The region of Northern Manitoba covers an area more than 20 per cent larger than Germany, but with a total population of just under 90,000 inhabitants, of which more than 60 per cent are Aboriginal. The vast majority of the region is undeveloped wilderness and features long and extremely cold winters and brief, warm summers. The population is scattered across very small communities. The largest city is Thompson, with 13,000 people. The main industries are mining, forestry and tourism.
Figure 1: Map of Northern Manitoba
(Insert: the whole province of Manitoba within Canada)
Although there is broadband Internet access within four of the largest towns (Thompson, The Pas/Le Pas, Swan River, and Flin Flon), many homes in the more remote areas either have no Internet access at all or very slow speeds (up to 2 MBPS), often only through expensive satellite links.
The University College of the North (UCN) is funded by the provincial government of Manitoba, with the mandate to provide post-secondary education within this region. It offers a range of programs, including onsite basic adult education, one-year certificate programs, two-year college diplomas, post-diploma certificates, and university undergraduate bachelor programs in Arts, Business, Education, and Nursing. It currently has approximately 1,200 students spread across Northern Manitoba.
UCN has two main campuses, one in The Pas and one in Thompson, but also has a further 12 regional centres spread across the north. All regional centres and campuses have Internet access, varying from 1 GBPS on the two campuses down to 2 MBPS in one of the regional centres.
Figure 2: Map of UCN campuses
All 12 regional centres and the two main campuses have computer desktop labs, and six of the regional centres as well as the two campuses have capacity to use videoconferencing /Adobe Connect and Zoom. Only the two campuses and three regional centres (Swan River, Flin Flon, Norway House) have the capacity to act as host sites for videoconferencing. At the other three sites (receive only), students can watch and listen to video, but can communicate only through chat (text) messages. All students with Internet have access to D2L’s Brightspace learning management system (LMS), from the main campus locations, from home, or through the regional centres.
UCN thus uses various combinations of on-campus teaching, videoconferencing, web conferencing and asynchronous use of the learning management system for the delivery of its programs and courses. The following illustrates some of the different course designs and support systems in use.
Figure 3: Videoconferencing room at UCN
Early Learning and Childcare Post-Diploma Certificate
This post-diploma certificate provides further education for graduates from the University College of the North Early Childhood Education program and other approved programs in the province of Manitoba. Graduates develop the skills to lead early learning and childcare programs. Most graduates of the program become directors of child care centres. This is a nine-course certificate program that includes a practicum. Six of the courses are delivered fully online, but students also need to attend three courses delivered face-to-face at either The Pas or Thompson campus for the practicum.
Laura Ayres, the program’s academic co-ordinator, teaches Community Based Partnerships, Family Partnerships and facilitates Practicum 1. The courses focus on child care administration and Indigenous culture. All 17 students work from home, using Adobe Connect on a 2 MBPS bandwidth to enable wider access, although satellite access is also possible. Students normally need a hard-wired ethernet connection between the computer and modem because wireless modems cannot reliably manage the low bandwidth.
The instructor is on video, but the students use the chat function to communicate. There are breaks for student questions. There is an online orientation session for all students at the beginning of the course. The Adobe Connect sessions are recorded and embedded within the LMS for review. The course also uses the LMS for access to course materials and assignments.
Using Technology to Enhance Student Connection and Success in Nursing
Health Care Aide Certificate
Brenda Wasylik teaches a six-month certificate on health care aid for nursing assistants located in remote rural communities using web conferencing. It is difficult for these nurses to travel from the remote areas where they live and are part of the community. The students generally are not highly skilled in using computer technology. The course has approximately 24 students in each offering.
Brenda piloted the first distributed courses at UCN. She was responsible for creating a community-of-inquiry approach to learning by guiding her distance students to work actively with course content within discussion groups. In her rapport building, prior to use of videoconferencing, she taped student pictures above her computer monitor so she could “put a face to a name” – and she always uses student names in the conversations. Now she uses videoconferencing but still with a community-of-inquiry approach. Her focus is always on the student experience. Discussions are as much about events in their lives as about nursing practice.
Bachelor of Nursing program
Megan Boscow teaches in the Bachelor of Nursing Program at UCN. She was responsible for introducing technology into both learning labs and online courses to support student knowledge and skill sets in the changing medical arena. Megan introduced and helped design teaching using patient care simulators and fully digital, programmable adult, child, and infant manikins. She also introduced broader use of rich media elements and assessments in the LMS, allowing for use of the analytics to support targeted teaching at the individual or course level. Megan piloted the use of a dedicated YouTube channel to create outcome-based learning objects for course use and for creating tech training videos for peers in her Faculty.
Physiology of the Human Body is a mandatory course in first year for Nursing-Intent students. It had a traditionally high attrition rate, which blocked progress through the cohort nursing program.
In an attempt to support students and to improve course success rates, a Peer Mentoring with Technology program was piloted using the following model:
- Students from the third and fourth year Bachelor of Nursing program at UCN are used as peer course tutors; these students are trained at UCN and must have a GPA of 90% on assessment of their course knowledge, tutorial experience and training in technology.
- Terralyn McKee, Learning Technologies Specialist, provides project coordination and supervision, technology selection and implementation, recruitment and training of peer tutors, and implementation of course analytics; and>
- David Kattenburg, a microbiology instructor, is subject-matter expert and core course instructor and consults with and directs the peer tutors.
The tutorials are delivered using:
- Adobe Connect for presentations, chat and questions and answers;
- The D2L learning management system supports discussion forums and tutor reviews of student progress and answers to student questions;
- Online cloud-based tools such as Study Blue, which provides Q&A facilities for teaching biology through self-generated flash cards and quizzes, and Twitter;
- Adobe analytics and D2L to assist course review and revision; and
- The tutorial sessions are offered twice a week and are recorded and available through the LMS.
The peer mentoring approach was designed specifically to improve completion rates in first year courses with high repeat or failure rates. The pilot project in 2014-2015 was so successful the model is being applied to other courses and programs at UCN.