Yorkville University is a private for-profit university accredited by the province of New Brunswick. Headquartered in Fredericton, Yorkville University has currently about 6,000 students drawn from across Canada and beyond. It offers the following programs:
- Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology
- Master of Education
- Master of Leadership
- Bachelor of Business Administration
Yorkville University also offers associate diploma programs through Toronto Film School.
The Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology serves approximately 1,600 students a year. In order to practice counselling or psychotherapy, it is important to register with a provincial regulatory college of counselling and psychotherapy, or become certified with a professional association. To do this, students must be able to demonstrate that they meet the professional competency requirements established by the regulatory college or professional associations.
Thus this fully online program needed to find a way of offering academic courses and practicums in counselling at a distance to a quality standard acceptable to the professional regulatory bodies for counselling and psychotherapy.
The program has a Dean, Associate Dean, Director and Associate Director of Field Training, five core (permanent) faculty and over 90 contract instructors (drawn from all over North America) with at least 5-10 years experience as clinical psychotherapists. Most of the contract instructors also work at other universities. In addition the program has 1,100 volunteer site supervisors. In all, the program delivers approximately 200 course sections each trimester, including required and elective courses, as well as approximately 20 new practicum sections each trimester. There is an obligatory 3-week course on teaching online for new faculty and contract instructors, with ongoing professional development activities afterwards. Tuition fees are approximately $30,000 for the whole program.
There are rigorous quality assurance procedures for the program. The New Brunswick government’s Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour holds a full review of the program every 5 years. The Dean, Associate Dean, and core faculty members are responsible for curriculum development, following a standard online instructional design model. A curriculum review committee meets regularly, in part to assess the need for changes in the courses, taking into consideration feedback from students, contract instructors, and site supervisors. A course coordinator supervises the work of the contract instructors and site supervisors. There is a major internal program review every 2 years, with minor changes in the intervening years.
The program has adopted the entry-to-practice competency profile from the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario .
The Yorkville program extends over 2 years plus one trimester. There are 11 required courses and three electives, for a total of 14 courses, plus the practicum. One of the required courses is a skills course.
A major innovation in the program has been the development of supervised practica at a distance.
A practicum consists of 400 hours of counselling experience in a professional counselling setting. Two hundred of the hours involve direct, supervised contact with clients. The practicum is normally completed over two 15-week terms. The practicum covers the final 8 months of the program.
As well as the skills course, which focuses on topics such as interviewing and interaction with clients, there is also a pre-practicum course that helps students prepare for the practicum. Students complete a number of self-directed learning modules related to the practice of counselling psychology, participate in 12 live seminars, engage in individual instruction with a faculty instructor, and prepare a multi-staged case analysis. Students are responsible for finding their own local sites, and voluntary site supervisors (qualified psychotherapists). Sites and supervisors are vetted by Yorkville University’s field training department, which also maintains a database of practicum sites.
At the sites, students work with and are monitored by the site supervisors. Students video-record some of their interactions with clients for later feedback and assessment. At any one time, there will be hundreds of students taking the practicum.
There are several components to the practicum, including the need for students to write academic papers but, in addition to the on-site practical counselling experience, a core component of the practicum is the use of video recording of interaction between students and clients, analysis of the videos by a “triad” of course instructor, site supervisors, and the student; and feedback and self-reflection. This triad approach is used both for the skills courses and analysis of the sessions with practicum clients.
There are three different situations in which innovative technology is used:
- Faculty instructor/site supervisor/student triad for summative and formative evaluations
- Faculty instructor + practicum section (PSYC7106) of 9-10 students for mandatory 12 seminars over the 30 week course
- Required pre-practicum skills course (PSYC6243) instructor + 2 students triad (take turns between roles of counsellor/client/observer)
The triad sessions and the mandatory online seminars make use of a web conferencing technology called OmniJoin. As well as the usual features of web conferencing, such as audio and video of each participant, whiteboard, and online chat, OmniJoin is secure, offering limited access only to the instructor and student(s) in each particular session, by delivering secure video sharing over web meetings that meet strict security compliance requirements and standards. Nothing is uploaded, downloaded, or stored online, to protect the privacy of the clients.
OmniJoin is used in two main ways:
- Twelve two-hour mandatory seminars for the whole class; each section of 9 -10 students is divided into three groups and each group reviews a video of student-client interaction
- Each student receives 3-4 individual feedback sessions from an instructor: these are usually long sessions where a 45-minute video of student interaction with clients is analysed
Students interact synchronously with their instructor and supervisor through the OmniJoin web-based video and audio conferencing system, and they interact with their supervisor and clients synchronously face-to-face. However, a selection of these face-to-face interactions are video recorded and then discussed by the instructor, supervisor, and student via the OmniJoin system. The OmniJoin recordings are also available for asynchronous review by the student.
During the practicum period, students also do five self-reflective academic papers based on their experiences in the practicum. The instructor-student ratio during the practicums is approximately 1:10.
The other online courses are delivered using Moodle and a standard instructional design model. All courses are mapped to the competencies set out by the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario.
Instructors and the site supervisors use the national competency framework for assessing student progress in the practica. Students receive formative assessment from Day 1 in their practicum placements through demonstration of skills at the practicum site through video recordings and the site supervisor’s direct observation.
Benefits and Outcomes
The program has now been running for over 13 years and the main criterion of success is that graduates are being hired as psychotherapists in a wide range of professional areas. The program was one of the first four to be recognized by the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario as meeting their educational requirements; it is also recognized by significant professional associations in other provinces, and graduates are eligible to apply for Professional Membership and the Canadian Certified Counsellor designation with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.
The program has also been able to recruit as many highly qualified contract instructors and volunteer site supervisors as necessary to meet student demand.
There has been high student demand for the program which continues to grow.
Challenges and Enhancements
The main challenge is finding enough suitable practicum sites as the number of students continues to grow.
Another concern is that with many students graduating from this program at some point there is likely to be market saturation but this point has not been reached yet.
Lastly, although one of a very few private post-secondary universities in Canada, it still has to meet and maintain the highest standards for both government and professional accreditation.
There is increasing demand for experientially-based off-campus practical work in many subject areas. Professional associations have traditionally been very conservative in recognizing any professional practical work done at a distance. Issues of confidentiality and privacy are particular challenging when using distance teaching methods.
Yorkville has succeeded in overcoming these challenges by the selective use of specialised web conferencing tools and the use of video, combined with highly qualified contract instructors and local site supervisors, within an integrated online course development and delivery process.
Dr. Peter Hall
Dean, Faculty of Behavioural Sciences
Fredericton, New Brunswick