Spotlight: On Teaching Excellence & Program Innovation

BC’s colleges are preparing students with advanced skills and education for employment. 

North America is facing a looming skills crisis. The first baby boomers hit retirement age in 2011 and many millions will follow in rapid succession. Additionally, our economy is moving towards a more knowledge-based economy with 76.2% of all new jobs in British Columbia requiring a post-secondary education†. The double whammy of baby boomers retiring and the new knowledge-based economy means that more than ever our post-secondary institutions need to prepare students with the education and skills necessary for the jobs of tomorrow. In order to be prepared, we will need to retrain existing workers whose industries are becoming obsolete as well as train those traditionally underrepresented; aboriginal, immigrant and disabled learners.

How will we bridge the skills gap?

BC’s colleges are well positioned to do just that. Their mandate is to provide students with accessible, advanced skills and education for employment. With first-class instruction, smaller class sizes, and flexible programming BC’s colleges prepare students with job-ready skills. And the timing couldn’t be better. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business reports that college graduates are required six to one over university graduates to fill shortages in advanced skills. With almost 70 campuses and learning centres throughout the province, BC’s colleges provide students with affordable access to education and skills training close to home.

Following are some examples of innovative programming and teaching excellence that are helping to prepare our students now with the advanced education and training they need for the jobs of tomorrow.

VCC Canadian Chef of the Year.jpgTeaching excellence is flourishing at Vancouver Community College. Their Culinary Arts program is led by recently named Canadian Chef of the Year, John-Carlo Felicella. The Chef of the Year title recognizes outstanding contributions to the Canadian Culinary Federation (CCF). Sal Ferreras, interim dean of VCC's school of hospitality, says, "This is a tremendous achievement, and a well-deserved honour. It speaks volumes about the calibre of faculty at VCC -- which translates directly into the classroom to the quality of instruction students receive."

Felicella has had a strong association with the CCF. He held the elected position as manager of Culinary Team Canada from 2005 to 2009, with 15 gold medals and one silver medal during his term. At the 2008 IKA Culinary Olympics, Team Canada placed fifth out of 34 countries under Felicella's management.

And recently Vancouver Community College students won first place in an international competition at the Aregala 2010 conference in Costa Rica. Led by alumnus and instructor Laura Sharpe, the college team placed first in the competition, ahead of teams representing seven other countries.

In addition to the competition win, the students cooked a Canadian-style buffet for 400 people, and Felicella presented a lecture on Canadian cuisine for 800 culinary students. The skills Vancouver Community College culinary arts students are learning with their first-class instructors are life long and will prepare them for careers in the culinary and hospitality industries.

COTR Aboriginal In Community Delivery.jpgCollege of the Rockies has made it a priority to create programs that respond to the unique needs of their aboriginal student population. Subsequently College of the Rockies, in partnership with the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Aboriginal Training Council and the Ktunaxa Nation and associated Bands, has developed a 15-week pilot program for Adult Basic Education. The In-community Delivery program putCollege of the Rockies faculty members in each of the communities of the Ktunaza Nation from April to August 2010. This partnership resulted in a unique and successful educational delivery protocol that in turn created a positive learning experience for the Aboriginal students. The program found a strategic process that successfully challenged the many frustrations and barriers associated with Aboriginal education. The success of this initiative established an effective and collaborative education delivery system that was responsive, focused and culturally relevant.

Some of the many advantages of BC’s colleges are smaller class sizes and personalized learning environments. At Douglas College, Environmental Science student Ashley-Anne Churchill learned about a study Biology Instructor Lois Shwarz was doing on the impact that indigenous BC plants have on treating inflammation through a conversation with Aboriginal Student Services Coordinator Dave Seaweed. Why? Churchill, a member of the North Thompson Band, had given Seaweed information on plants used by aboriginal peoples for healing when he'd been under the weather.  Seaweed thought the project might be of interest to Churchill. She contacted Schwarz and as the cliché goes, the rest is history.

Biology study - Douglas College.jpgWorking with Churchill and Schwarz is second-year Psychiatric Nursing student Nicole Abbott. She too says it was "a fluke" that she got involved with the project. She happened to be taking a microbiology class with Schwarz. Schwarz knew that Abbott had previously studied horticulture and asked if she would be interested in putting together a poster about the study for Student Research Day at the college. "The content was so interesting to me I couldn't stop," says Abbott, who is now tending to and taking extractions from the plants she, Schwarz and Churchill are working with in the campus greenhouse. Abbott, who currently works as a care aide at Lion's Gate Hospital, is particularly interested in how plants could be used to help treat diabetic wounds and bedsores.

"It's been an amazing experience. Before coming to Douglas, I was adamant that I would go straight to university, but then I found out about the Environmental Science Program at Douglas. I never would have had the opportunity to do field research in my first two years of university," says Churchill. This is a great example of how colleges can provide relevant experience and expertise students require in their home communities.

With many colleges serving rural communities, program delivery is often a challenge and instructors are always looking for new ways to bridge the distance. At North Island College history instructor Brent McIntosh has created a virtual classroom to teach Canadian history to both face-to-face and online students. Using web-based technology, he has created a vibrant and engaged community of learners that spans the province. Students from both modes of delivery create collaborative projects using a course wiki and guide the resulting discussions among their peers for two weeks at a time. 

Most of the online students are nearing degree completion and intend to pursue careers in teaching.  Their experience combines well with the enthusiasm of first year students who predominate in the classroom versions of the course. And students in isolated settings have the advantage of being able to try their ideas out on a larger audience and to benefit from the resulting feedback. Another advantage of this instructional design is that students can choose between being face-to-face or online students.  This flexibility has proven popular with students who are also parents or who have jobs that conflict with scheduled class times. This an example of how a rural, regional college like North Island College offers the best of its small, personal teaching environment to its distributed learning students located in the more remote areas of the province.

Langara student Anja Lanz.jpgAnja Lanz made the right decision when she chose Langara College’s Engineering Transfer Program. Anja was looking for a way to ease herself back into school, and the idea of large class sizes and intense campus life at a university was daunting. She spoke with Langara College counsellors, instructors and financial aid staff, who put her at ease with her decision to apply to the Engineering program, which turned out to be the right fit for her.

The education she received at Langara College prepared her well for the transition to UBC’s Engineering Physics program. Once Anja had transferred, she found the classwork at UBC was at a much faster pace, particularly in Engineering Physics. “I relied on my solid math and physics training obtained at Langara to get me though the intense courses. I really noticed that some other students were not as prepared for the physics and math material as I was, which showed me that Langara’s curriculum was well-designed and the topics covered were well-chosen.”

Nimble, responsive and collaborative, these examples show how BC’s colleges are unique in the way they can educate students for the jobs of tomorrow. As central players in their communities they are able to forge unique partnerships with industry, community and aboriginal groups to create programming that suits the specific needs of their students. Smaller class sizes mean that instructors are highly invested in the success of each student and look for innovative ways to improve program delivery. These are just some of the reasons why colleges are the ideal choice to retrain existing workers and train those who are traditionally underrepresented, such as; aboriginal, immigrant and disabled learners.

The future of our province’s economic health and well-being is intrinsically tied to the future of our colleges. To ensure that we have the skilled workforce we need for the jobs of tomorrow, we must continue to invest in BC’s colleges.

Jim Reed
President, BC Colleges
Tel. 250-595-4866

†Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) data from 2007