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St. Francis Xavier University is a co-educational institution of approximately 4000 students (primarily undergraduate) located in Antigonish, an eastern Nova Scotia community with a population of 5,000. The University owes its genesis and most of its life to the love, sacrifice, and concern of many people in eastern Nova Scotia. It was founded in 1853, in Arichat, and two years later it moved to Antigonish. In 1866, by an act of the provincial legislature, full university powers were granted. In 1894, Mount St. Bernard College was affiliated with St. Francis Xavier and the University became the first co-educational Catholic college in North America.
The Department of Adult Education was established in 1970 and is authorized to offer a Master's degree. Historically, the Department is an out-growth of a long StFX tradition of adult education and community development. The Antigonish Movement, a program of community self-reliance, began on the University campus. Today the Extension Department carries out the earlier work within a broader mission in Northeast Nova Scotia, and the Coady International Institute extends the principles of adult education to community development leaders from countries all over the globe. The Master of Adult Education degree program attracts students from all regions of Canada, in addition to a small number of international students.
The Master of Adult Education has a professional development focus. It is a self-directed, distance learning program wherein students design, implement, and evaluate their own content curriculum. Students choose learning projects and goals on the basis of their own experiences and interests in consultation with their assigned advisor. The program is of interest to candidates from a wide variety of career areas such as:
- Community colleges (ESL teachers, Early Childhood Educators, Dental Hygienists, etc.)
- Health (Nursing, Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapy, Physician, Dietitian, etc.)
- International and community development
- Management and Human Resources
- Environmental education
- Social movements
- Legal aid, police trainers, and correctional services
- Those who work with youth, immigrants, elderly; and people with disabilities
The Department sets forth the following criteria for an appropriate learning program:
- The learning goals should be defined and translated into appropriate action based upon reasonable criteria;
- The learning program should display a clear intention to pursue the breadth of an area within the practice and principles of adult education;
- The learning program should display a clear intention to study in depth one major aspect of a selected area in adult education;
- The learning program should include both strategies to acquire comprehensive knowledge of the area of study and planned opportunities to acquire competency in a specified method of adult education and its techniques.
Although the program does not have courses in the traditional sense of university study, its phases can be translated into courses and credits.
Students have a three year candidacy period within which to complete all program requirements. The program requirements consist of:
- Foundations Institute: A 3-week mandatory residential orientation at the start of the program. During this Institute students complete the AE500 (6 credits), which includes an annotated bibliography and other assignments
- AE510 (6 credits): A critical literature review and a professional portfolio
- AE520 (12 credits): A research study project
- AE530 (6 credits): A learning program evaluation
- Synthesizing Exam (6 credits): A research report read by Examination Committee and followed by a synthesizing exam consisting of a presentation and a question and answer period OR Thesis (6 credits): An academic document demonstrating that the objectives of the program have been achieved.
This is an intensive three-week residential Foundations Institute during which students become familiar with the requirements for this self-directed Master's program. Students are introduced to the adult education literature and begin reading and researching in their chosen area (e.g., literacy, Human Resource Development, nursing education) and aspect of interest (e.g., evaluating, program planning, interviewing). Students also design an individualized self-directed learning plan for their Master's degree. This learning plan contains an extensive reading list, learning narrative, description of learning intents, proposal for a practical research project, and a profile of competencies and anticipated learning challenges. Due to increasing numbers of applications, there may be a waiting period.
The objectives for the Foundations Institute are:
- To familiarize students with adult education literature and adult learning principles;
- To outline the program structure within which students design and implement their own learning experience;
- To facilitate individual and small group learning processes through which students begin to articulate the principles of self-directed learning, an area of study within the field, and a major aspect of professional skill development; and
- To integrate students into the Department's distance learning network.
The Foundations Institute phase is a highly regarded experience because students are confronted with a new language, different human relationships, and new ways of approaching their learning. Because of the intense nature of this experience, learners are encouraged to live in residence as a way of developing a support group.
The Foundations Institute session necessarily is a developmental experience which gradually helps the student move from other-directed to self-directed learning. Faculty members assist learners with this process.
During the Foundations Institute a considerable portion of students time is spent in the library. Students spend time identifying books, journal articles, and other online databases for future references.
Often at the outset of their program, students are not certain where to start reading. When asked for advice, faculty often reply, "Read a little of this and a little of that," suggesting that students get a "feel" for the literature, and gradually let a focus emerge. The subjects most often perused by students include:
1. Foundations of adult education
- Historical beginnings
- Philosophical underpinnings
- Principles of adult learning
- Sociology of human behaviour
2. An area of study, for example,
- Adult literacy
- Community development
- Distance education
- Health education
- Human resource development
- Popular education
3. An aspect of study (skills)
Development and submission of a professional portfolio consisting of learning experiences, accomplishments, and demonstrated professional competencies, supported by documentation. Development and submission of a critical review of the literature in the field with an emphasis on the area and aspect of study as seen in the learning plan.
The emphasis in this phase is on skill development using a practical research study as a vehicle to help students achieve their learning objectives. Protection of human subjects is required by StFX - a component required for most AE520 research studies. The study report often includes a comparison or analysis of variations observed or changes made in the use of different activities or methods, or with different clientele groups, through the course of the research. At the conclusion of this phase, students submit a report which details the objectives and design, the methods of implementation, and the evaluation and analysis of their work. An emphasis in the evaluation section of the report is usually on the effects that variations of educational implementation have had upon participants' learning.
At the conclusion of this phase, students submit a report on their personal learning—how and what they learned. In essence, the report is a reflection on their own learning experience with specific reference to their learning contract. In the report, the student discusses the knowledge content learned, as well as what was learned about resources, learning style, and the personal development. Students may choose to present evidence using tapes, films, computer packages, or other creative means.
The Synthesizing Exam emphasizes writing skills for a practitioner readership, which requires different skills than writing an academic thesis. The research report will be read by an Examination Committee and is followed by a synthesizing exam consisiting of a presentation and questions. This allows practitioners, whose professional goals and research often focused on their practice and future career prospects in the field rather than on postgraduate education (PhD) or future research-orientated work, to demonstrate their knowledge in a way that is better adapted to their professional work.
The four preceding phases provide most of the content for the thesis. Students draft a thesis proposal and write a thesis in consultation with an advisor. The emphasis in the thesis is at the discretion of the student in consultation with the advisor; it should reflect some important element of the student's learning program and be worthy of academic consideration beyond that of the student's employment organization. The thesis must demonstrate that the objectives of the student's learning program have been achieved. It can focus either on personal learning or the educational study.
During the thesis stage, the faculty advisor is responsible for guiding the student through the writing stage of the thesis and for signing the completed document. A second faculty member serves as the thesis reader. The role of the reader is to judge the logic and style of presentation of the document, to confer with the advisor, and to sign the completed document. The completed thesis submitted to an external examiner. Following this assessment, the thesis is submitted to the Committee on Graduate Studies for approval. As a matter of policy, students have five years to complete all the program requirements.
Faculty members serve as learning process advisors to students through out the program. Each student is assigned to a faculty member who assists her or him in initiating and evaluating a program of study. Faculty advisors assess students' reports.
Students progress from one phase of the program to the next based on successful accomplishment of a phase.
The Master's program encourages and supports students in clarifying their learning needs, and in devising and carrying out an independent learning program. It assumes that students accept responsibility for their own learning and for identifying and seeking—as they proceed through the program - whatever faculty support and assistance is most useful to them. Students are encouraged to interact with all the faculty at the time of Foundations Institute.
Relationships between faculty and students are shaped predominantly by the student in terms of the nature and frequency of contact and by his or her particular learning needs. Faculty are responsible to assist students to devise meaningful learning plans, to provide encouragement and timely feedback on student work, and to clarify department/university expectations. Students are responsible for initiating the development of their learning program and discussing this with their advisor, for clarifying how the learning relationship between themselves and the advisor can best support their learning, and for negotiating with their advisor about how their learning program/plan can be accommodated within the expectations of the Department and the University.
The following principles govern students' learning:
- Students engage in a learning program which will result in their acquisition and/or improvement of knowledge skills, and attitudes as they relate to adult education.
- Students accept responsibility for their own learning and individualize their own program in consultation with their advisor, proceed at their own pace, and establish an evaluation system which is criterion-referenced rather than normative-referenced.
- Students utilize whatever resources they are able to secure. The faculty, other students, resources of the University, and other outside resources are normally all utilized to attain the stated learning objectives. The Departmental resources available to the learner are:
1. personalized attention in determining a learning program (including needs assessment, career goals);
2. orientation in identifying learning resources, and in displaying the evidence of the learning development in an orderly, academic manner;
3. assistance in evaluating the learning experience;
4. opportunity for individual and group learning experiences; and
5. assistance in conceptualizing and writing a thesis.
All incoming program reports from students are reviewed by each student's faculty advisor in the Department of Adult Education.
All written reports should adhere to the principles of good writing. They should be complete, concise, clear, concrete, grammatically and technically correct; and should contain only inclusive language. Students should consider the help of a local editor before presenting their reports. The Department follows the APA Publication Style Manual (6th edition) for all major documents and reports.
Often students locate subject area specialists at home among university, industrial, and government personnel. These individuals serve students on a voluntary basis, by responding to the student's invitation to be a resource person or to evaluate aspects of their learning program according to the student's own standards.
Graduate students in adult education have access to two library collections on the StFX campus. The main University library is the Angus L. Macdonald Library. The Coady International Institute's Marie-Michael Library also contains a rich resource of adult education materials.