Providing student support services through online resources for learning
Support services are essential to students at every post-secondary institution, as they support and extend the classroom and campus experience. At the University of Ottawa, some of the support services have integrated online learning components to make the services more accessible, responsive, and widely available. Some of these resources are also used to supplement classroom learning.
Visez juste: French-speaking students, employees, and professors at the University of Ottawa are faced with the challenges (and benefits) of living in a bilingual milieu, and often need help with their written and spoken French. With support from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, Visez juste was created as a website to address this need.
Co-operative education: Co-operative education is a critical component of the education offered at the University of Ottawa. There are 60 co-operative programs offered at the undergraduate and master’s levels in arts, science, social science, engineering, law, and management. The Co-operative Education Programs office (CO-OP Office) supports the co-op students throughout the process of preparing for, finding, choosing, succeeding in, and preparing a report on the placement through workshops and one-on-one counselling. Offering workshops through online learning was seen as a way of providing the students with access to quality, self-paced learning outside the crowded workshops. The subject matter experts were frequently repeating the same workshop because of the number of students enrolled in the Co-op Education program. By replacing the face-to-face workshops with interactive and engaging modules, they could have time for more one-on-one consulting with students, including interview simulations and résumé reviews.
The innovations have the common characteristic of responding to the need for student support that extended across faculties and disciplines.
Visez juste is an online, publicly available website containing video, audio, text, and animation that addresses points of French grammar, spoken French, writing skills, spelling, and, a particular challenge for Francophones in a bilingual environment, anglicismes.In cooperation with a content expert who is a part-time professor in the Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute and the Faculty of Education, the Centre for e-Learning designed Visez juste to be used interactively, including instructions, vocabulary, models of letters and e-mails, correct (non-anglicized) expressions, helpful rules, and grammatical solutions, all supplemented with exercises that provide feedback and explanations. The professor used her detailed knowledge of the common errors made in French, based on her 25 years of experience. The site has been created like an interactive book with activity and feedback, often verbal, to keep the students engaged and progressing. The content can be used in the classroom, assigned by professors, or used by students for self-directed learning.
Co-operative Education: Several online modules were created as alternatives to the CO-OP Office workshops for students preparing for the first work placement in their programs. In the co-op programs, the students usually take part in their initial four-month, paid work placement in the summer after their second year.
Students who do not find a job in the first round of interviews then become part of the continuous placement process, in which they continue to look for suitable placements and attend interviews. One of the online modules was designed to support this phase, providing information and activities on applying for co-op jobs, the realities of the job market, and what employers are looking for. The module features videos with employers, a simulation of an interview, exercises, and resources to inform, support, and motivate the students who may be discouraged about not yet getting a placement. As well, there is a mandatory post-test to ensure that the students have achieved the objectives. The module is available in French and English.
Outcomes and Benefits
Visez juste: Both students and professors have been enthusiastic about the benefits of Visez juste. Students use it to help with their writing for class assignments, to prepare for job interviews and for writing entrance examinations for universities in Québec and the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. Students have praised the clarity of the rules and explanations, the use of exercises to verify understanding, and have described the site as pertinent, well designed, easy to use, dynamic, and an excellent tool for learning. Colleagues have also praised the site and affirmed that their students benefit from using the site and find it easy to access and use. They have also found it an excellent tool for their own review of the rules of French. .
Co-operative Education: The Continuous Placement module has been well-received by the students who enjoyed using it and scored well on the post-test. In addition to receiving essential information on getting a work placement, the students are now better prepared for sessions with the counsellors in the Co-operative Education Programs Office as they are more aware of their own needs and have specific questions. The module emphasized active learning and completion of exercises throughout the process rather than the transfer of information that was the usual format of this workshop. The counsellors in the CO-OP office had more time to work with students as they had to provide fewer workshops.
Challenges and Enhancements
Visez Juste: The main challenges for the site were technical, although each issue has been addressed as it arose. The use of animations on the site has made it more difficult to have the site completely accessible. The content can only be modified or expanded at the University of Ottawa, which restricts its adaptation, but not its usage, by other institutions.
Co-operative Education: The major challenge in preparing the modules was getting access to the subject matter experts in the CO-OP Office as they have constant demands on their time from the students.
Richard Pinet, the Director of the Centre for e-Learning, has stated that the staff of the Centre are willing to discuss their experiences in designing these resources and to learn from the experience of others working on similar initiatives.
Visez justecan be used by post-secondary instructors and students across Ontario. Although initially designed for Francophone students living in a bilingual environment, the content and exercises can be used by both Francophones and advanced French-as-a-second-language learners to improve their written and spoken French. Visez Juste is one of the most popular sites at the University of Ottawa, with about 5,000 visits a week. It is also used as a model for the development of other sites.
Co-operative Education: The template created for the initial module is being used and updated for the development of subsequent modules addressing other aspects of the co-operative education process. The latest module focuses on mobility for those students with international co-op placements. Part of this module is available as a PDF file outside of the Learning Management System, so that students can complete it when they are out of Canada. All of the modules are also been retrofitted to meet the requirements for accessibility.
The Co-operative Education Programs Office is willing to have other postsecondary institutions in Ontario make use of the current and future modules, including adapting them as necessary for individual institutions. Requests for the modules can be sent to Centre for e-Learning ([email protected]) as well as the CO-OP Office ([email protected]). The CO-OP Office has asked only that they be informed if an institution is planning on using or modifying them, or any of the content on their website.
Director, Centre for e-Learning
University of Ottawa