Independent academic experts praise approach, recommend exciting paths forward.
December 22, 2022
Independent experts who spent three days reviewing the UBC Learning Exchange gave the unit an enthusiastic stamp of approval and made some exciting recommendations.
The experts in university-community engagement wrote in their report that the “Learning Exchange embodies the principle and practice of reciprocity, the cornerstone of ethical and constructive university-community engagement.”
A summary version was recently submitted to the UBC Vancouver Senate. You can access the full review in the blue box.
Some highlights from the full report:
“This review provides UBC with an opportunity to build on the extraordinary 22-year legacy of the UBC Learning Exchange,” the reviewers wrote.
“We use the word ‘extraordinary’ intentionally to convey the considerable facets of the Learning Exchange’s history and performance,” they continued. “The basic model of the Learning Exchange is unique as a place-based unit that both serves the local community as a drop-in and programming hub while simultaneously connecting UBC faculty, staff, and students to the [Downtown Eastside] in a good way.”
For UBC’s Vice President of External Relations, who co-sponsored the review, the review was validating but not surprising.
“This was an outstanding review that highlighted the many ways the Learning Exchange supports both community and university goals,” said Robin Ciceri.
For UBC’s Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President Teaching and Learning, pro tem, who was the academic lead, the review was also validation of the ‘learning exchange’ model.
“The review shows how UBC continues to focus on local engagement based on trust and reciprocity,” said Simon Bates. “It was especially validating to see how the Downtown Eastside community has embraced and supported the Learning Exchange. There’s a lot we can all learn from this model.”
In academic reviews, representatives of all stakeholders have a chance to offer feedback. For the Learning Exchange that included UBC students, researchers, and faculty, UBC Learning Exchange staff, as well as Downtown Eastside residents and staff from local organizations.
In regard to feedback from local residents, reviewers wrote:
“We were so struck by the depth of feeling that [local residents] expressed about the work of the Learning Exchange and its staff that some quotes are warranted:
- “They were my parachute.”
- “They saved my skin.”
- “They have an ear to the ground of the DTES.”
- “They built me up.”
- “No rejection here.”
- “They helped me get a job… helped me change my life.”
“They” refers in large part to Learning Exchange staff, about which reviewers noted the “extraordinarily high level of commitment” staff demonstrated toward their work, and how staff perform many roles beyond their formal positions.
“I really want to thank everyone who participated, especially Downtown Eastside community members,” Kathleen Leahy, the Director of the Learning Exchange, said. “We really appreciated their time in the process and, really, how much everyone invests in the Learning Exchange on a daily basis.”
“To be clear, as positive as this review is, we’re a small unit in a dynamic community dealing with complex, system-level issues. While we might offer a hopeful model for how universities can collaborate with communities, we know there’s a lot more work to be done—one of the reasons I’m excited by the recommendations in this review.”
Recommendations in three areas
As with most academic reviews, not all recommendations are feasible, which is why the process allows the unit to respond with clarifications. You can read the Learning Exchange response to the external review here. Broadly speaking, the recommendations are in three areas:
1. Renewing the vision
Reviewers recommended updating the unit strategic plan, which was last updated in 2013. The Learning Exchange, including new Academic Director Michelle Stack, has committed to doing so in the next 18 months.
2. Strengthening the foundation
The majority of the recommendations suggested reinforcing existing structure and work, such as securing adequate budget for proven initiatives, reviewing staffing levels, supports and compensation, moving to a new, more accessible location, and enhancing reporting to university leadership. Many of these recommendations are underway and some will be part of the strategic planning sessions.
3. Communicating the work
The reviewers also recommended the Learning Exchange implement a communications plan with dedicated resources to keep stakeholders connected and celebrate the value of the Learning Exchange approach.
“It is time for UBC to tell the story of the Learning Exchange,” reviewers wrote. “It represents a unique and important model of a university responding to its social responsibility and becoming a true community partner with a local community that has much to offer.”
Who were the reviewers?
The two independent reviewers are experts in university-community engagement from other Canadian universities. The Learning Exchange supplied them with a written overview and self-analysis to orient them to the unit. They then spent three days meeting with Learning Exchange stakeholders from the UBC and Downtown Eastside communities before they wrote their report. The reviewers were: Katherine A. H. Graham, Carleton University, and Leslie Reid, University of Calgary.