6:30 - 8:30Registration & Breakfast
8:15 - 8:30Opening Remarks
Harvey P. Weingarten, Higher Education Quality Council of OntarioCanadian Room
8:30 - 09:45Breakfast Keynote
Paul Tough, New York Times Best Selling Author
We need to broaden our understanding of learning to take into account the role of non-cognitive skills, according to Paul Tough, the New York Times best-selling author who provided the opening keynote address to HEQCO’s Transitions conference.
The central idea of the keynote was that the way in which we talk about academic success, especially in the K-12 sector, disregards certain important antecedents to learning. While we tend to assume that learning is based on cognitive skills, which, in the American context, are measured by a range of standardized tests, research increasingly points to the important role of non-cognitive skills or character traits like resilience (or ‘grit’), curiosity and self-control.
The groundwork for these skills is laid in the early years of childhood, well before first attending school, and research is increasingly demonstrating the link between infant brain chemistry and adult psychology. The infant brain learns cues from its environment about what life will be like. A child who is born to responsive parents, who care for it and meet its needs, develops what psychologists call a ‘secure attachment’ with the parents and is more likely to develop a trusting, curious and optimistic approach to life – in other words, a solid foundation for future learning. The child also develops an ability to trade immediate gratification for long-term benefits, which similarly has an effect on learning potential. But a childhood that is filled with trauma or stress has been linked to negative health outcomes and can damage the infant’s response system, including its ability concentrate and learn. These antecedents of learning are often closely related to socioeconomic status.
What then is an educator to do? How can an early-years deficit in these non-cognitive skills be made up once school begins? There are two competing approaches. The first is ‘character education’ – to teach the skills that are missing. This strategy is predicated on the assumption that we can correctly identify those non-cognitive skills that are key to learning and that we know how to measure them accurately. It also requires that non-cognitive skills be teachable and that we know how to do so.
The second approach is to train and mimic non-cognitive skills through activities and teaching style. Take a game of chess, where failure is key to improvement. A novice chess player must set aside her frustration to learn from her mistakes in order to avoid them in the future. The confidence and strength of character that improvement at such an activity can build brings with it stronger non-cognitive skills. In this case, character skills are not taught per se but are rather a product of the learning environment in which the child is operating.
Regardless of the strategy adopted, the messages that both schools and teachers send to their students play a crucial role in building non-cognitive skills. A child who is expected to fail will almost surely fail. But a child who is provided with high but fair expectations and taught that failure is an opportunity for improvement can rise to the challenge in often surprising ways.
9:45 - 10:15Morning Break
10:15 - 11:151A | Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking
What is it and how do we measure it?
Facilitator: Sarah Brumwell, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
Charles Blaich, Wabash College
Natasha Jankowski, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment
Ou Lydia Liu, Educational Testing Service
While the definition of learning outcomes is an important first step, their true power is revealed when they are assessed. This panel discussed the potential and challenges of learning outcomes assessment, with a particular focus on critical thinking skills.
The first challenge involves selecting a definition of critical thinking, a topic on which there is little agreement. Because each assessment tool is predicated on a particular definition, this choice will also affect the selection of an instrument. At the same time, the panelists were comfortable with situational definitions, suggesting that it is much less important to arrive at a universal definition of critical thinking than it is for stakeholders in a particular assessment to agree on a definition that is suited to their context.
The assessment of critical thinking is important for a variety of reasons. Students live in a world where they are constantly surrounded by information, and they need to be able to think critically to sort through sources and evaluate their reliability. They will want to know how well they are doing at this. In some cases, institutions will want to evaluate learning outcomes in order to gauge their progress in meeting certification requirements. But even where these do not apply, institutions can identify their areas of strength and weakness in order to develop strategies for improvement.
The panelists emphasized the importance of building buy-in for learning outcomes assessment. Ideally, assessment should be something we do with students rather than to them. To make this transition, institutions can begin by explaining what is being assessed, why, and what the benefit for them might be. Faculty are also essential partners in assessment.
Assessment can take a number of forms. Discussing the American context, panelists mentioned that assessment seldom takes place in the classroom but is instead carried out using national surveys or other large-scale instruments. Overall, there does not seem to be any one-size-fits-all tool or method for assessment. Context, the purpose of the assessment, and sometimes even the field of study can all be important. In most cases, the data that assessment yield need not be comparable or generalizable outside of a specific context.
The panel closed with two final pieces of advice for institutions looking to implement learning outcomes assessment. First, assessment should be built around the action that an institution wants to take. The choice of methods and tools will flow from the purpose of the assessment. Similarly, administrators should keep in mind that assessments provide data, not change itself. They can inform change, of course, but follow-up action is still required.
10:15 - 11:151B | Field Notes: Lessons from Applied Research
Moving from theory to practice
The discussion began with a focus on data availability and its role in understanding the larger picture. There is a lack of data, particularly data related to younger populations and there is a need for access to, and analysis of, existing quantitative data. As one panelist stated, “Without data and evidence we are talking through our hats.”
Whether collecting primary data or accessing existing data a level of trust and confidence must be developed between the research group and data providers.
This relationship was critical in an applied research project initiated by two First Nation schools. With a goal of improving student reading competencies, the research team, in cooperation with the schools, focused on teacher professional development and used EQOA scores to quantify the improvement. Being invited in by the schools was important and went a long way towards the development of the relationship needed for project success.
Although ‘lack of data’ is a consistent refrain, there are also instances of data collected but not used or made available. Data can be left to sit unanalyzed if the original researcher leaves the project. Data collected for other purposes, such as administrative data can, can be particularly rich but access requires the support of top administration, heads of institutional research departments as well as troops on the ground. Gatekeepers at multiple levels add significantly to the challenge of access.
How can we make applied research more effective? Give policy makers room at the table at the outset of a project – understand what policy makers need and develop a research focus that includes goals and outcomes. Faculty buy in is both challenging and essential. Include faculty at the outset as well. There is a win/win if multiple stakeholders find value in the questions, find value in what the data is telling us and are also involved in dissemination, program development and policy outcomes.
Dissemination is key: research must be practical and written using accessible language. A 90-page paper with regression analysis needs to be presented in a three-page summary. If there are points of interest, policy makers will dig deeper.
The question and answer session confirmed much of the discussion above. There is a lack of information in key demographic areas including race data, students with disabilities and Aboriginal students. Trust takes time and needs to be earned when working with marginalized groups. There is a need for courage at the level of the institution. What happens if we find out something is not working? Privacy of students and institutions is important, but there are ways to maintain privacy, establish protocols and share data.
10:15 - 11:151C | Education: Who Cares?
Why K-12 and PSE matter to the working world
One of the most important transitions in life is when one leaves the world of education to enter the working world. There are a range of points at which this transition can be made, such as after secondary or postsecondary education. And as in the case of apprenticeships and work-integrated learning, there can be overlap between the worlds of education and work.
However, the dominant understanding of the ‘best’ pathway from education to work is for a student to complete a four-year degree at a university and then enter the workforce. This default assumption can be seen in everything from media discussions of higher education to the advice given by high school guidance counsellors. As with so many of his peers, Graeme Barlow of Iversoft Solutions enrolled in university after high school (in his case Carleton University) on the assumption that going to university was just “what one did.” Once there, however, he realized that university was very much not for him, and only after leaving Carleton did he find his passion and pathway to the workforce: working in tech companies and developing educational software.
Graeme’s story is hardly unique – for many, their ideal pathway from education to work does not lead through university but along other routes, including college and apprenticeships. A change of mindset is needed to shift university from the default option to simply one among several. At the K to 12 level, this involves allowing children in early grades to explore and find their passion, and encouraging them to follow the educational pathways that will lead to fulfilling employment. As the postsecondary level, success needs to be redefined. At a system level, success is frequently measured in terms of enrolment and graduates, and when these metrics are prioritized it is natural for all actors within the system to push as many students as possible into universities. Instead, educational ‘success’ needs to be defined at the individual level – whether each individual has found fulfilling employment, regardless of the pathway taken.
Apprenticeships are an important alternative to university, and one that is receiving increased attention in recent years. In the United States, the White House is seeking to double the number of apprenticeships. However, there is a disconnect between industry, government and education when apprenticeships are seen solely as a labour issue. As Everett Jordan noted, a White House summit on apprenticeships included representatives from the Department of Labour but none from the Department of Education. Closer links are needed among the interested parties to ensure that apprenticeships are sensitive to the needs of business and the marketplace. This is a partnership that requires work by both sides; business in particular needs to be more proactive in reaching out to schools and explaining their needs.
Conversely, apprenticeship opportunities that are not linked to the traditional higher education sector need to be recognized. Newport News Shipbuilding, one of the largest shipbuilders in the world and a major contractor for the US Navy, has run its own apprenticeship school for almost a century. Today it has 800 students and offers a range of apprenticeship and educational options, including four associate degrees and an engineering degree. As Jordan notes, students benefit from being located within a major corporation. When they begin their apprenticeship, they find themselves doing important work on tangible projects, such as helping in the construction of a nuclear submarine. Students gain a real sense of the importance of their work and ownership in the product. It is not make-work or educational work, but a real job with a product in which they can take pride. This contributes to the success of the school, which has a 72% graduate rate, and 82% of graduates remain employed with Newport News Shipbuilding after 10 years. This reflects the importance of allowing students to follow their passions and interests - these students would not have been well-served by going to university, but the pathway they have chosen has led to fulfilling employment, which ought to be the goal of education generally.
11:25 - 12:252A | Tech for Teaching and Learning Part I
Digital tools for student engagement
Technology doesn’t always improve the student experience, but when used properly it can open up new possibilities for teaching and learning. This panel discussed the perils and potential of introducing technology into the university or college classroom.
Technology can be used for a number of purposes at colleges and universities, including to help students demonstrate the skills they have developed during their studies. At its best, technology offers a way to break down the inequities inherent in standardized testing – related to the costs of purchasing and grading the tests, for example – and assess skills in a fairer way. Technology can also facilitate the learning of skills. If we accept that skills are best developed through regular, structured practice, the use of software and online programs can facilitate this practice, sometimes while assessing the skills at the same time.
Other uses for technology also exist. Some forms of technology, such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) like Coursera or edX, allow students to personalize their own learning process. Online instruments like chat rooms or discussion boards humanize the education process by helping students interact with their learning environment, which can in turn help maintain a high level of engagement.
Another popular focus today is the potential role of games in education. Rather than punishing failure, as we might on a graded assignment, games and simulators can encourage students to push their own limits in a risk-free environment and create learning opportunities that might not otherwise have been possible. A poorly designed game is little more than a worksheet, an opportunity to regurgitate knowledge. But a well-designed game can allow students to focus on doing rather than on knowledge acquisition.
The panel ended with a number of recommendations on how to bridge the gap between the marketing language often used by education technology companies and the pedagogical language of faculty and staff. First, companies should learn to speak the language of learning outcomes and draw on it freely when selling their games. This would help institutions see technology as more than simply a gimmick to keep students entertained and instead as a tool for teaching. Furthermore, education technology needs to be based on learning science. The panelists questioned whether any of the companies that currently market learning products to institutions actually had any education experts on staff, for example. Finally, pedagogical concerns should always take priority and drive the adoption of new tools, and technology should be marketed as more than a cost-saving measure.
11:25 - 12:252B | Teaching the Teachers
Preparing teachers for tomorrow's classroom
Facilitator: Ron Canuel, Canadian Education Association
Kyle Hill, Teach for Canada
John A. Hodson, Maamaawisiiwin Education Research Centre
Rodd Lucier, Regina Mundi Catholic College
Juliana Trichilo Cina, Learnography
This discussion focused on the challenges facing teachers and the lack of change within faculties of education. We have built a system that addresses the mainstream, but there is diversity in the classroom with social media bringing both change and unexpected challenges.
You can only become and teacher if you were successful at school, but school doesn’t work for everyone. Who is being left out, and what could those individuals bring to the profession? Teachers need to think not only about pedagogy and not one size fits all. The notion that teachers need to be owners of all knowledge is a burden. Kids have knowledge, kids know things. There is diversity in learning; there needs to be diversity in teaching and teachers.
More work is needed to find teachers that are a good fit for First Nation schools. We need a huge recruitment drive for Aboriginal teachers, and this means more than a website posting. Get into schools, work with Deans of Education, and create programming for all teachers so that there is a comprehensive understanding of Aboriginal history and experiences. The teacher is key. Teachers should not feel ashamed or blamed. Teachers can make change if they see themselves as learners as well.
How do we develop an agile approach where initiatives can become dialogue and teacher education can shift to accommodate ongoing changes? We need to broaden our understanding of what we can disrupt. Having a perfect institution or teacher is not important – we need to get to a place of change through collaboration. Look outside of formal education for people to provide input.
While agility is important so is avoiding a shotgun approach. There is no magic bullet. If it doesn’t come out of research to support a change, then don’t do it. Fund the research and the program and the analysis needed to support the policy.
11:25 - 12:252C | Blueprints for Learning
Making space for education, literally
Academic buildings are more than mere physical spaces in which learning takes place. Instead, they are an active participant in the learning journey and their design gives important and non-too-subtle messages to students about the nature of their education. Consider the traditional elementary school, where learning is confined to a classroom and the outdoors limited to the ‘diversion’ of recess. Alternatively, consider the impressive buildings that frequent postsecondary campuses. They often transmit an imposing message not only of power and authority, but also inaccessibility. Intentionally or otherwise, these ‘ivory towers’ loudly declare that only a select few are allowed within their walls.
Instead, learning spaces should be centred on the student experience, giving students the ability to influence the environment in which their learning is to take place. This involves flexibility and openness; breaking down walls literally serves to break down walls figuratively between groups of students, and emphasizes the infinite possibilities of the educational experience. The outdoors can be brought inside through innovative measures, such as cisterns collecting rainwater, open for students to observe. The outdoors can itself become the learning space, embracing, as Nora Trask suggested, the potential of ‘loose parts.’
At the Cloudberry Forest School, where learning takes place outdoors, a fallen tree is not seen as a hazard or a distraction, but an opportunity for students to exercise their imagination through finding new uses for its branches. This ‘opening’ of space to students extends to those with special needs. Madeleine Lefebvre said that ‘walling off’ spaces for these students only serves to emphasize their separateness from the rest of the student body. Instead, while certain spaces can be designed for the unique needs of students with disabilities, the spaces should be available and accessible to all, such that the build environment itself encourages interaction among all students, not segmentation by ability.
At the postsecondary level, a prominent and recent example of student-centred architectural design is Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre. The centre deliberately put students first in all aspects of its design. Instead of students feeling encased in concrete and confined indoors, the building uses natural light and limited interior walls to emphasize openness and interaction. This allows a sense of community to be fostered, a deliberate aim of the centre given the commuting student body of Ryerson University. These open spaces also create what Lefebvre referred to as ‘productive collisions,’ whereby students from across disciplines are able to come together, sparking innovation.
Creating such student-centred spaces requires that all parties involved in their construction, including institutional administration, adopt the same core tenets that put students first. Otherwise, decisions get made for reasons that have nothing to do with students. Larry Kearns cited one example of a project he worked on where a loading dock for the building’s kitchen was located with the best view of an open courtyard, despite the fact that this site would have made ideal student study space. Decisions on building design have to put students first – everything else in a building needs to work around the needs of students. Such an approach does not have to require significant physical or financial assets. Several panelists emphasized the importance of small gestures, such as skylights to let daylight in or avoiding walls that can isolate students from each other. By targeting resources on specific improvements, the student experience of spaces can be greatly improved.
12:25 - 2:00Lunch Keynote
Alexander (Sandy) MacDonald, Holland College
Jurisdictions across North America are struggling to adequately support their education systems in the face of limited funding, shifting demographics and rising expectations for student success. Prince Edward Island (PEI) is no different and despite its small size, how the province has met these challenges are informative for other jurisdictions, as discussed by Sandy MacDonald, formerly PEI’s first deputy minister for workforce and advanced learning.
Some six years ago, primary and secondary students in PEI had scored poorly on international math and reading comprehension tests, and the government decided that reform was necessary. The government’s approach recognized that effective teaching is the most influential factor in student learning. As such, reforms focussed on teachers’ professional development: deepening their understanding of the curriculum, improving their formative and summative assessment skills, adopting high-yield teaching strategies and adding professional development days to the school calendar. These reforms had the desired impact: by 2013, the scores of PEI students in math and reading comprehension were on the rise.
The postsecondary sector in PEI is involved in a continuing dialogue over the ‘skills crisis’ and whether the two postsecondary institutions in the province (the University of Prince Edward Island and Holland College) are adequately preparing their graduates for the workforce. Feedback from students indicated that those at the university desired a renewed focus on teaching and learning while their counterparts at Holland College were concerned over the quality of trades training and classroom instruction. As a result, the government has increasingly emphasized a learning outcomes-based approach to curriculum and assessment, and views curriculum development as an ongoing process whereby analysis of learning outcomes data will continue to inform future curriculum reforms. These learning outcomes also move beyond hard skills. As Macdonald argued, postsecondary institutions have a ‘moral obligation’ to teach the core skills students need to find employment.
These education reforms require engagement with teachers and faculty; securing their buy-in to change is a prerequisite for any successful reform. As professionals who rightly take great pride in their vocation and want to provide the best classroom experience possible, they understandably do not respond favourably to finger-pointing and being told they are unaccountable. Instead, instructors should be approached as partners and asked for their views on how the quality of teaching can be improved. For example, instead of telling instructors they should incorporate technology in their teaching, ask them how technology can support and improve their teaching. From these discussions best practices can be learned and through building networks of teachers (both face-to-face and over the internet) they can be spread widely. Trust is essential and some ambiguity is inevitable. Instructors are professionals and are most familiar with the specific learning environment of their classroom. Give them the range of teaching strategies and skills and trust them to use those best-suited to their students. Through the collaboration of instructors, administrators and public officials, education reform can succeed in improving learning outcomes.
2:10 - 3:103A | The Ins and Outs of Assessment
Making measurement happen
This panel discussed best practices surrounding the use and assessment of learning outcomes at the postsecondary level. Learning outcomes can serve a number of purposes. They allow institutions to determine how well students are doing and where improvement is needed. Learning outcomes also allow instructors to improve and clarify their feedback to students, thus providing a better educational experience. And they allow students to gauge their own learning progress.
Yet the implementation of learning outcomes assessment can be met with a number of challenges at the institutional level. Faculty and staff tend to worry about how poor assessment results will reflect on evaluations of their performance. Some might object that learning outcomes assessment takes a reductive view of education, that students’ learning experience goes beyond that which can be measured. The remedy to both of these obstacles is to create buy-in from faculty and a ‘culture of assessment’ at the institution. Colleges and universities should also build proper capacity for assessment.
It is also essential to engage students in the learning outcomes assessment process. Institutions should talk to students about what they are doing to measure outcomes and why they are doing it. Learning outcomes and assessment techniques should be outlined clearly in syllabi, but they should also be extended throughout courses and degrees in a manner that makes clear to students how these outcomes fit into a broader trajectory of learning.
The panel closed with advice for instructors and administrators who are in the early stages of implementing learning outcomes assessment at their institution. The first suggestion was to build on what has already been done at the institution – there is no need to reinvent the wheel – and to use the assessment tools that are available to make the transition to assessment as seamless as possible. To create buy-in among faculty, institutions should emphasize the efficiency of the assessment process, recognizing that a faculty member’s most valuable – and often their most scarce – resource is time. Leverage agents of change in the department to help make the shift, and share your results with others so that they can see the usefulness of the data being produced. The more collaborative the process and the more tangible the results, the more difficult it will be to ignore the value of the assessment process.
2:10 - 3:103B | Tech for Teaching and Learning Part II
Inventive thinkers share their technologies and their passions
We heard details about three innovative technologies.
- 1. A small device that detects vocal cord vibration allowing non-verbal children to communicate
- 2. Rap music used as a teaching tool to increase student engagement
- 3. A collaborative online grading and analytics program
Despite having a great tool, all the panelists found implementation a challenge. Getting funding is an ongoing trial, with those choosing a non-profit structure subject to greater waiting times and bureaucracy. Having a business (for profit) designation allows an organization to grow quickly and be flexible, which can be an advantage in an industry that needs to get products into the classroom quickly and be responsive to feedback.
The bureaucratic purchasing process needs to be understood. Teachers tend to be more risk-inclined than district administrators. Teacher and student support is a starting point, but there is the additional challenge of funding being restricted to use of the technology within school. Students can’t take the technology home and depending on the technology, this can be a major barrier.
Teachers need to know how to use the technology. Finding teacher time for training is difficult and resources are needed for backfilling. Another option is latching onto PD days.
Getting started requires assembling people with ideas and finding your complement or match. Your tool may need marketers, coders and designers, etc. to move from prototype stage to implementation in the classroom. It is not important to maintain total control. Success comes through collaboration as witnessed by Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone.
MaRS was referenced during the discussion, although it was suggested that Canada seems to be better at supporting start-ups rather than the growth stage. A culture of change is needed in universities with industry/innovation and commercial activities valued as faculty activities.
The panelists said that the time has come for technology in the classroom – not education technologies that are just a facsimile of print, but new technologies that are student centred to facilitate creative activity.
2:10 - 3:103C | Student-centred System Design
Shifting the focus to what students want
Facilitator: Helen Tewolde, George Brown College
Robert S. Brown, Toronto District School Board Heather Fraser, Vuka Innovation, Inc. Lisa Newton, Toronto District School Board Tania Sterling, Pearson Canada
A student-centred education system integrates all aspects of a student’s education experience, from K-12 to the full range of postsecondary opportunities. It is cognizant of the different pathways open to students, not only at entry and exit points, but also within the system at key transition points, such as from primary to secondary. A student-centred education system is also designed with the student’s perspective in mind. As Rob Brown said, navigating one’s way through the education system is akin to manoeuvring through an obstacle course, in which a series of potholes represents points at which the education pathway could be derailed. While some potholes may be inevitable, a student-centred education system that recognizes the existence of these potholes and does its best to aid students in making their way around them.
Student-centred system design also opens as many pathways to students as possible, allowing students to tailor their educational journey to fit their skills and ambitions. The education system in Ontario fails this criterion in the transition from grade 8 to grade 9, where students are sorted into academic and applied streams on the outdated assumption that students with ‘better’ academic skills should by default be funnelled towards university and everyone else be directed towards college. Not only is it unrealistic to expect students at age 13 or 14 to have decided on their postsecondary plans, it also closes pathway options for students after grade 9 and presumes that perceived academic ability is the only criterion to decide one’s pathway. Instead, a student-centred system would allow students to explore their interests and passions and make their own choices regarding postsecondary education at a time of their choosing.
For students to be able to choose among the different pathways in a student-centred education system, detailed information on each of these pathways needs to be available to students and parents. As Tania Sterling noted, this information also needs to be provided to classroom instructors so they can provide relevant pathway advice to students based on what student strengths and interests. Outside specialists and career experts should to be brought into the classroom to provide their unique perspectives. Not all students have the same needs. For students from under-represented groups, the obstacle course cited above is filled with sinkholes, not potholes. In today’s economy, individuals without postsecondary education are more disadvantaged than prior generations, as more occupations require some form of postsecondary credential, and this is a problem particularly faced by underrepresented groups. More recognition is needed that at-risk students do not have the ‘backup supports’ that other students have, and thus require a greater range of student services to provide the assistance that students from privileged backgrounds take for granted. A climate needs to be created where students from under-represented groups can see themselves in postsecondary education. Finally, returning to the discussion on systems that opened the panel, Heather Fraser noted that some advocate for a Ministry of Social Justice, which would include education within a broader ecosystem encompassing health care, social policy, etc. To ensure greater access for all students, education must be seen not just as a system of its own, but also as part of a broader social system.
3:10 - 3:30Afternoon Break
3:30 - 4:304A | Career Ready: Creating a Common Language
Getting students and employers on the same page
We have all heard stories about the skills gap, the weak labour market and graduates working minimum-wage jobs. This panel looked behind the rumours and anecdotes to question the role of postsecondary education in preparing students for the labour markets.
Panelists agreed that suggestions of a skills gap have been greatly exaggerated. While there may be labour shortages in specific geographic locations or specific sectors of the economy – as there always have been – there is little evidence of a generalized skills gap in Canada. Instead, the challenges we see today emerge from a breakdown in communication between students and employers. Many recent graduates are incapable of articulating what they have learned at the postsecondary level, and are even less certain how to frame their new knowledge in a way that will be intelligible and appear valuable to employers. Employers, for their part, too often recruit based on specific degrees or programs rather than on skills and competencies. A bank wants to hire a bachelor of commerce student, even though a student from another discipline might have equal or stronger skills in those areas that are important for the job. And when they cannot find what they need in graduates from a specific program, employers tend to assume that it does not exist rather than looking elsewhere. Furthermore, Canadian employers overall invest very little compared to their counterparts abroad to train new hires, expecting colleges and universities to shoulder the load.
Panelists also identified a gap between what employers say they want and what they actually hire. While surveys highlight the importance of essential skills like communication skills and teamwork, employers more often than not hire these skills only when they lie on top of a solid foundation of harder, discipline-specific skills that are rarely mentioned. Hence the importance of work experiences, such as those provided through work-integrated learning opportunities, to help students develop the skills that employers will recognize as relevant.
With this in mind, postsecondary education does have a role to play in preparing students for the workplace. Colleges and universities provide essential disciplinary knowledge and can help students develop relevant essential skills as well. The key here is to help students recognize what they are learning. Institutions can also help manage students’ expectations and navigate the challenges of the labour market by discussing what the issues are, who is hiring and who is not, and how to manage a job hunt.
3:30 - 4:304B | Student Success: It Takes a Village
Strategies for building student support networks
Two strong threads ran through the discussion of building student support networks. One focused on partnerships and the particular challenges that Aboriginal people face, and the second focused on the importance of including students in the conversation. Both highlighted the need for individuals and organizations to accept their role in creating collaborative solutions.
There are many different ways of building community partnerships, but most begin with determining the desired change, identifying the communities that could work to together to effect the change and establishing what institutional change is needed.
The panelists agreed that working in silos is counterproductive and that creating pathways to education and employment for youth includes partnerships between multiple groups (e.g. police, teachers, school boards, etc.). One example discussed is the building of partnerships with police to address the challenges that exist between policing and Aboriginal peoples.
Community organizations and partnerships need to recognize and honour the traditions of diverse peoples. There needs to be a collective role to problem solving with the sharing of different interests and responsibilities. Those developing policy and programs must listen to alternative views and understand how to incorporate those diverse experiences into solutions. Aboriginal people have suffered through many traumas and there was no recognition of the damage that these events caused. The children and grandchildren were affected. The panelists said this needs to be considered when we are embracing refugees who have experienced trauma. It is important to learn from the past to effect change in the future.
It is also important to acknowledge the grief, the trauma and the loss that Aboriginal people experienced – this is fundamental as a starting place. Trauma takes many different forms and is expressed in many different ways. We need to create a safe space for these students. Government has policy and power and can work with community organizations. Agreements are only effective if we get together regularly and discuss obstacles to the initial goal and create solutions.
The discussion also addressed the need to create a bottom-up approach. There can be a culture of lowered expectations and we need to combat this and recognize everyone’s potential. Kids need to be re-energized. As one panelist put it, “There is a reason you are alive and it’s not to lay on the couch until 4pm.” How do we get kids to recognize that there can be a better life? What are we doing as educators?
One important approach is through peer to peer engagement, kids working with kids. We must include kids in defining the problem and building the solution. There is courage in stepping forward and sharing stories.
3:30 - 4:304C | Mentoring for STEM
Inside the Vancouver Templeton Project
Launched in 2013, the Vancouver Templeton Project is a collaboration between SAP, BCIT, and Templeton Secondary School, with the first enrolment of grade 11 and 12 students in the fall of 2014. The project delivers a STEM curriculum that allows students to explore engineering, computer science and programming through hands-on projects. A recent example was the construction of remote-control rovers, which involved learning the relevant physics, drafting software to design the vehicle, the creation of custom circuit boards, using 3D printers and programming computers. SAP, a global tech giant, provides one-to-one mentoring for students in the program, and partnering with BCIT ensures that the skills learned will allow students to successfully make the transition from secondary to postsecondary education.
The benefits of the program are wide-ranging. For teachers it provides opportunities to collaborate with and engage students in innovative projects. Aaron Davis, principal at Templeton Secondary School, noted that the staff involved have seen their passion for teaching reinvigorated. For students, it allows them to become the captains of their own learning journey by giving them the ability to define and shape their projects in collaboration with their teachers. Students also learn the value of failure – defining aspect of the project is the notion of ‘failing fast, failing often.’
By experiencing failure not as disappointment but as a learning opportunity, they are encouraged to take risks and experiment. The project also provides STEM mentorship for students, many of whom would not otherwise have individuals familiar with STEM in their lives. Through the collaboration with SAP and BCIT, both students and parents receive information on pursuing STEM after high school through postsecondary education and into employment. This allows students and parents to familiarize themselves with STEM careers and visualize themselves (or their children) in STEM fields. Moreover, the project is about more than technical skills, as students are encouraged to envision how their projects can contribute to solving societal issues. As Steve Eccles said, the students learn to code with conscience. Core skills, such as teamwork and project management, are also emphasized, ensuring that students are able to thrive in their future work.
Those behind the Vancouver Templeton Project see it as a pilot, and hope that similar program will be adopted elsewhere. It is important, however, that the initiative for such projects come from the grassroots, as the teachers who will be on the front lines of the project need to bring passion for STEM and a willingness to experiment. The role of the administration is not to direct the project, rather to deflect difficulties and allow teachers to fully concentrate on their work in the classroom. Time also needs to be invested up front to ensure that all stakeholders in the project are on the same page. As Jennifer Carreiro of SAP noted, it is not easy to steer three large organizations on a common path. It is important to maintain coordination and cooperation, which can only exist through regular communication and a shared understanding of the project’s aims.
Studies have shown that only 25% to 35% of students normally see the relevance of what they are learning in school. The hands-on approach of the Vancouver Templeton Project aims to impart needed skills and demonstrate to students how the skills they are learning can be applied to solve real-life problems. By linking skills developed with project-based learning, the project aims to spark a lifelong passion in students for STEM.
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