Soon after becoming President and Chief Executive Officer of St. Lawrence College, Glenn Vollebregt had the opportunity to outline new directions for the College through the collaborative development of a Strategic Plan for 2014-2019. Building from the core mandate of putting students first, a particular emphasis is put on Contemporary Learners, in which the College will “foster digital and foundational literacies in our students through academic grounding and real world experience.” The use of technologies for learning, whether in-class, hybrid learning, online courses, or simulations, must always encompass and provide the experiential learning that Mr. Vollebregt describes as “the DNA of the college experience.”
St. Lawrence College, with campuses in Kingston, Brockville, and Cornwall, is expanding its use of technology for teaching and learning, paying particular attention to hybrid learning. In addition, 70 online courses in 5 program areas and for General Education, and a new Centre for Contemporary Teaching and Learning to support faculty as they develop and deliver new course models, have been created.
As an additional support for learning, an idea that originated in the Faculty of Business for an in-house ad agency was modified to the design for Spark, a student-led agency that provides technological support and advice for faculty and instructors designing hybrid courses. Spark initially received funding through the Ontario Government’s Productivity and Innovation Fund. In 2014-15, it is funded by the College.
Spark began operating in January 2014, staffed by students who worked with faculty and instructors to design, produce, and deliver technological resources, such as videos, for effective learning. The students, from varied programs, apply for the part-time jobs (12 hours a week) and are matched with specific roles, including:
- Accounts Manager - responsible for client relations and bringing projects to the team;
- Creative Writer - prepares the scripts or other communication pieces;
- Graphic Designer - creates the look of each product;
- Creative Content Specialist - works with graphics, writing, and technology and helps the faculty learn about the tool and the best way to use it;
- Videographer - produces and edits the videos, working to making them more than talking head productions; and
- Student placements - students in the Interactive Marketing Communications program who work with Spark in a variety of roles for a number of weeks as their job experience placement.
Faculty approach Spark with a specific challenge or content they would like to consider teaching with technology. The discussion covers whether technology is suitable, which technology is best, and how it can be developed. Consultation on pedagogy for hybrid learning involves the Centre for Contemporary Teaching and Learning.
Ricardo Giuliani, a Professor in the Faculty of Business, as well as the Creative Strategist and Faculty Advisor for Spark, describes the main focus of Spark as “providing students with resources for excellent learning”. The tasks taken on extend beyond the simple recording of a lecture; instead, they offer quality resources that contribute to unique learning opportunities.
Although Spark has been operating for only a few months, a number of projects have already been completed:
- For a course on politics, videos were made of students responding to questions about voting practices and attitudes. These were viewed prior to class as a way of exposing students to a variety of opinions before they engaged in debate and discussion during the face-to-face class session.
- For testing in the Health and Fitness Promotion program, videos of people doing exercises were created so that the students could watch and note the errors.
- The placement office wanted to move the paper work involved in getting and completing a work experience placement to the Learning Management System – and wanted it to be attractive and engaging for the students. Spark took on the re-design and introduced graphics, cartoons, and a congratulatory video at the end to enliven the completion of the paper work. This was well received by the students.
- A new landing page was designed for the college information site to ensure compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, including questions and answers to lead through the content.
- A learning module was created for students to learn how to prepare effective presentations, using a short, clear, step-by-step video supplemented with slides. The video is used by faculty who refer their students to it; it also serves as a demonstration on how technological tools can provide effective teaching.
- Senior management at the College hired Spark to create videos of the presentations of the 2014-2019 Strategic Plan at each of the campuses; the videos were seen as very successful in capturing the energy of each event.
Outcomes and Benefits
The students involved with Spark get wide-ranging experience in client relations, product development, marketing, meeting negotiations, business development, project management, and other skills, as well as practical applications of the knowledge they are gaining through their programs.
The student response to the resources offered in the different programs has been positive – they appreciate the new ways of learning and the design of the resources.
Glenn Vollebregt summarizes the positive faculty response as: “It’s fun to be taught by your students and they have a special understanding of what other students are looking for.” Spark provides the faculty with mock invoices so that they get a sense of the market value of the support they are receiving.
College groups in addition to faculty, such as alumni and marketing, are interested in using the skills and expertise offered through Spark, and community businesses and partners have expressed enthusiasm about accessing the skills at Spark as well.
Challenges and Enhancements
One of the challenges that Ricardo Giuliani notes is that the students have to be helped to understand the perspectives of, and demands on, professors in their teaching and administrative roles. They have a direct connection to one set of clients – the students – but have to widen this understanding to include their other key client group – the faculty.
As students are limited to working 12 hours a week, and have pressures such as assignments and exams, it can be difficult to balance their workloads with client requirements, and the need for direct supervision of their hours of work.
Working with students also means they have to be allowed to make mistakes in order to learn; client dissatisfaction has to be used as a teachable moment. Quality assurance policies and practices are being put in place.
Much of the work to date has been with video as it is more familiar than other tools. The students working in Spark, and the faculty, have to become familiar with the much wider variety of tools available to them.
All students do not have a computer, which limits some applications, although the College provides computer labs.
One service enhancement being developed over the Summer 2014 is the inclusion of information and support to help professors learn to use some common technology tools on their own on the Spark website. In addition, a blog on available and recommended tools will be used to highlight some of the possibilities. This support will include links to some of the high-quality content openly available on the sites of other colleges and universities in Ontario.
A project management structure is being developed for implementation in Fall 2014 to help ensure that the consultation, development, and delivery processes are controlled, tracked, and interactive.
In the next stage of development, students will provide services for clients outside of the College, for perhaps 20-30% of their time, as a revenue generating business. Eventually, Spark is expected to be self-supporting. The project has to develop financial viability and solid management and business practices to survive long-term.
In the next few years, Glenn Vollebregt sees increased use of online, hybrid, and simulated learning experiences as ways of providing and enhancing real-world experience. At St. Lawrence College, every program will be offering hybrid and/or online options to provide enhanced local access and extend college reach.
For Further Information
President and CEO
St. Lawrence College
Professor, School of Business
Faculty Advisor, Spark
St. Lawrence College