ALBERTA – Alberta’s colleges have played a vital role in ensuring the success of their students, even in the face of exceptional circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Servicing all regions of the province, Alberta’s 11 Comprehensive Community Colleges (CCCs) have shown adaptability, innovation and care to make sure students were able to finish their programs on time, getting job-ready students in place to contribute to Alberta’s economic recovery.
“It took an incredible effort and show of faith from our entire campus community – faculty, staff and students – to make this ‘new reality’ a reality,” says Dr. Paula Burns, Lethbridge College President and CEO. “Our students are still receiving excellent education through online methods, and they have reached a new level of communication and trust with their instructors.”
Alberta’s colleges took exceptional steps to ensure students met educational outcomes, had access to technology, had needed supports in place and were engaged in their learning – even as instruction moved out of classrooms and labs and onto online platforms in March.
While many take access to technology as a given, Alberta’s colleges recognized it is a gap for many students, and took steps to make sure all students had what they needed to meet their course outcomes. Portage College worked with the local Frog Lake First Nation to provide new laptops and printers for band members enrolled in studies. NorQuest College made similar effort to ensure the critical tools needed got into the hands of students by providing over 300 laptops to students who did not have a personal computer. To close the gap until the new computers arrived, faculty members hand-delivered booklets and resources to students at their homes.
Northern Lakes College made a similar commitment, providing devices pre-loaded with course materials to students at home, while Medicine Hat College and other institutions were able to keep computer labs open while maintaining social distancing and cleaning protocols.
“Transitioning almost our entire college community to alternative modes of learning was an incredible undertaking, and our staff and students far exceeded our expectations,” says Dr. Alice Wainwright-Stewart, Lakeland College President and CEO. “With the support of our IT department, we were able to embrace Alberta Health Services’ guidelines to keep our families and communities safe.”
Meeting learning outcomes was a top priority for all of Alberta’s colleges. When classes moved online, faculty and staff found creative and innovative solutions to replicate the results provided by hands-on programs, practicum experiences and industry placements. Grande Prairie Regional College Nursing faculty replaced in-person clinical instruction with Canadian history case studies, including examining characteristics and details of Canadian criminals and instructing students on how to speak and interact with patients who have mental illnesses.
Lethbridge College Child and Youth Care students created resources for their practicum placement sites to meet course requirements; Portage College Hairstyling students trained at home while working on mannequins; and Lakeland College Human Services students learned through online simulations in place of on-site child care practicums – and then the college opened up the technology to all Portage students registered in Human Services programs.
“From students to faculty to staff, we’ve all had to shift our thinking and adapt to a new way of learning, working and living,” says Kevin Shufflebotham, Medicine Hat College President and CEO. “Medicine Hat College is committed to students and to the communities we serve, and we will continue to educate and engage our region, despite these extraordinary circumstances.”
In addition to meeting educational outcomes, Alberta’s colleges took exceptional steps to ensure student services were maintained in this new environment. Red Deer College and other institutions quickly transitioned library, learning supports, and health and wellness resources to online platforms to make sure students had the tools they needed to succeed.
“Bow Valley College has transformed how we offer our education,” says Laura Jo Gunter, Bow Valley College President. “We achieved a 98 per cent success rate in moving our students to learning remotely. On any given week, over 9,000 students are taking 1,500 of our classes online, taught by 600 instructors. We led five global webinars sharing how our nursing school developed teaching and learning strategies to maximize student success and empower active and applied learning using Microsoft Teams.”
Despite never-experienced-before circumstances, Alberta’s CCCs are ensuring they remain active and relevant to meet the needs of learners and the provincial economy.
Alberta’s 11 Comprehensive Community Colleges (Bow Valley College, Grande Prairie Regional College, Keyano College, Lakeland College, Lethbridge College, Medicine Hat College, NorQuest College, Northern Lakes College, Olds College, Portage College and Red Deer College) meet the needs of more than 55,000 learners across the entire province, providing relevant, high-quality programs that benefit both local and provincial economies.
This is the first of a three-part look at the role of Alberta’s colleges during the COVID-19 pandemic:
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Senior Communications Specialist, Lethbridge College