By Greg Bobinec on January 12, 2021.
LETHBRIDGE HERALD firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the last year, Lethbridge College has endured a number of challenges, from budget cuts to COVID-19, and has moved strategically through every challenge for the success of their students and their institution.
At the start of 2020, the college was working through the Alberta Government’s budget cuts to education and turned their focus to not only the sustainability of the college and local economy, but also the colleges health and wellness, along with the continuation of their growing applied research.
“Prior to COVID – and I would say we still are – we were focused on long-term sustainability and we were just finishing up a focus on making sure that we were growing our domestic and international enrolment, and that we had the right number of students for our institution,” said Lethbridge College president and CEO Paula Burns. “The other focus would be applied research, which continues to be a big focus, making sure that our research is providing real-world solutions for businesses, small industry, and working with lots of people in our area.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting in the middle of the spring semester, the college had to act quickly to move students and staff to an online format. While still managing to maintain the quality of education, faculty and students still faced challenges, particularly with practicum placements and work-integrated learning.
“As we could hear that things were happening, we quickly made sure that our faculty had some aspects of their courses in what we call our Learning Management System, in an online format, being able to see that there was a huge possibility that we would have to move into an online format,” says Burns. “On the academic side we were pretty prepared in being able to manage the classes with the students. The biggest challenge was a number of our programs have practicums or clinical placements, and so it was determining how we could keep students learning at the same time as keeping them safe. For the graduates this year, we made sure they were still able to get the same experience as previous years. We are also experimenting with different versions of the online simulations of experiences, but I would say the quality is still there. They are still meeting the outcomes even though how they get there might look different”
The college was able to adapt to each challenge, as all programs worked collaboratively to improve education quality through online learning, as well as increasing student services to help them during the transition.
“The one thing that we really recognized the value of was our teams collaborating together, because any one team alone wouldn’t have been able to manage all the work that needed to happen.
“But with everyone working together, that was one of our strengths, as well as having a strong and collaborative leadership team, and all the employees across the institution,” said Burns.
To make sure student interests and concerns were addressed, the college surveyed them during the pandemic about any challenges they were encountering. The surveys showed that although for some the online learning worked better for their situation, others expressed how much they missed in-person interactions and the overall college experience.
“The other thing that we did was a COVID survey with our students, in April and another in the Fall semester. It’s interesting because not all enjoy the online learning, but there is a range from people who love it because it fits their lifestyle and schedule, but there are people who hate it and everything in between,” said Burns. “What we found interesting in the Fall survey was students missed that interaction in the classroom and in the hallway. Although they felt that the instructors are doing the best they can, and many excelling at what they do, the students really miss being able to interact before and after class.”
Lethbridge College has always been involved with collaborating with local industries and national institutions, and this year was no exception as Burns took on her new position as board chair for College and Institutes Canada, as well as the college joining the Alberta College Recovery Task Force. These opportunities not only provide students with new learning opportunities, but also the provides the college with a collaborative insight into industry needs.
“I was fortunate to be a part of that as the need for the college group in Alberta, also the exposure for what is happening around the province,” says Burns. “What is valuable is we spent some time speaking with economic development leaders throughout the province.
“We heard from various industries, particularly IT and virtual learning, and some of those industries are up and coming and how do they get access to students and provide work-integrated learning for them. We also heard from industries that are more oil and gas with a downturn and what might be needed in those areas. For the college as a whole, it was really good to get in front of that and say this is already a lot of the work that we do and how can we help the province in this economic recovery.”
Although the pandemic provided challenges, it also opened the door for endless innovation, from faculty finding new ways to educate to students finding new ways to interact and celebrate their achievements.
“It is interesting when you come across a crisis, you find a lot of ways to innovate. The first grads of Virtual and Augmented Reality basically built their own graduation which was super interesting,” said Burns.
“The other area that we have excelled in through the pandemic is in applied research. We received one of our largest grants for the Technology Access Centre in Integrated Agriculture, and that was $1.75 million over four years. We continue to research and have been able to over the pandemic, we assumed management of some government assets, the Alberta Irrigation Centre and the Brooks Green House, so we are continuing to grow our partnerships in those areas because they do tie back to our programs.”
Burns says student success comes from the success of the entirety of the college, and this year many of the programs at the college were recognized nationally for their achievements. Two of the college’s programs received national accreditation, the SPHERE team received a provincial faculty award, Todd Caughlin received the award for Athletic Director of the Year, Kodiak athletes received a number of ACAC and CCAA awards, and Lisa Kozleski received Editor of the Year for Wider Horizons, among many other recognitions.
“Todd being named Athletic Director of the Year is certainly a testament to the work that he’s done with other coaches and staff in the programs, as well as focusing on the pillars of athletic excellence, but also academic accountability and certainly the student-athlete experience,” said Burns.
“I think what it shows for us as a college, and it really shined through this year, is that we have strong programming, strong applied research, but it is all of our areas. In our communications area, we have people doing stuff locally, provincially and nationally, but it’s not all on the academic side. It is throughout the college and I think that shows how well we support our student success and that it really does take a whole institution to do that, and we are being recognized nationally for our efforts as a whole.”
Heading into the new year, Burns says the college’s main focus is continuing to improve the sustainability, quality of education and wellness of the college community, along with trying to integrate every program to have time at the college as restrictions eventually ease.
“The immediate focus for the new year is seeing if we can safely begin to bring some students back to campus. Not every program had something on campus in the fall semester, and we are looking at doing that, of course, the latest rise in cases has made us more cautious and put us on hold, but we are continuing to look at what new programming we need,” said Burns.
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