A Program Advisory Committee at Northern College’s Haileybury School of Mines (NCHSM), on the shore of Lake Timiskaming, wanted to expand the opportunities available to the college’s Mining Engineering Technician (MET) graduates, particularly to pursue a university degree in their field. The college, already delivering its MET program online for a decade, approached Queen’s University in Kingston about a collaboration.
Queen’s Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining has a history of positive experience with Haileybury graduates in its degree program, so its representatives were receptive, meeting in Timmins with Northern College administration, the Mayor of Timmins and members of the mining industry to discuss options for delivery of a new program. When Queen’s administration realized the potential student market wasn’t limited to MET graduates from Northern, and an online program could have broad appeal, the core elements of the new program came together. In 2012, representatives of Queen’s and Northern signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on a Bachelor of Mining Engineering Technology Degree program.
Northern College and Queen’s University have been educating people for the mining industry for more than 100 years. Together they designed a Bachelor of Mining Engineering Technology (BTech) Degree program enabling students to continue their education in a decidedly modern way.
The BTech program is a diploma-to-degree collaboration open to graduates of Engineering Technology or Mining Engineering Technician programs at any Ontario college who maintained a 75 percent average. Its curriculum is designed to meet the needs of both the mining industry and college engineering technology graduates looking to accelerate their careers and education. With a focus on active learning, cooperative learning and student-to-professor interactions, the program offers a blend of purpose-built videos, tutorials, webinars, team assignments, group projects and collaborative study.
Years 3 and 4 each include two weeks of face-to-face field studies in Kingston and Timmins. Students learn data acquisition and interpretation, develop their skills with modern tools and equipment, perform group work and write reports. Occupational health and safety is emphasized at all times.
Before beginning the program, students work with a program coordinator to build an individual learning plan including regular check-ins and the ability to adjust their course load as needed. After that, an integrated learning platform called Brightspace by Desire2Learn allows students to interact with fellow classmates, access course resources and get feedback from instructors as they choose. Throughout the program, students have access to 24-hour-a-day support.
Outcomes and Benefits
David Yokom, Program Manager in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Queen’s University, says the BTech program was devised to provide Canada’s mining industry with “a new kind of mining professional.” Market-focused courses were designed by a team of experts in engineering, education and digital learning, with guidance from industry leaders, to provide students with the technical, business and sustainability skills to bolster both their companies’ success and their own career advancement.
“We are taking college educated technologists and giving them additional practical, hands-on knowledge with state-of-the-art tools and technologies they can apply to solve modern mining industry problems for their employers,” says Mr. Yokom, with results including improved efficiency, reduced costs and system automation. “By collaborating with industry on course development, we ensure our curriculum is modern and relevant. For some courses, industry was the primary author, while for others, it was consulted for course feedback.
The BTech program offers an additional benefit to those seeking to continue their studies. Graduates who maintained the required 75 percent average throughout a qualifying college program are awarded block transfer credits for the first two years of the BTech program. They enrol in a customized curriculum designed to refresh their foundational knowledge in the core sciences and bridge the gap between college and university study. Upon completion of the bridge, students proceed with Years 3 and 4 of the program, which are offered online, giving them the flexibility of studying full- or part-time from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. Ultimately students graduate with a Bachelor’s degree equipping them to continue their education (Masters, PhD, MBA) or progress in their industry careers.
Challenges and Enhancements
Course developers anticipated one of the challenges with their BTech program to be a student demographic largely comprising young working professionals with full-time careers and often family obligations. These continuing education students are severely challenged by the prospect of relocating to a campus and committing to full-time study. Added to this, are mining industry work schedules which often require professionals to travel to remote locations for weeks at a time. With all course content available online, working professionals can continue to work without concern for their location or mobility limitations; they can advance their education at a flexible pace and schedule, taking the time they need to complete their degree.
According to Eric Tremblay, Manager of Online Learning and Development in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science (FEAS) at Queen’s University, maintaining a sustainable curriculum development schedule was the single largest challenge to date. “Traditional courses are developed and delivered by the subject matter expert (SME), however, most SMEs are used to the more traditional ‘residential delivery model’ in classrooms and lecture halls, and can be ill-equipped to develop, create and deliver online course material rich, diverse, learner-focused and compliant with accessibility standards.”
Queen’s FEAS opted to hire experts in online education and assembled multi-disciplinary course development teams with expertise in instructional design, multimedia technology and project management. These teams worked with the subject matter experts to bring their course content into the online realm and adopted a phased approach to course development, which typically takes approximately eight months: Phase 1 identified the course learning outcomes and assessment scheme, Phase 2 detailed one complete week of a 12-week course (video presentations, assignments, tutorials, etc.), Phase 3 detailed the remaining 11 weeks, and Phase 4 included technical and non-technical staff review of the content to ensure it met their standards.
Managing the workload of the course development teams is an ongoing challenge, says David Yokom. “As we become more proficient in developing learning artifacts for courses, the quality level of the curriculum improves. Course enhancements require us to balance the desire to produce a premium quality product with the timeline restrictions required to ensure content is ready when it’s needed.”
Course enhancements outlined by Mr. Yokom include:
- Purpose-built video, such as 360-degree video filmed with an orb of cameras allowing students to virtually move around inside an area (e.g. exploring a machine shop from their computers), or “reality check” videos demonstrating how to apply the theory students are learning to practical, real-life uses;
- Lightboard technology, essentially a large clear-glass chalkboard through which course instructors are filmed as they “chalk (write content on the glass board) and talk” while they and their markings appear on students’ screens like a traditional lecture; and
- Simulation software allowing students to visualize subject matter such as ore bodies or designs of heavy mobile equipment in 3D.
For David Yokom, the real attraction of the BTech program is its potential to upgrade the knowledge of the existing mining industry talent pool. “When a college or university adds new programming to an established discipline, the result tends to be an increase in the number of graduates entering the workforce in that field. The BTech program, however, directly upgrades the education and experience of seasoned engineering technologists in addition to adding young new graduates to the workforce.”
Can the process be replicated? “Definitely,” says Eric Tremblay. “We are already seeing disciplines other than Mining providing online education here at Queen’s. Moreover, we have begun to develop online content for other programs in Engineering and we feel this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
David Yokom believes “the sky’s the limit” for online education. “Every industry faces the challenge of maintaining an educated workforce. The traditional trade-off is between a ‘green hand’ employee who knows about the latest and greatest tools and technologies but has no experience, and the ‘gold hand’ employee who has a wealth of experience but was educated 30 years ago. By creating an online program, an institution enables the industry to educate anyone with a need or a desire to keep their knowledge current. Ours is an academic degree program, but the applications of online education extend into professional development and continuing education. If engineers are required to complete some form of professional development or continuing education – an issue currently under consideration by Professional Engineers Ontario – then online education is a convenient way to fulfill this need.”
For Further Information
Aaron R. Klooster
Associate Dean, School of Trades and Technology
Northern College of Applied Arts and Technology
Program Manager, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science