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Philosophy: Conversations in the Agora

Consistent with the mission and values of City University of Seattle as a whole, it is CityU in Canada’s  conviction that universities and especially city universities have a responsibility to contribute to building communities of practice, serving the broader community in which they are located and respond to the pressing issues of the times. The mission of CityU in Canada is the transformation of society through relevant and accessible post-secondary education.

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There are several unique and distinguishing features of City University in Canada; first, is the extent to which instructors are practitioners. For example, as an MEd student the instructor who stands before you addressing issues of confidentiality is herself the director of the counselling department in a high school. This is not merely a matter of inviting any practitioner into the classroom and expecting him or her to teach. CityU in Canada instructors are a particular kind of practitioner that we refer to as scholar/practitioners. In addition to their recognition and accomplishments as professionals, scholar/practitioners have maintained a lively and ongoing interest in the changing customs, practices and theory in their field throughout their careers. Scholar/practitioners read, write, attend and present at conferences, serve on committees and mentor the next generation. They have a desire to give back to others and the society. For students this combination of long standing intellectual curiousity and application of theory in practice is, at the same time, stimulating and reassuring; stimulating, in the sense that the students experiences theory come alive in practice and reassuring, in the sense that students feel increasingly confident that when ‘Monday morning’ comes they will know what to do.

A second unique aspect of City University in Canada is the extent to which we regard students as colleagues, co-learners and initiates in the same community of practice as faculty. The aim is mutual respect, inclusion and the cultivation of a community in common. We enhance community by adopting the cohort model of instruction; requiring simulated practice in an ever-changing mosaic of small groups; emphasizing the capacity of students to learn from one another; and sharing our own learning as faculty. We reflect our participation in the larger community of practice by bringing in guest lecturers and local and international prominent practitioners. What has been interesting as we have travelled farther down this road with its origins in ‘adult education’ is the extent to which we have found that younger and less experienced students benefit from this approach to education. This approach accomplishes the simultaneous and successive inclusion of students in a community of practice and their education and training in the knowledge base and specific competencies required for practice. A delightful and unexpected side outcome of the CityU in Canada approach has been the fluidity and creativity of dialogue that has emerged in and around classrooms. Innovation and cross-departmental sharing have taken hold. A number of students have presented their theses research at conferences and published it in article and book form.

A third distinguishing feature of City University in Canada is the diversity of the student population. Inspired by the vision and mission of City University of Seattle, City University in Canada has a relatively open admissions policy. A G.P.A. of 2.75 is required for graduate studies along with letters of reference, writing sample and a faculty interview.  The result is the inclusion of a range of students who enrich the learning community in many different ways. One frequent profile is a student whose undergraduate performance was impaired by tragedies in their immediate family and has gone on to work successfully in the social service sector until applying for graduate studies. Another is a professional from another country whose qualifications do not permit her or him to practice in Canada. For example, we have had several students who were doctors prior to immigration to Canada. From a cultural perspective, City University in Canada attracts a cultural diverse population of students.

A fourth distinguishing feature is community engagement, now a popular conception in the university world. In our version of engagement the university is an instrument of community. Universities serve communities by holding and evolving the theoretical frameworks and research findings of the society and, in our case, in relation to educating members of communities of practice the ways in which theory and practice work together.

As we face an increasing rate of change and escalating complexity there a growing need for lifelong learning and a continuing education environment for the professions. There is also a growing need for dialogical forums in which theory and practice can be considered and ethical issues debated. New ideas and practices need to be circulated and evaluated and thorny ethical issues wrestled with. Small urban, pod like communities of learning and applied research are ideal forms to achieve these ends. These communities of learning needed to be embedded in the urban centers that are increasingly the vortex of change.  They need to be flexible enough and on a small enough scale to be responsive to their changing environments. This is not the stuff of large institutions, layered bureaucracy and procedural decision-making. The CityU in Canada vision is to create responsive, loosely affiliated centers of learning in urban environments.