By Sean Meyer
At its core, King’s University College is a liberal arts school with a strong component of community and experiential learning — a position that makes it perfectly situated inside the walls of Innovation Works.
King’s is a long-time co-tenant at Innovation Works, offering a desk space to faculty and learning opportunities for students.
Shawna Lewkowitz, a sessional professor and the community based learning co-ordinator for Social Justice and Peace Studies at King’s, knows this first-hand as she often brings her students into the space.
“For the students, it’s the opportunity for them to engage with London, the people of London, that you just can’t do when you stay on campus,” she said. “There is a definite, different energy and shift when the students come into this space.”
Shawna explains her students are more engaged, pay greater attention, partially because it is an unfamiliar environment and not traditionally what they’re used to operating within.
In addition, there are people and organizations within the space the students maybe have never interacted with before.
People talk to the students while they’re within the space, Shawna explains, adding many people come up to them and introduce themselves, engage with them on why they are there and what their work here is.
“That kind of informal connection and interaction is really special about this place, whether you are a student or a co-tenant or community member,” she said. “Even when we are in the classroom here, you can’t help but feel differently, learn differently, in a space that has the kind of collaborative and collective energy that Innovation Works has. And it is a community space and my courses are community focused . . . it just makes sense for us to be out in a building that has that element.”
For Shawna, bringing her students to Innovation Works (she actually teaches a pair of classes) actually makes her job harder in a lot of ways.
For one, she has to repeatedly remind the students where they’re going each week. Secondly, her classroom looks different all the time.
That said, these obstacles are outweighed by the “creativity and the energy” she said comes from being in the different spaces.
It’s something she feels the students pick up on as well.
“There is research that indicates space and classroom dynamics, the physical space of a classroom, impacts learning,” Shawna said. “Not only do we sometimes come to Innovation Works, but we use it as a jumping-off point for the community. One time we went to the river. In a couple weeks we are heading to Old East Village from here. Another time, we will go to city hall. Innovation Works becomes a hub, the centre of a spoke we head out into the community from.”
Shawna wears a lot of hats in the London community.
Besides being a teacher, she is a consultant, the founder of Women & Politics, and is currently the president of the Urban League of London.
As such, she sees up close how impactful Innovation Works can be on the community — something she believes is important for her students to witness as well.
“I think there are a number of values that underpin Innovation Works and the way this place is organized and run, how people have a collective responsibility for it, the values are constantly lived here,” she said. “Every time I connect a student with something here, it’s gone really well. I think the space being downtown and in the core helps too — it’s like a hub for the activity going on in London.”
For more information, visit www.kings.uwo.ca.
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