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.
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
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.
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.
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.