other better, they are more comfortable in the classroom, engage, and participate more fully. RLCs often use active and collaborative learning methods to increase student engagement and ownership in the classroom.  The RLC is an environment that integrates scholarly work and social development which creates a more holistic opportunity to enhance learning, engagement, and ultimately, student success.  

Visit Laurier’s Residential Learning Community website

Common outcomes associated with RLCs include enhanced transition to university, meaningful peer-to-peer relations, increased persistence and retention, higher grades, improved scholarly attitudes, positive behavioural outcomes, and enriched faculty/student interaction.
Some of the unique experiences in the GES RLC have included guest speakers and lectures in which faculty members share their research and/or area of specialization. Dr. Alison Blay-Palmer spoke to the GES RLC students about our current food system, providing an application of class content to students’ daily lives. Dr. Michael Imort and Dr. James Hamilton joined the GES RLC in St. Jacobs and surroundings for the day, exploring the cultural and physical geography of the region. Students described the experience as, “real world stuff” and said, “I’m a visual learner, so this is helping me a lot.”

Even more supports are envisioned for the future including supplemental instruction study groups and common labs in which all GES RLC students enrol as a group; or a field trip through the Grand River Valley that integrates co-curricular programming with course content. In addition, the idea of converting a residence apartment to accommodate an in-house lab space is being considered. The prospect of students living in the same community and studying in a lab together under the direction of a common TA goes a long way towards realizing a true Learning Community.

Starting this Fall, students in the GES RLC are attending a weekly, three hour seminar course, AF101 Think Arts: Walking Paths to Discovery. The goal of the course is to help students learn to formulate a research question, investigate that question, and report on it. The objective of the walking seminar, led by Dr. Bob Sharpe, is to learn this process through the experience and study of walking.  Each week students set out on a walk with a different theme such as the library, Uptown Waterloo, nature along the Grand River, the historical geography of Kitchener, campus sustainability, campus accessibility, and Victoria Park Lake.  Following each walk students write a brief reflection.  They also take turns working in pairs to post written entries and photos on the course blog, which can be followed at:

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