Guidelines & Procedures for Experiential Learning Opportunities

Experiential learning often involves partners external to the University with students going off-campus to work, shadow professionals, and complete research. There are specific guidelines and procedures that must be considered when experiential learning opportunities are being developed.

University of Toronto Guidelines

The University of Toronto’s comprehensive general liability coverage covers against legal liability arising from University operations which cause bodily injury, personal injury or damage to property of others (third parties). This can include liability arising out of the actions of students while engaged in University managed and supervised activities such as athletics, practicum placements, field/research trips, and incidental medical/dental malpractice, etc.

Depending on specific circumstances, the University will extend its general liability insurance coverage to students. The University maintains commercial general liability insurance, which will defend and indemnify faculty, staff, and students against claims arising out of bodily injury or property damage.

For questions about the extension of general liability insurance coverage, faculty or staff program coordinators should contact the University of Toronto’s Risk Management and Insurance department.

Intellectual Property (IP), simply defined, is any form of knowledge or expression created with one’s intellect. It includes such things as inventions; data; computer software; trademarks; literary, artistic, musical, or visual works; and even simple knowledge on how to do something.

It is important to clearly define how IP created during an experiential learning opportunity will be treated; namely, whether the inventor or author retains ownership or whether the IP rights are assigned to the partner organization. The circumstances and mechanisms of IP assignment will vary depending on key features of the experience, outlined generally below:

For-credit EL experiences (unpaid): Under the University’s Inventions Policy and Copyright Policy, in the context of for-credit courses, students are generally the initial owner of the intellectual property created within the experience and students should not be obligated to participate in coursework that requires the assignment of their IP to a third party. Some third party experiential learning partners may seek ownership over the IP created in an unpaid for-credit experiential learning experience, but it is important to ensure that students maintain the necessary rights to complete required coursework, publish an academic paper, or defend their thesis.

Non-credit EL experiences (paid or unpaid): Students participating in non-credit experiential learning experiences are generally acting as an employee or volunteer of the experiential learning partner. In such cases, the experiential learning partner will likely seek to retain the IP created through the experience and the employment contract or volunteer agreement will generally contain information to that effect. Students should review all contracts and agreements carefully with regard to IP rights to minimizing the potential for disagreements over IP ownership.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) is a document that contains a collection of vital points between two or more entities establishing a relationship. MOUs often act as placeholders until the parties negotiate and prepare a definitive agreement. Regardless of whether the MOU is binding or non-binding, only individuals granted authority to approve an agreement on behalf of the University (“The Governing Council of the University of Toronto”) can sign an MOU. The Governing Council Policy on Approval and Execution of Contracts and Documents (Section D. 1. a.) states the following:

Agreements in the normal course of business for educational placements for students off a University campus, pursuant to approved academic programs, may be approved and signed by the Principal, Dean, Director, Chair or other head of the academic unit, or by the program supervisor duly appointed by the Principal, Dean, Director, Chair or other head of the academic unit, provided that the form of the agreement has been approved by the Vice-President and Provost, Deputy Provost or Vice-Provost responsible for the academic unit.

General Considerations:

Consider whether the MOU should be binding or non-binding and prepare the MOU with that intention in mind. There are some items that should be included in an MOU, regardless of whether the MOU is binding or non-binding:

  • The proper names of the parties – in the case of the University – THE GOVERNING COUNCIL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO.
  • The subject matter of the agreement and its objectives
  • Essential terms – start date, end date, termination, etc.
  • Statement as to intent to be legally binding or not legally binding
  • Signatures of those authorized to sign
Binding vs. Non-Binding MOU

There are two types of MOUs, Binding and Non-Binding.

Binding MOUs: The parties are obligated to carry out the terms of the MOU. If the intention is to create a binding MOU, the obligations need to be clear and concise in order for them to be enforceable (example: each party will contribute $X annually during the term of this MOU to support the activities listed in Schedule Y). Careful consideration needs to be given to the language included in a binding agreement since the obligations are enforceable.

Non-Binding MOUs: The parties are not obligated to carry out the terms of the MOU. Non-binding MOUs are often implemented while two or more parties are working to determine if their relationship is viable.  If the parties cannot come to an agreement on key terms after the MOU is signed, a party can exit the partnership without legal consequences. If the intention is to create a non-binding MOU, terms can be high level and general (example: the parties will cooperate to create global awareness of X).

How do you determine whether an MOU is binding or non-binding? Whether an MOU is binding depends on the circumstances, not whether the document is called an MOU, an agreement, a contract, or something other. A document can be called an MOU but the terms may be so specific that the document is in reality a binding agreement. The two primary circumstances to reflect upon are:

  • Did the parties intend to be bound by the obligations? If so, then the name of the document is irrelevant – an MOU may still be binding.
  • Are the obligations clear enough to be legally binding? If so, then the name of the document is irrelevant – an MOU may still be binding.

Therefore, it is important that the parties are clear in their intentions by including statements such as: “This MOU is non-binding” or “the parties do not intend to be legally bound by the terms of this MOU” or, if the parties wish for the MOU to be binding: “intending to be legally bound, the parties agree as follows.”

Only individuals authorized under the Governing Council’s Policy on Approval and Execution of Contracts and Documents may execute MOUs on behalf of the University regardless of whether the MOU is binding or non-binding. Please refer to the Provostial Guideline for Academic Divisions on Contracts and your academic division’s guideline for review, approval and execution of contracts for additional information.

When to Develop an MOU

When is it most often appropriate to develop an MOU?

It is appropriate to develop an MOU in the following instances:

  • If you would like to provide a framework for the parties to negotiate a final contract.
  • If you would like to record key terms agreed to date.
  • If you would like to detail a party’s commitment for the benefit of third parties (e.g.: a funding agency needs to see an MOU between the University and an external partner before providing funds).

A Non-disclosure Agreement (NDA), also known as a confidentiality agreement (CA), is a legal contract between two parties regarding the use or disclosure of information (such as data, materials, financial information, etc.). In the context of an EL experience, an NDA may be requested by the experiential learning partner in order to restrict the disclosure of information by students, staff or faculty at the University associated with the project to third parties.

The applicability and risks associated with students signing NDAs or CAs vary depending on key features of the experience, outlined generally below:

For-credit experiential learning experiences (unpaid):

  • Students should not be obligated to participate in coursework that requires the assignment of their Intellectual Property to a third party.
  • A student’s grade and/or evaluation of performance in the course should not be affected by the student’s decision to participate or not to participate in coursework requiring the receipt of confidential information. If the student does not wish to participate in the experiential learning experience, an alternative assignment with an equivalent learning experience should be provided.
  • Agreements should not be signed individually and directly with the third party. If the student is the signatory in their personal capacity, there is less legal risk for the University, but the student would be exposed to some personal liability in order to take the course. Instead, the University should sign an agreement with the third party, and then have an agreement in place with each course instructor and student. As course instructors are not typically authorized to execute an NDA, they must obtain proper internal approvals from their academic unit/division head with signing authority for that agreement and underlying activity.

Non-credit experiential learning experiences (paid or unpaid):

  • Students participating in non-credit experiential learning experiences are generally acting as an employee or volunteer of the experiential learning partner. In such cases, the experiential learning partner will likely seek to retain the Intellectual Property created through the experience, and the employment contract or volunteer agreement will generally contain information to that effect. Students should review all contracts and agreements carefully with regard to Intellectual Property rights to minimizing the potential for disagreements over Intellectual Property ownership.
Use of Third Party Information in For-Credit Courses

What do I do, as a course instructor, if a third party is asking me to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or an Intellectual Property (IP) agreement?

With more frequency, third parties (such as corporate sponsors, community partners, or other outside entities) wish to offer proprietary information (such as data, materials, financial information, etc.) to an entire class of students. However, in exchange for providing confidential information to the course instructors, third parties may ask that students, course instructors, and/or the University sign:

  • Non-disclosure agreements (NDA); and/or
  • Intellectual property (IP) agreements (IP Assignments) requiring all students to assign their rights to any IP that they created while participating in class activities.

The document below offers an overview of some of the legal and policy issues related to the use of third party proprietary confidential information in the context of classroom teaching if the third party requests an NDA and/or IP Assignment.

U of T NDA Template Memorandum – Guidelines and Considerations

The document below provides a template package for course instructors to use when a third party requests the use of a non-disclosure/confidentiality agreement.

U of T NDA Template Package for Course Instructors

An unpaid student placement agreement (“Placement Agreement”) is required when students are participating in an unpaid placement as a condition of an approved academic program in order to obtain a degree from the University of Toronto. This condition includes both core and elective courses within an academic program.

A Placement Agreement is required to be in place prior to sending a student on an unpaid placement. Agreements provide a framework for the relationship between the site and the University during placements. They also protect the student, the University and the Placement Site, and makes explicit responsibilities including provisions aligned with legislation.

In addition to the Placement Agreement, there are two documents that should be completed prior to the start of an unpaid student placement. The Letter to Placement Employer and Student Declaration forms were created by the Council of Ontario Universities to meet the University’s responsibilities under the Ministry of Colleges and Universities’ guidelines. These documents are completed for compliance and accountability and inform the placement employer and the student, respectively, of how students are covered by workplace insurance and the associated responsibilities for each party. Find out more about these documents.

If there are requests for changes to the University’s template agreement or if the organization has an alternative to the agreement template, contact the Coordinator, Student Placements in the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students. Please note, the timeline for agreement review can be a number of weeks. It is University policy that a placement agreement must be completed prior to the start of a student placement. The agreement protects the student, the University, and the placement site. The placement should be covered under an agreement for its whole duration.

Definition of a Placement

What is the definition of a placement?

The term placement encapsulates many types of experiences including internships, practicums, community-engaged learning, and co-op. All placements should integrate theory and practice and provide students with practical experience in the workplace. Volunteer opportunities, observerships, and field trips are not considered to be placements.

Paid Placements: Students on placements who are receiving wages from their placement employers are considered to be on paid placements and should be treated as any other worker employed by the placement employer. Students should have employee contracts with their employers and the responsibilities of the employer and the student should be clearly defined.

For-Credit Placements: Students on placements for the purpose of academic credit receive no funds from their placement employers, except in the form of stipends, honorariums, reimbursements, social assistance benefits, and training allowances. For-credit unpaid student placements are required to have an unpaid student placement agreement in place before the placement begins, as it provides a detailed framework for the relationship between the University, placement site, and the student. Further documentation is required to secure workplace insurance and confirm the responsibilities of all parties.

Co-Curricular Placements: Students participating in co-curricular activities where they are volunteering onsite for an external organization for a purpose outside the scope of an approved academic program. These opportunities do not require an unpaid student placement agreement as they are not undertaken as a condition of an approved academic program in order to obtain a degree from the University of Toronto.

Location of Opportunity

Course instructors and/or students are working with external partners on an experiential learning opportunity but students are not placed at the partners’ work site. Is any kind of partnership agreement necessary?

Typically not. If students are not participating in the work of a placement employer, an unpaid student placement agreement or a memorandum of understanding (MOU) is not required. However, if a student is participating in the work of a placement employer in a remote or virtual capacity, a placement agreement is likely to be required.

If you are uncertain about whether your placement requires an agreement or would like additional information, please contact the Coordinator, Student Placements in the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students.

Duration and Frequency of Opportunity

Is there a threshold (duration or frequency) for students visiting a partner site that will activate the need for an unpaid student placement agreement?

No. If a student participates, however minimally, in the work of a placement employer at the partners’ work site, an unpaid student placement agreement is required. There is not a specific threshold of hours or visits that determines this need.

Placement vs. Project

What is the difference between a placement and a project for the purposes of an off-site partnership? In other words, what is the threshold for when an unpaid student placement agreement is needed?

There is no difference. The nature or scope of the work performed does not change the requirement. If a student participates, however minimally, in the work of a placement employer at the partners’ work site, an unpaid student placement agreement is required. This would include a scenario where a student is undertaking the work of the placement employer in a remote or virtual capacity, in which case, an unpaid student placement agreement is required.

If students are working on a project and are not placed at the partners’ work site and are not being supervised by the partner, a placement agreement is not necessary.

If you are uncertain about whether your placement requires an agreement or would like additional information, please contact the Coordinator, Student Placements in the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students.

Student Placement Portal

Does the University have a central repository of unpaid placement agreements?

Yes. The Student Placement Portal has been developed to provide guidance and support to the University’s academic divisions to align their administrative processes with relevant legislation, policies and procedures that are related to unpaid work integrated learning opportunities for students. The Student Placement Portal includes the placement agreement repository, workplace insurance processing, and health and safety information.

The Student Placement Portal is primarily a resource for placement coordinators (University of Toronto faculty and staff). If you already have access, log in to the Student Placement Portal.

If you would like to gain access to the Student Placement Portal:

  • Faculty and staff: If you are coordinating placements you can request access to the Student Placement Portal.
  • External partners: If you are hosting students on placement you may receive an email invitation to register with the Student Placement Portal. After registering, you will have access to documentation and agreements related to your placement. However, some placement coordinators will choose to share required documentation via email or through paper copies, in which case there would be no need to log in to the portal. Please follow the instructions provided to you from the placement coordinator with whom you are working.
  • Students: If you are participating in an unpaid placement, your placement coordinator may invite you to log in to the Student Placement Portal to sign the Student Declaration. However, some placement coordinators will choose to share this required documentation with you via email or in person. Please follow the instructions provided to you from your placement coordinator.

For courses that contain an experiential learning component, if there will be situations where students will be conducting activities that the course instructor believes may constitute a research activity or project, the instructor should contact the Division of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation to determine whether an ethics protocol is needed. For those interested in the ethics review of course-based research, a course template application is available through My Research Human Protocols (MRHP), which is the online ethics application system. Instructors requiring an ethics protocol would submit the protocol through MRHP and would be responsible for their students’ projects.

Courses require ethics review (and approval) when a course activity is deemed to be research involving human participants, with two notable exceptions:

  • Program evaluation is not considered to be research, unless the plan to disseminate findings (e.g. publication) goes beyond the course or organization.
  • Community-engaged research/Service-learning is generally not considered research, unless the position is as a member of a research team. In such cases, usually it is the Principal Investigator (PI) that needs to seek research ethics board review, not the student, and the instructor should confirm that all necessary approvals have been received.

Workplace insurance protects students who have been injured on placement or who have an illness related to their placement. Students may be covered through the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB), a province-wide insurance fund, or through a private workplace insurance policy. Students completing their placements with the University of Toronto, either paid or unpaid, are covered through the University’s WSIB policy.

Unpaid placements: Students on unpaid placements are typically covered by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) through Chubb Insurance.

Paid placements: Students on paid placements should have workplace insurance coverage through their placement employer.

Co-curricular opportunities: Students are not covered by the University’s or MCU’s workplace insurance policy when participating in co-curricular activities.  This coverage only extends to activities that are considered a condition of an approved academic program.

For more information, please see the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Vice-Provost, Students’ Student Placements web page.

Injury While on Placement

What steps should be followed if a student is injured while on a placement?

  1. The student should immediately notify their placement employer/supervisor and their University placement contact.
  2. The Accident Injury Form must be completed and submitted to placements@utoronto.ca. The accident report has sections for both the student and the placement employer/supervisor to complete and sign.
  3. The University Coordinator, Student Placements will provide the University placement contact and student with next steps and appropriate documentation.

Experiential Learning Risk Management Matrix

Refer to this overview of University of Toronto guidelines and procedures associated with different types of experiential learning opportunities.

Experiential Learning Risk Management Matrix