The Environmental Policy Innovation Lab, or EPILab, as it’s been dubbed, falls within the Environmental Policy Institute (EPI) at Grenfell.
“The lab is broadly conceptualized as both an idea and a physical space,” said Dr. Garrett Richards, EPI assistant professor and the driving force behind the lab. “As an idea, it supports collaborative, innovative and experimental thinking and works to address contemporary environmental policy challenges.”
Dr. Richards teaches graduate courses at Grenfell Campus: Environmental Policy 6001 (problem solving) and 6002 (methods) and Transdisciplinary Science 7002 (methods).
He says his students are encouraged to use strategic, innovative thinking and research to engage and collaborate with external partners from government, community groups and industry.
Hear more from Dr. Richards in the CITL-produced video below about the work his students do at the laboratory, how he’s managed to pivot to remote delivery (Brightspace’s whiteboard tool has been key, as are “brain stretches”) and how he’s encouraged his students to connect with each other, despite the physical distance between them.
Pandemic teaching: A new experience
When asked what new experiences he’s had while teaching during a pandemic, Dr. Richards said student feedback is “more critical” than ever.
“I learned that students need true breaks,” he said, adding that he didn’t assign any work for his students over mid-term break so they could truly rest.
He also found that for extra-curricular activities, students’ attendance is actually better, especially for those who are in their final year of study.
When fully functional again, the physical EPILab space will return to its wide variety of networking approaches, such as virtual conferencing via high-quality, camera-equipped computer screen; workshopping using modular desks that can be re-arranged for small- or large-group work; brainstorming using whiteboard space, flip charts and wall space for displaying and re-arranging posted contributions; and visualization through software supporting content analysis, GIS and social network analysis.
Connecting academy and society
Dr. Richards hopes the lab will transform and complement typical academic processes, opening up boundaries between academia and the rest of society.
Meeting the needs of the community could take the form of short-term projects with a quick turnaround, or at the other end of the scale, longer, more involved processes.
“We need to focus on policy-relevant needs of our external partners,” he said, adding that so far, the lab has provided literature review; document review; expertise review (i.e. informational interviews); making connections to other collaborators at Grenfell; methodological consulting; and support letters for funding applications for external partners.
“Ultimately EPILab is meant to be mutually beneficial to both EPI – especially its students – and to external partners,” said Dr. Richards. “It will allow our students and faculty to conduct research and build networks while providing free-of-charge resources to potential collaborators.”
Formal projects with partners such as municipal governments and non-governmental organizations include topics such as public transit, invasive plant species and wastewater management.
How to connect
During regular work weeks, the EPILab holds virtual weekly lab hours every Wednesday.
These are opportunities for the lab co-ordinator, research assistants and other interested faculty and students to meet and discuss potential projects, as well as general content related to EPILab’s mandate (e.g. policy innovation, workshop facilitation).
Potential partners can contact EPILab to schedule a guest visit by contacting Dr. Richards.
Next week in Teaching Tuesdays, Jennifer Kelly, an instructional designer at the Gardiner Centre, talks about developing online curriculum and building community in virtual classrooms – plus she has advice for learners to maximize virtual learning environments.