Session Highlights

  • Day One
    Wednesday, March 23, 2016
    6:30 - 8:30
    Registration & Breakfast
    8:15 - 8:30
    Opening Remarks

    Harvey P. Weingarten, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario

    Canadian Room
    8:30 - 09:45
    Breakfast 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 - 10:15
    Morning Break
    10:15 - 11:15
    1A | 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 - 11:15
    1B | Field Notes: Lessons from Applied Research

    Moving from theory to practice

    Facilitator: Richard Wiggers, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
    Ross Finnie, University of Ottawa
    Julia O’Sullivan, OISE/University of Toronto
    Wayne Poirier, Mohawk Collage

    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 - 11:15
    1C | Education: Who Cares?

    Why K-12 and PSE matter to the working world

    Facilitator: Annie Kidder, People for Education
    Graeme Barlow, Iversoft Solutions Inc.
    Everett Jordan, The Apprentice School, Newport News Shipbuilding

    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 - 12:25
    2A | Tech for Teaching and Learning Part I

    Digital tools for student engagement

    Facilitator: Keith Hampson, Digital / Edu / Strategy
    Barry Fishman, University of Michigan
    Steve Joordens, University of Toronto Scarborough

    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 - 12:25
    2B | 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 - 12:25
    2C | Blueprints for Learning

    Making space for education, literally

    Facilitator: Alastair Summerlee, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
    Larry Kearns, Wheeler Kearns Architects
    Madeleine Lefebvre, Ryerson University
    Nora Trask, Cloudberry Forest School

    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 - 2:00
    Lunch 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 - 3:10
    3A | The Ins and Outs of Assessment

    Making measurement happen

    Facilitator: Jill Scott, Queen’s University
    Tim Fricker, Mohawk College
    Adam Kuhn, University of Toronto
    Susan McCahan, University of Toronto

    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 - 3:10
    3B | Tech for Teaching and Learning Part II

    Inventive thinkers share their technologies and their passions

    Facilitator: James Colliander, Crowdmark, Inc.
    Tom Chau, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital
    Alex Rappaport, Flocabulary

    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 - 3:10
    3C | 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 - 3:30
    Afternoon Break
    3:30 - 4:30
    4A | Career Ready: Creating a Common Language

    Getting students and employers on the same page

    Facilitator: Graham Donald, Brainstorm Strategy Group Inc.
    Mark Patterson, Magnet
    Zachary Rose, Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance
    Stephen M. Smith, Hobsons

    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 - 4:30
    4B | Student Success: It Takes a Village

    Strategies for building student support networks

    Facilitator: Mehnaz Tabassum, Pathways to Education
    Khadra Ali, Gashanty Unity
    Sabra Desai, Humber College
    Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Lakehead University

    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 - 4:30
    4C | Mentoring for STEM

    Inside the Vancouver Templeton Project

    Facilitator: Anita Simpson, Simcoe County District School Board
    Jennifer Carreiro, SAP
    Aaron Davis, Templeton Secondary School
    Steve Eccles, British Columbia Institute of Technology

    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.

    4:30 - 6:00

    Sponsored by Pearson Canada

    Canadian Room
  • Day Two
    Thursday, March 24, 2016
    7:15 - 8:15
    Registration & Breakfast
    8:15 - 8:30
    Opening Remarks

    Harvey P. Weingarten, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario

    Canadian Room
    8:30 - 9:30
    Breakfast Keynote

    Jane McGonigal, Game Designer, Inventor, Author

    There are 1.78 billion gamers worldwide. Collectively people spend 1.75 billion minutes a day playing Candy Crush. For players involved in Call of Duty, 1 in 4 players call in sick to stay home and play on launch day.

    McGonigal challenged the audience to think differently about gamers and gaming, and presented some very convincing data and arguments.

    Time spent gaming is time spent at play. When we are in a state of play we have access to a wide range of positive emotions, we have more physical energy and we are optimistic about our abilities. It is easier to connect with others when in a state of play. The longer you stay in school the less engaged you become. In elementary school, 76% of students qualify as engaged, but by the teen years this drops to 44% (US Gallup Student Poll, 2012). Could play be what’s missing in education?

    Every game is an interactive learning experience. We come in fresh, we learn the rules, we see what others are doing and the levels provide an opportunity to get measurably better without penalty for failure. Brain scans reveal activation in areas of the brain associated with learning, memory and reward centres during interactive game play.

    The New York Public Library wanted to get young adults into the physical space. There are benefits to arriving in person – in an architecturally exciting space we tend to be more ambitious, creative and attentive. Library staff had some typical ideas – points for checking out book and badges for visiting. But people want to do something that hasn’t been done before, they want to join forces and be a part of something bigger. The gamer has to decide what to do, not be explicitly told what to do.

    Jane created a game to be played during one night in the New York Public Library, from 7pm to 5am. Titled Find the Future, the game was built for 500 players and despite concerns that they would not get enough applicants, more than 5,000 people applied to play. The game was based on a quest for artifacts within the library that were connected to real-world changes, leading to the collaborative writing of book chapters. The final product was a physical book, printed and hand-bound, which now lives in the library’s rare book collection.

    Jane challenged the audience to think about games and play. How can we add aspects of these to education and classrooms? Is this part of what’s needed to keep students engaged, motivated and excited about learning? For more info on NY Library games night, click here.

    9:30 - 10:00
    Morning Break
    10 - 11
    5A | Literacy and Numeracy: Beyond the ABCs and 123s

    Reinforcing core skills from K-Life

    Facilitator: Nicholas Dion, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
    Scott Davies, OISE/University of Toronto
    John Mighton, JUMP Math
    Laurel Schollen, Fleming College

    The development of literacy and numeracy skills is a lifelong process, with responsibility shared by the K-12 and postsecondary sectors and influenced by a variety of early-life factors. Scores on EQAO assessments in grade school prove to be excellent predictors of literacy and numeracy skills later in life, suggesting that an early deficit can be very difficult to make up. Yet these skills remain important throughout life, be it to balance a cheque book, take out a mortgage or understand the implications of a global financial crisis.

    Research points to a number of ways in which classroom practice can be improved when it comes to teaching literacy and numeracy. Collaboration between the secondary and postsecondary sectors is important in order to clarify and align expectations and avoid the creation of gaps in knowledge. At the same time, teachers should be given the liberty to experiment and try new things in the classroom based on the research that is available.

    Colleges and universities can contribute to the continued development of literacy and numeracy skills by making them more visible in the curriculum. Faculty should be clear with students that these skills are important in all disciplines, and help students recognize when and where they are being developed. Instead, the typical approach, especially in universities, has been one of remediation – making writing centres available to students who need them, for example. The result is a form of double messaging: students might be told that these skills are important, yet a student in the humanities or social sciences can usually get by without taking a single math class, save perhaps statistics.

    Colleges, for their part, design their curriculum backwards based on the needs and desires of employers. As a result, literacy and numeracy skills tend to be emphasized, and mandatory skills assessments are in place for incoming students in a range of disciplines. Still, employers want stronger literacy and numeracy skills than they are getting from many college graduates. One solution would be to raise the bar for incoming students and make more resources available for college preparation programs and remediation. Teaching methods could also be better aligned with high school, in order to ease the transition for students.

    10 - 11
    5B | Cause and Affect: Educational Decision-Making

    Influences and influencers in higher education

    Facilitator: Lindsay DeClou, Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities
    Kelly Foley, University of Saskatchewan
    Joshua Goodman, Harvard University
    Christine Logel, University of Waterloo

    The panelists discussed factors that influence students’ choice of university and college.

    Panelists from both Canada and the U.S. agreed that students make decisions based on shockingly poor information. In the U.S. the Obama administration has focused on money, with return on investment measured by linking graduate tax records to postsecondary institutions. There is also information available by university (scholar scorecard) that estimates the average cost per student, the graduation rate and the average earnings of graduates some years out.

    In Canada there is little relevant data, other than magazine-based institutional comparisons. In the U.S. there are very good colleges and very poor ones. The quality of institution is less varied in Canada, but there are differences in completion rates.

    Student choice and the information that informs that choice is only one piece of the picture. The same school can be experienced differently by different students. Those who are a visible minority or have a visible disability may experience their education quite differently. If you are not represented in the ‘hallway pictures’ or in experts in your field of study this may change your perspective of your own abilities. If you already stand out – do you go to the professor? Do you ask questions and risk standing out more? This takes a toll on students’ grades and often has a health impact. Changing mindsets can help – but the problem is real and external to the student.

    There is not a level playing field. Socioeconomic factors have a big impact on access and if you have a dollar to invest – you should target low-income students. Although the panelists agreed on the importance of money and the government’s efforts to change the cost of postsecondary education for low-income students, there was also concern about graduation rates and the need to improve quality and outcomes. Participation is only one part of the solution.

    The question and answer period focused on the institutional differences and how they contribute to underperformance. How do we deal with exclusion and race? We need a focus on Aboriginal success. How do we improve the match between the needs of the student and the institution? We are good at it with some groups of students, but not others.

    The discussion ended with a return to the question of data. Are there data that isolate college degree programs? What data do students need? How can we connect students to data? Economists study outcomes that are available in large-scale data sets – generally employment and income. But there are other educational outcomes including cognitive and non-cognitive skills that are worthy of attention.

    10 - 11
    5C | Education Rethink

    Follow the leaders

    Facilitator: Charles Pascal, OISE/University of Toronto
    Sharon Friesen, University of Calgary
    Kati Haycock, The Education Trust
    Robert Seidman, Southern New Hampshire University

    The education system in Finland is generally regarded as one of the strongest in the world, yet the Finnish government is transforming its curriculum to shift from discipline-based learning to issue-based problem-solving. Why undertake such a substantial transformation given the international pre-eminence of the Finnish education system to date? As facilitator Charles Pascal noted in opening this panel’s discussion, the transformation reflects an understanding that there is always room for improvement, even among the best education systems in the world. This lesson applies equally to North America, where innovative individuals and institutions continue to rethink how the highest-quality education can be delivered with the greatest efficiency to the widest number of students.

    To reimagine how the North American education system could be further improved requires questioning even those aspects that are simply taken for granted. At the primary and secondary level, ending the school year in June, followed by summer vacation, is accepted as the norm simply because it has always been that way, despite the fact that the summer hiatus was designed for a 19th-century agrarian society that could hardly be more different from the modern 21st-century.

    Similarly, at the secondary and postsecondary level, a course is structured around a given amount of classroom hours, after which students are assessed (known as the Carnegie Unit). Fortunately, this link between seat time and assessment is being challenged. As Sharon Friesen argued, if what we truly care about is learning, not adherence to an arbitrary timeline, why do we insist on only assessing students after they have sat through an entire course? If students already have the skills and knowledge that a course imparts, why force a student to enrol in and complete a course before receiving credit? Instead, the movement for competency-based education calls for assessment to be given on demand, allowing students to accumulate credits on their own schedule. Postsecondary education can then be delivered at less cost to students; at the College for America, which delivers competency-based education, students pay only $2500 per year. Moreover, because students can gain credit at any time, the traditional four-year degree has been converted to a three-year degree without any reduction in academic rigour.

    Another important way in which education in North America can be rethought is improving access for under-privileged groups. When traditional education institutions focus on under-privileged groups, the overriding temptation has been to try to fix these groups, on the assumption that they face particular and unique challenges. In fact, as noted by Kati Haycock, all students regardless of background face the same difficulties and barriers to accessing postsecondary education; the difference is that those from under-privileged groups are more sensitive to these difficulties and barriers. Addressing these underlying problems makes postsecondary education accessible to all. Friesen described a recent example at the University of Calgary where the hiring of indigenous faculty members led to a new approach to the Bachelor of Education program, based on listening to indigenous students describe the barriers they face. The critical insight gained was that indigenous students are more reliant than others on support networks anchored in their home communities. The requirement to move into major urban centres for postsecondary education is a barrier faced by all students, but is particularly acute for indigenous students. As a result, reforms expanded opportunities for distance education that allowed students to take courses and receive credit from remote communities.

    11:10 - 12:10
    6A | Transferable Skills for the Lifelong Student

    The skills that make and keep us employable

    Facilitator: David Cameron, People for Education
    Jay Gosselin, MentorU
    Claude St-Cyr, Fondation Lucie et André Chagnon
    Kate Tilleczek, University of Prince Edward Island

    What are transferable skills and can they be taught? This panel considered the importance of transferable skills in helping graduates move from postsecondary education to the labour market. While they may not be teachable in the traditional sense of the term, institutions can do much to contribute to essential skills development in their students. However, this may require us to view the purpose of education and its organization in a different way. For example, faced with a highly competitive labour market, institutions must help student set aside their instincts and work together to develop teamwork skills, one of the most prized non-cognitive skills according to employer surveys.

    At the same time, there is a danger in being too responsive to the labour market, which shifts constantly. Institutions that react too quickly to employer demands today run the risk of producing students who will no longer meet the requirements of the labour market four years from now at graduation. In the process, they also run the risk of eliminating or modifying techniques that are already working well for students.

    Yet students tend to react quickly to the labour market, whether institutions should choose to do so or not. Those leaving high school to enter college or university have chosen this pathway in large part because they want a better job than would be available to them with only a high school diploma. The effects of shifts in the labour market can already be seen in students leaving high school, as they abandon arts and humanities programs and move increasingly toward STEM disciplines, seen to be the locus of innovative and well-paying jobs.

    The effects of this shift remain to be seen, but some fear losing some of the more positive influences of the liberal arts on society. And lost in much of this conversation is any discussion with youth about what is actually interesting to them, grounded in the notion that success, however one should choose to define it, is about enjoying what you do and having passion for your job. One remedy here might be to go beyond books and theory in career planning and increase the number of interactions with ‘real people.’ Students want to hear about career pathways from those who have actually traveled those paths, rather than from books.

    11:10 - 12:10
    6B | The Whole Student

    The role of parents and the community

    Facilitator: S. Brenda Small, Confederation College
    Jarrett Laughlin, bv02
    Christopher Penrose, Success Beyond Limits
    May Wong, Omega Foundation

    All three panelists work to engage community and parents in improving access to postsecondary education. The discussion focused on their work with populations that are underrepresented.

    Engagement with the community is vital to developing a holistic approach, learning in the classroom needs to be connected with learning in the home. Working with Aboriginal people means building relationships between teachers, students, parents and communities. Teachers need to learn more about the community with parents invited into the process in a way that fosters engagement. Attending an event is involvement, and this can be expanded into an ongoing and established engagement between school activity and home activity.

    The Aboriginal community has unique challenges, with the experience of residential schools impacting caregivers and caregiving through successive generations. One of the most successful ways to engage caregivers is through the child.

    Working in low-income city neighbourhoods requires a focus on youth and learning with support reaching back to middle school and earlier. Social media can be used to address myths, while a student focus and bottom-up approach can allow students to recognize barriers and develop solutions that will work within their community and their experience.

    Limited financial literacy is a challenge – sometimes not limited overall but a result of limited exposure to the Canadian context. One key way to address this is through partnerships with settlement agencies who can assist social workers when discussing finances.

    The government’s $2000 Canada Learning Bond is a grant for low-income families that requires no family contribution, but only about 30% of eligible families pursue and receive the grant. There are many local community organizations that can help parents understand the details and gain access. Parents are recognized as a primary influence on youth and their school choices. Money in the bank can shape the parents’ view of their child’s access to postsecondary education and this can influence the child’s perception of the future.

    The panel discussed tangible barriers that are often overlooked. For example, in a city where students need three buses to get to school, having one direct route would increase access. A Social Insurance Number (SIN) is required to access the Canada Learning Bond, and to get the SIN you need a birth certificate. Making birth certificates free in all provinces would increase access to the bond.

    The panelists agreed that different groups have different experiences and different needs. Bringing community organizations, parents and students together is the first step in identifying barriers and developing solutions to increase access to postsecondary education.  

    11:10 - 12:10
    6C | Designing for DIY

    Fostering creative learning through entrepreneurship and maker-spaces

    Facilitator: Joseph Wilson, Spongelab Interactive
    John Baldo, Startup Weekend Education
    Randy Boyagoda, Ryerson University
    Carrie Smith, Data Scientist / Engineer / Artist

    The term ‘entrepreneur’ can be viewed narrowly as describing a businessperson who creates new products or companies in the pursuit of profit. However, ‘entrepreneur’ can be interpreted more broadly; in a recent address Sheldon Levy, Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, defined entrepreneurship as the act of looking at the world and wondering what change can be achieved. It is this latter definition that is most applicable to the field of education, both in the aim of instilling the values of entrepreneurship in students and in a willingness to think outside the box on where learning occurs.

    Ryerson’s University’s widely-celebrated Digital Media Zone (DMZ) is an incubator for technological and digital media startups, providing project space and logistical support while linking students and businesspeople with customers and advisors. The DMZ instills in students entrepreneurship in a broad sense. As John Baldo noted, 80% of success is showing up, and the DMZ provides space for students to do just that, creating flexible learning program that occupy the middle ground between traditional academia and business.

    The presence of educators is of particular value; the #1 reason startups fail is team dysfunction, and educators provide mentorship and empathy while encouraging cooperation and compromise. This links to the learning outcomes that ensue from the DMZ. Not only are hard skills developed, but core skills such as teamwork and collaboration are also enhanced. The latter can be of vital importance to those with already-existing technical skills, such as coders, who are often viewed merely as technological contributors to a project. Instead, enhancing their core skills helps harness their ideas, not just their coding, to enhance the start-up’s products. Creativity is also fostered at the DMZ by giving students more control over the tools they use. In the Student Learning Centre, students were given the opportunity to build 3D printers instead of purchasing them. The incubator spaces at the DMZ bring together individuals from disparate backgrounds who might not otherwise collaborate; Randy Boyagoda cited the example of a fashion designer and an aerospace engineer working together to develop wearable technology.

    The maker phenomenon, building on DIY culture, brings together people from all backgrounds to design and construct devices. A range of technical skills are utilized by makers, including coding, robotics and metal-working. However, as maker Carrie Smith indicated, such skills can be taught, or people with these skills can be recruited. For maker teams to thrive, core skills are also needed, including teamwork, communication, problem-solving and project management. Mentorship is vital to imparting skills and building confidence among new contributors. The result is individuals who not only have a wide set of hard skills but also have the core skills that are in demand by employers today.

    12:10 - 1:30
    Lunch with Feltro and The Empathy Toy

    Get creative with...

    Feltro, a system of magnetic tiles that promotes open-ended play opportunities for people of all ages. An innovative approach to the classic building block, Feltro functions as an integrated play-based learning tool in educational settings and a versatile design feature for casual living spaces.

    The Empathy Toy, originally designed with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to bridge the social gap between visually impaired students and their sighted classmates, it has since evolved into a robust learning tool designed for educators, facilitators and students of any ability as they move through K–12, postsecondary and into the workforce.

    Canadian Room

    1:30 - 2:30
    7A | Putting the Liberal Arts to Work

    Beyond the bad barista jokes

    Facilitator: Jennifer Polk, Academic, Career and Life Coach
    Peter Harris, Workopolis
    Martin Hicks, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
    Anne Krook, Practical Workplace Advice

    Contrary to popular belief, a degree in the liberal arts is not necessarily a one-way ticket to a dead-end career. This panel explored some of the myths about the challenges facing liberal arts graduates on the labour market.

    Liberal arts students graduate with a range of valuable skills. They know how to understand and relate to people who are different from them. They can explain complex ideas concisely in oral or written form. They are skilled researchers. They can think critically about a range of topics. Students need to be taught how to take an inventory of their skills and understand how they can be useful at work, and provided with a language to make these skills intelligible to employers.

    While parents are often anxious about the first job their child will get after graduation, the key to a rewarding career with a liberal arts credential may involve playing the long game and looking 20 years down the line. The transferable skills that are core to the liberal arts allow graduates to adapt particularly well to a changing labour market and to navigate the jobs of tomorrow. Many graduates from the liberal arts who are now safely established in the labour market also suggest that these core liberal arts skills become more valuable with seniority and are perhaps most important for managers. This might explain the preponderance of liberal arts graduates in senior management positions among major corporations.

    Still, the liberal arts face stiff competition from other disciplines, some of which offer a much clearer value proposition, especially when they can provide well developed essential skills along with a solid base of harder, discipline-specific skills. The inability to prove the development of many non-cognitive skills also disadvantages liberal arts graduates and further highlights the importance of consistent learning outcomes assessment at institutions.

    In addition to learning outcomes assessment, institutions can help their liberal arts graduates find satisfying employment in a variety of other ways. Students should be taught to think broadly about their job experience and about the contexts in which they have demonstrated key skills. These might include volunteer opportunities and extra-curricular activities in addition to paid employment, for example. Graduating students should be exposed to alumni who have gone on to various careers, and institutions should resist the urge to funnel liberal arts graduates toward graduate degrees without a clear purpose.

    1:30 - 2:30
    7B | EduCorp: Test-Driving Careers

    Getting down to business with skills development

    Facilitator: Paul D. Smith, Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers
    Jason Cascarino, Spark
    Jennifer Christie, John Deere Canada ULC

    This panel addressed the issue of skills development by looking at two sides of the coin. How do we get small and medium enterprises to engage with middle and secondary students? How do we get middle and secondary students to access available resources and consider careers beyond what is in their ‘backyard’?

    One primary example is agriculture. The agriculture sector is very advanced and very different from what most people imagine. Robots milk cows using the same technology as used in car manufacturing. They need people with an interest in technology, but it is primarily males from farm backgrounds that gravitate to the industry. John Deere runs programs to encourage females to consider engineering programs, and there is a lot of opportunity for women in agriculture. Similarly, mining is an industry that is considered primarily by youth who have exposure through family members being employed or by geographic proximity.

    Opening doors to alternative career possibilities needs to happen early to prevent students from disengaging from school and to re-engage those at risk. Spark is a U.S. organization that works to help underserved middle school youth become motivated learners through mentoring, project based learning and career exploration. Initially students were asked ‘what they want to be’ and then efforts were undertaken to find good matches in the business community. Finding business matches was too difficult, and the current approach is primarily to reach out to large organizations and then match students to the business.

    Mentoring and providing work-based opportunities also need to be priorities for small and medium enterprises. This is where many students will start their careers. The development of public policy and incentives could help these businesses connect with students in their area, and perhaps mitigate concerns of investing time and money only to have students ‘stolen’ by other companies.

    Attendance at career days and trade shows provides an easier and less time-intensive opportunity for students to be exposed to alternative paths. But, these initiatives need to have targeted activities and information for youth, and youth need to understand how to engage at these events. There is no point in showing up to a trade show and just ‘standing around.’ Students need networking skills to get the most from these opportunities.

    Different communities have different challenges. In some areas there are efforts to get students to look beyond their neighborhood and local industry borders. The challenge is to get them to consider and understand the previously unconsidered. Other communities have a different challenge. Students leave northern communities and don’t return because there is a lack of diversified economy. Students need to understand all their possibilities and options – moving to access work, considering work in industries that are new to them and developing work skills and knowledge that they can bring back to their community.

    1:30 - 2:30
    7C | Education Unbundled

    Grow-your-own PSE pathway

    Facilitator: Suzanne Tyson, HigherEdPoints Inc.
    Maxim Jean-Louis, Contact North
    Philip Regier, Arizona State University

    As any number of studies can attest, the value of a postsecondary education lies not merely in the earnings premium. Those with a postsecondary credential live healthier, happier and longer lives than those without. However, the traditional postsecondary institution is structured towards a single type of user – 18 to 24 year-olds who are recent high school graduates. What can be done to enhance access for others, especially those from under-represented groups? As this panel discussed, the unbundling of higher education allows students from a diverse range of backgrounds to find their own personalized pathway to a postsecondary credential.

    Online education opportunities, and most notably MOOCs, have expanded greatly in recent years, and these offerings appeal directly to people who were not well-served by the bricks and mortar path to a postsecondary credential. In Ontario, Contact North has facilitated the efforts of the province’s universities and colleges to provide accessible education to 600 remote communities, and provides local support (computer access, exam invigilation, etc.) to 67,000 registered students. In the United States, ASU provides online courses and degrees through ASU Online, and enrolment has grown from 400 in 2010 to 20,000 today.

    Crucial to the provision of online education, however, is that it maintains the high standards of a classroom education. Online courses should not be seen as a cost-saving measure or a new revenue stream; instead, the focus needs to be on providing a high-quality education to students who might not otherwise be able to earn a credential. Online courses should have the same content and learning outcomes as comparable courses delivered in the classroom, with faculty responsible for the creation and teaching of the courses. At ASU, there is no special notation in transcripts to indicate courses taken online; a degree taken fully online is held to be exactly the same as a degree earned on campus.

    Although MOOCs are now pervasive and institutions such as Harvard and Stanford have entered into MOOC partnerships, many universities are still reluctant to provide credit at the institution upon successful completion of the course. Because of ASU’s commitment that online courses are of equal quality to in-class courses, the university not only provides credit for completing a MOOC, but does so in a unique way. Upon registering, students need only pay a $50 fee to verify their identity, and on completion they can, at their discretion, ‘purchase’ the equivalent credit at ASU to contribute to the requirements of an online degree (and do so at 40% of the cost of an on-campus course). This is beneficial to lower-income students, who not only receive credit at a lower cost but can postpone the decision to pay for the credit until after the course has been completed, providing greater flexibility in how students meet the financial requirements of their education.

    As Maxim Jean-Louis of Contact North said, flexibility should be the new mantra of higher education, and should be applied to all parts of the postsecondary journey. While much attention is paid to providing alternative pathways into postsecondary education, it is also important to maintain flexibility after a student has begun; they should be able to set their own pace and have control over when and how they complete their credential. Flexibility should also extend to on-campus students, who desire just as many options as online students to structure their postsecondary pathway. The fastest-growing demographic of online enrolment are on-campus students who need a course or two to fit their schedule, not the university’s timetable. Online students also demand improved standards of service; if their course can be delivered on their schedule, why should they have to wait weeks on decisions regarding financial aid and credit transfer? When institutions meet the higher expectations of online students, everyone benefits.  

    2:30 - 2:50
    Afternoon Break
    2:50 - 4:00
    Closing Plenary | Ministry Mavericks

    Views from the top

    Facilitator: Harvey Weingarten, HEQCO
    Sheldon Levy, Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, Ontario
    Duff Montgomerie, Ministry of Labour and Advanced Education, Nova Scotia
    Indira Samarasekera, University of Alberta

    The closing discussion focused on the challenges facing postsecondary education in Canada. The challenge of sustainability includes declining enrolment in a time of funding cuts. Universities and colleges need to be efficient and effective.

    Institutions face the challenge of financial sustainability in a time of changing expectations. The panelists identified the following as significant challenges.

        • The knowledge decade is here, and expectations are heightened
        • Jobs and the economy are partly the responsibility of postsecondary education
        • Curriculum and program structure need to reflect their importance in the economy
        • The quality of undergraduate education is a concern
        • There needs to be a greater focus on experiential learning, co-ops and apprenticeships
        • Access is of enormous concern for Aboriginal, low-income and rural students
        • The system of transfer between institutions needs improvement
        • E-learning should be more readily available and consistent across institutions

    Current funding formulas are based on enrolment numbers; changing funding formulas to include outcomes is one way to drive change in the sector. Change the formula while recognizing that any new formula won’t be perfect but rather a work in progress.

    The government wants discussion of outcome measures, but this can be divisive. What are outcome measures? Learning outcomes? Access to employment? The solutions will not come unless there is debate, honesty and a willingness to address controversial subjects, with an understanding that change requires risk. The ability to move to the future is accepting risk and mistakes.

    The building of a collective vision needs funding and timelines. Among challenges, elected officials often expect institutions to turn on a dime. Structural change is very difficult for postsecondary institutions, which are constrained by their governance structure as well collective agreements. There is a tension between the senate, the union, the administration, the faculty and the students. This is a reality for university and college presidents.

    Addressing these challenges and the need for change requires candid discussion between governments and institutions. Relationships are key to promoting success and with that goes the development of trust. This is not about integrity or honesty, but rather – do you understand my business? Do you understand what will happen over there if you change something over here? The one with the most cards has to trust. Governments need to trust the sector and the institutions need to work towards developing a more nimble governance structure while addressing issues of economic stability.

    The session ended with the panelists identifying areas of optimism. The students and their abilities, and the faculty with their focus on the success of students, are perhaps our greatest assets. The differences among institutions are small and Canada has one of the best postsecondary education systems in the world.

    4:00 - 4:15
    Closing Remarks

    Harvey P. Weingarten, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario

    Canadian Room