Administrative Planning for Student Success during a Pandemic …

By Dr. Krista Vogt

In student services, we often speak of the products of our work – a great workshop, a thoughtful mentoring program, a popular orientation program, etc. In this blog, I’d like to take a look at the administrative side of student success. These last two weeks, I’ve had the privilege to be at the senior leadership table where important decisions needed to be made for the safety, health and continued learning of our students. It’s been a scary roller coaster of a ride, but I am grateful to work at an institution* that is focused on students and kept their needs top of mind as we made our plans. First, a quick timeline of events, and then I’ll walk you through some of the lessons learned.

*I work at a large (17,000 students) Ontario College of Arts and Technology (commonly known in the US as a community college)

Wednesday, March 11

The World Health Organization issues a statement calling the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Travel restrictions and social distancing are not yet being discussed.

The president of the college calls his senior leadership council with guests from facilities, security, corporate communications and student services together for discussion. Our largest recruiting event, our Open House, is in three days. Our discussion is about what to do should things get worse; we decide to keep going with the Open House and assume classes will continue, we order extra cleaning of the campus.

Thursday, March 12

Late in the evening, the local school board announces that all public schools will close until April 6.

Friday, March 13

The president reconvenes his council and we decide to post-pone the Open House, but continue with classes and employees are to report to work as usual. I have a planned vacation with my family to ski in Quebec. All night my husband and I consider our options, mostly we speak of our own need for self-care and the need to be with our teenage kids. We decide that he will stay and the kids and I will go.

Sunday, March 15

The large university in our city announces it is cancelling classes for a few days and will resume their semester online mid-week.

The talking between campuses is non-stop. What are you doing? What is your plan?

Monday March 16

Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau closes the border to non-Canadian citizens and asks Canadians to not travel out of the country.

Employees report to work and students come to class at the college. Parents and students call our Contact Centre furious that we are still open when the university is closed. The decision is made to cancel classes for the week and resume online where possible on March 23. Employees are still to report to work as usual.

Tuesday March 17

The President’s council meets again, it’s time to send “non-essential” employees home. There is a scramble for laptops and staff rush to grab their resource materials and forward their voicemail. They water the plants, thinking they’ll be gone two weeks at most. Our Contact Centre is deemed essential so a schedule is quickly developed to decide which staff will be on campus.

Wednesday March 18

I drive home from Quebec as I experience separation anxiety from my husband and feel the need to support the staff who report to me as well as my fellow managers who are exhausted. It also seems logical to return home since I had spent most of my time in Quebec on conference calls and responding to emails anyway.

Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20

I am working from home, but spending three hours a day on conference calls. The new routine is a phone call with the Office of the Registrar managers, a phone call with the college student services managers, and then phone calls with my staff team. Once new decisions are made, the phone calls with each team go around again.

LESSONS FROM WEEK 1 – as we plan for online learning and online service delivery

The main question of Week 1 was: how do we get staff set up from home so they can support students? Technology was paramount. We quickly discovered who didn’t have reliable Internet at home, who didn’t have home computer equipment, and who didn’t have the technological savvy to learn how to set up a remote desktop session using VPN. Our concern was for students, but our focus had to be on staff. If they didn’t have the tools they needed, they would not be able to support the students. Additionally, the staff needed to be in place of strong mental health to be able to support students who needed it.

Illustration by Paru Ramesh

My work during week one was about getting staff comfortable – with new equipment, new software, and new routines at home. Many are struggling finding a balance between work and supporting students while also supporting their family – many have children at home. Our college has kept everyone on the payroll, but for many staff members, their partners are being laid off from work as businesses shut down. My expertise is in project management and operations, but this week called for true transformative leadership. What the staff needed was reassurance, help and understanding while learning new ways of working, and to keep well informed of the ever changing decisions being made by the college.

A distant second to supporting staff as they set up from home was figuring out how student services were to be delivered remotely. Daily meetings of the student services managers team were crucial to help each of us in our planning. Counsellors and advisors were set up with the capacity to do online appointments. The Wellness Centre launched Facebook live streaming of fitness classes that could be done at home. For students who could not go home, residence made a plan for food delivery to rooms. We were ready….

Monday, March 23 and Tuesday, March 24

It is the first day of online class delivery. I go to campus but it is a ghost town. Only one door is open; my entrance is allowed because I am on an essential services staff list. Five staff members of our 86 member staff team are in the office – all sitting six feet apart and all there to help run the Contact Centre. The phones are much quieter than we expected. The daily conference calls with college leaders continue. At noon on Tuesday, the president decides that no one should have to be on campus. The Contact Centre is closed and staff are sent home, but my next task is to find a way to open back up again … with the Contact Centre newly configured to operate remotely. We bring all the plants home, unsure of when we’ll return to our offices.

Wednesday, March 25 to Friday, March 27

Everyone is now working from home. Contact Centre staff are answering the emails that are coming in quickly now that students and parents have no one to phone. IT services staff work 12+ hour days reconfiguring the phone network and assisting staff and professors struggling to move to online delivery. My days are spent on the phone – 5 and 6 hours at a stretch. Student services are being delivered remotely. Our focus shifts to how we are going to complete the semester and what we will do about our next semester, with 3000 new students set to start a new college program on May 4.

How do distance learners connect?
Credit: Adobe Stock: rocketclips

LESSONS FROM WEEK 2 – as students begin their online coursework

There have been two main issues arising for students as they transition to online studies; technological access and money to support themselves. Our college put 2280 classes online last week. We are hearing from a minority of students that they are just not able to get online. The access issue is one of equipment failure; the students may live in place without cable internet or they simply may not own a computer. We have set up a computer lab, close to a college entrance with social distancing and cleaning protocols in place to assist with this access issues. More difficult to solve is an access issue related to students with disabilities or learning challenges that make online learning impossible. We are working with Counselling and Accessibility Services, Indigenous Services, and the Learning Centre to work with each student individually to come up with a success plan. Professors have also been incredible and adapting where possible.

With businesses closing, our students are experiencing layoffs from work. Many rely on this work to provide for their basic needs. Adapting to online learning is taking a back seat to figuring out how rent will be paid and where the next meal is coming from. We are working on a simplified bursary system as well working with our student’s union to distribute food vouchers.

The reality however is many students will not be able to finish, and this will be the focus of week three. We are working to put a withdrawal form online and remove the barrier of insisting on a 1:1 meeting with an advisor before withdrawal (but offering this service for those who choose it). We will then need to develop a recovery plan to help these students find a pathway to credential completion.

In Ontario, the peak of the outbreak is expected in the next two weeks. Public schools are no longer resuming on April 6. Staff supporting students from home may be our new normal for the foreseeable future. We’re focused on access to online learning and financial hardship faced by students. I wonder what new issues will arise for students in the coming months?

For some levity in a tough situation, I leave you with a game you I will be playing at work today….

How are you leading to support student success in your role? Please “leave a reply” as we would love to crowdsource the myriad of ways people from around the world are getting by in this time of vast uncertainty. Please be well and stay safe.

Dr. Krista Vogt is Senior Associate Registrar, Admissions at Fanshawe College and can be reached on Twitter @vogtkris

Enabling Excellence through Equity: Lessons Learned

By: Tricia Seifert

The image conveys moving from one water-based space to another. On the left is a picture of a rushing waterfall; on the right, waves washing up on the beach.

At the closure of the “Enabling Excellence through Equity” conference, the presenter shared the famous Winnie the Pooh quote from A.A. Milne in the right-hand photo above; “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come find you. You have to go to them sometimes.” I left the waterfalls, forests, and mountains of Montana to look up at the red bellied black snake hillside of the Woolyungah (the five islands), nestling my toes in the sand on the beach in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. This wasn’t vacation — I was at a conference — but when people push your thinking and share ideas that ignite your imagination, it is a creative, generative holiday.

I spend the last week discussing how higher education can:

  • Widen participation from equity groups (Indigenous students; students from a Non-English speaking background; students with a disability; students from low SES backgrounds; regional and remote students)
  • Partner with schools, families, and communities to foster a higher education-going culture
  • Encourage and support students to see themselves as ‘uni material’ and develop necessary skills through robust enabling programs
  • Assist students as they transition to higher education and then as they enter the workforce

These were the central streams of the conference presented by the Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia (@TherealEPHEA) and National Association of Enabling Educators of Australia. I am so thankful for the opportunity to leave my forest and learn from others in theirs. I wish to share some of what I take-away from the experience.

Take-Away #1: Widening participation in higher education is no longer a social justice imperative but an economic one.

Jobs of the future will require higher-order, complex, and critical thinking skills. There is a raft of evidence to this fact. I often cite the Center for Education and the Workforce report detailing the need for education beyond a school credential / high school diploma. But I was fascinated to learn of the 2019 study conducted by Deloitte Access Economics that found:

“social inclusion plays a critical role in lifting Australia’s living standards through increased productivity in the workplace, improved employment and health outcomes, reducing the cost of social services and by spreading the benefits of economic growth across society.”

Although I find it highly unfortunate that widening educational opportunity to groups historically under-served by higher education requires an economic justification to motivate policymakers to take action, I was excited to learn of the government provided Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program funding and support of the National Center for Student Equity in Higher Education (@NCSEHE). At a time when the government has re-instituted caps on the overall number of places for university study, HEPPP funding is not a panacea. That said, I applaud the overt support of efforts to bring higher education into schools and bridge what is often two silos.

Take-Away #2: Language is power; how we convey an idea has reverberating repercussions.  

This is the time in the conference where I had to do the most cross-cultural decoding of meaning. The conference organizer welcomed delegates by telling her personal story of higher education and shared she started her higher education journey through an ‘enabling program’. I was fortunate to have my friend and colleague, Sam Avitaia from the University of Wollongong-Bega, as my cultural translator and I asked her at morning tea what is enabling education.

As I grappled to understand this new concept, I kept looking for the American equivalent. In some ways, it may be akin to what we call ‘remedial education,’ which in its most generous term is referred to as ‘developmental education’. But here’s the distinction, remedial/developmental education is predicated on what students lack. There is something deficient about the students’ preparation and the university is called upon to fill in the deficiency.

After attending several enabling sessions at the conference, I came to understand that ‘enabling education’ comes from a different starting place. Rather than situating the student as deficient and in need of remediation, the student is seen as completely whole, with promise, potential, and capacity. The enabling education program is designed to assist students in calling upon their strengths in realizing their goals.

Dr. Leanne Holt, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy) at Macquarie University, also drove home the point of language. She shared how she was “not keen on support” and called on the delegates to re-frame their work as ‘student success.’ Again, ‘support’ as a noun suggests what students lack; what the university must shore up. ‘Success’ recognizes students’ capacities and strengths and places universities in the role of developing, fostering, enhancing, ‘supporting’ student capacity toward success.

Take-Away #3: Make the implicit, explicit. Decode the hidden curriculum

Sally Kift (@KiftSally) kicked off the conference with the opening keynote. It was a policy and practice Tour de Force. Amidst my furious writing of policy documents to download, she returned over and over to the fact that First Year Experience 3.0 must be whole-of-institution, shared responsibility for “transition pedagogy” (Kift, Nelson & Clarke, 2010).

Too often, students are left to arrive at university with their secret decoder ring to make sense of higher education’s ‘hidden curriculum’. However, for those who are First in Family (or first generation) to attend higher education, they have no such ring. These students must figure out #HowToUni (my favorite hashtag of the whole conference) on their own. Not only is this expectation of first-year students unfair, it is quite simply, wholly inequitable.

Drawing and extending from Dr. Kift’s presentation, I offer the following. If we are to realize the promise of widening participation, institutions must:

  1. Manage the transition by unpacking the hidden roles and inviting students to conceive of their own vision of success
  2. Acknowledge the diversity of its entering/commencing students and recognize these students come with different forms of capital that must be engaged as students master their new ‘student role’
  3. Design curricula with intention. Imagine curricula that was coherent, scaffolded, relevant, and organized in such a way that students received timely feedback on their performance. If higher education academic and professional staff purport to have this expertise, then students rightfully should expect them to employ it effectively.
  4. Create curricula that call on students to be teachers and learners with peers, academic and professional staff, industry, and with their families & communities. Learning is a social enterprise. We teach when we are engaged with another. We learn, similarly, in community.

As I reflect on an amazing conference, I am grateful for the opportunity to have shared and learned with equity and enabling practitioners and researchers from across Australasia. I come back to the Maori phrase written three times in my journal:

he tangata       he tangata       he tangata – it is people.

‘It is people’ (he tangata) is the answer to “what is the most important thing?” It is people who have spurred me to cultivate a rich sense of curiosity and inquiry. It is people, their possibilities and promise, that move me to teach.

Tricia Seifert is Head of the Department of Education at Montana State University and Associate Professor in the Adult & Higher Education program. She also curates the Supporting Student Success blog. If you wish to guest write for the blog, please leave a comment below, tweet @TriciaSeifert, or email tricia.seifert@montana.edu.

Sharing Practice from Around the World

By: Tricia Seifert, curator of the Supporting Student Success blog

As times change, the purpose of some things change as well. This blog was originally created as a place to share findings from the Supporting Student Success research project, a multi-institutional mixed methods study that sought to understand how colleges and universities across Canada organized and cultivated a culture to support student success on campus. Information about the study remains on the website. There are tabs detailing the different phases of the project, the surveys we designed, the presentations and publications that have derived from the work, and the amazing team that made it happen.

Although we continue to publish from the Supporting Student Success project, the blog has become a place for practitioners from around the world to share promising practices that are improving their work and their ability to support students to achieve their personal and academic goals. In 2019, we published posts from scholarly practitioners in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with a post from Australia in the wings. Blog viewers come from over 50 countries including Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Philippines, South Africa, as well as Trinidad and Tobago.

Gall-Peters map. Image by Daniel R. Streve.

Recently, I was on a call with people involved in student affairs and services from around the world. We were discussing the avenues by which we could learn from the good work being done internationally. We identified the many wonderful venues that publish research studies on student affairs and services and their contributions to student learning and development. These include the Canadian Journal of Higher Education, Journal of Australia and New Zealand Student Services Association, Journal of College Student Development, Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, and the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa. But we were thinking about how we might share and learn from international colleagues in a way that is less formal than a standard research article.

I think the Supporting Student Success blog could be one place. With a post in January 2019 detailing how one university in Mexico created a one-stop shop for student services to a recent post from a Canadian university describing holistic supports for indigenous students studying Science Mathematics Technology and Engineering disciplines, the Supporting Student Success blog has provided a forum to share and learn from others.

So today, I invite you to give some thought as to what you are doing in your work that is interesting and innovative. What would you like to share with the 3,680 (and counting) Supporting Student Success blog followers? And let me ask this question on the flip side: what would you like to learn from others? Please take 2 minutes to “leave a reply” and answer one or both of these questions. If you have something to share in the form of a future blog post, please leave your contact information so I may follow up with or you can reach me directly at tricia.seifert@montana.edu.

Our readers look forward to hearing from you.

For map enthusiasts, the image at the top of the page is a representation of the Sinu-Mollweide map created by Allen K. Philbrick in 1953. These images were taken from the Future Mapping Company website.

Learning Like a First-Year

By @TriciaSeifert

I went back to school this year. Not literally but figuratively. On July 1, I began a new job as Head of the Department of Education at Montana State University (#montanastate). Ten days later I was in front of a classroom of new first-year students during summer orientation, doing what department heads do. I welcomed the students to MSU. I congratulated them on the brilliant choice to become a bobcat (the MSU mascot). I shared that becoming a teacher provides them a chance to leave a positive impression on the future students whose lives they will touch. I also confessed that I felt just like they looked.

back-to-school-fears-5

Underneath my confident persona, I was scared. I don’t know what it means to be a department head. I’m not sure of my role. There are new acronyms every day; buildings that I’ve never stepped foot in; meetings that I’ve never been invited to. I’m facing situations never encountered and supervising a staff who two months ago helped me operate the copier. I’m a first-year student all over again.

So I shared my fear and trepidation with this group at orientation. I let them know that we will learn together. We will struggle together. We will make mistakes together. I’m part of the Class of 2016. (It seems much more logical to state the year one matriculates then graduates.)

And I also shared what I had learned in my brief time on the job.

Stated simply, there are amazing people on this campus (and yours too) who will drop everything to aid in their success.

Let me provide a couple of examples.

  1. When I didn’t know how to access the university’s secure computer network, I asked the department’s administrative associate. She painstakingly walked me through the multitude of pull down menus. This was helpful but I also searched “access secure network” from the university website and bookmarked the step-by-step instructions for connecting from my Mac.

When students don’t know how to access the institution’s Learning Management System or other technology platform, who do they go to? Is there an IT Help Desk somewhere centrally located? Are there step-by-step guides on the university website? Are these guides searchable using several different terms? Because let’s be honest, it’s possible (no, more like probable) that not all new students will know that D2L has been re-named Brightspace LE.

It’s helpful to have a person be a resource but it’s just important to develop our resourcefulness.

One more example . . . .

  1. In my first month, I hired several full-time staff members and navigated university policy and procedure for crafting letters of appointment for countless sessional instructors and Graduate Teaching Assistants. The College’s personnel officer has been patient and kind despite me asking the same question 100 times. I am grateful beyond words.

As I observed the personnel officer’s fortitude in answering my repeated questions, I was reminded of the patience and kindness that academic advisors, financial aid administrators, and folks in the Registrar’s Office show to students every year. With each new class, they answer the same question 1000 times. It’s probably why offices have developed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) webpages. But beyond the technology, it’s the care and consideration shown to students through conversation that make the difference.

There is comfort in knowing that someone is there to help guide through the post-secondary process.

And at the end of the day, knowing that I don’t have to do it alone is what has mattered the most to me. As a new member of the “Department Head’s Roundtable,” I have met others from across campus who confront similar questions and face related challenges.

commuity

There’s a reason why protagonists in novels rarely go it alone. Rather, they are part of a “merry band of brothers” or the “sisterhood of the traveling pants.” There is strength in numbers and comfort in community.

As we begin this new academic year, I invite you to share how you found the community from which you gain strength and what you are doing to assist students in finding theirs. Please leave a reply so that we can learn how people are creating community on campus.

If you want to be part of the ongoing conversation, “follow” us @CdnStdntSuccess and “like” the Supporting Student Success Facebook page. We look forward to hearing from you.

So You Think You Can Write?

So you think you can write? I never thought the title would attract such a CACUSS (@cacusstweets) crowd! If someone told me that 50+ people would attend the session, I would have thought they were telling tales out of school. A HUGE thank you to those who came to the session, shared their writing ideas with a partner, asked great questions, and tweeted about developing a CACUSS Community of Practice to support those who are committed to telling the story about our work.

Below is a link to the slides I used which were updated from the ones Carney Strange developed for our first CACUSS presentation on this topic several years ago. The interest in getting a hold of this slide deck was a clear indication to me that people are hungry to write. They feel a need to share what we do with others in the field, with students, with faculty, with parents and community members.

So You Think You Can Write?  – CACUSS 2016

I find writing is a difficult thing to do in isolation. It’s so much better to write as part of a community. So in that spirit of community, leave a reply sharing your writing idea. Leave a reply stating the support you need to move from “wanting to write” to actually writing. Leave a reply to celebrate actually putting word to page.

Let this be the time where writing intentions translate into written articles. Let us fill the upcoming Communiqué with the excellent work of this field. I’m sure that Mitchell Miller (@McGillMitchell) would love to hear from you. My hope is that in ten years, no one laments,

“We simply don’t have the research or literature on that topic from the Canadian context.”

timehttp://cdn.wonderfulengineering.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/time-wallpaper-39.jpg

Working Smarter not Harder: Communities of Practice and Organizational Learning

If there was ever a time in which higher education administrators were asked to work smarter and not harder, it is now. One need look no further than to the numerous examples of institutions involved in some form of prioritization planning process (PPP) to see that efficiency and accountability to institutional mission and mandate rule the day.

Postsecondary institutions are in the midst of substantial organizational change, in large part as a result of financial constraints. Administrators are looking for ways to serve more students (I’m unaware of any institution recruiting fewer students) and typically students with more diverse backgrounds (first generation students, international students, mature learners, Aboriginal students, students with disabilities) but often with a budget that isn’t any larger than the previous year.

How to support a more diverse student body in achieving their personal and academic goals on a reduced budget (whether that reduction is in real or proportionate terms) while doing so in a way that is efficient and aligns with the institutional mission and mandate. These are challenging questions and ones that the Supporting Student Success research team heard at a number of institutions during our site visits.

It’s interesting how postsecondary institutions and postsecondary professional associations face related challenges in terms of meeting needs and expectations in ways that are flexible and nimble. Like many colleges and universities in the Supporting Student Success study, the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) is in the midst of organizational change. From six divisions affiliated under a broad umbrella, CACUSS is responding to member interests and needs through the organic development of Communities of Practice (CoPs).

Etienne Wenger and colleagues (2002) define CoPs as “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (p. 4). They can connect people, provide a shared context, enable dialogue, capture and diffuse existing knowledge, stimulate learning, and generate new knowledge (Cambridge, Kaplan & Suter, 2005).

I had the opportunity to facilitate a dialogue at #CACUSS2014 about CoPs and how they can be effective in both meeting members’ professional development needs and advancing CACUSS’ goals. Similar to postsecondary institutions where an issue like supporting student paraprofessionals spans across functional areas like orientation, residence life and health promotion (to name a few), interest in this and similar issues spans across CACUSS divisions. Rather than duplicate the conversation across multiple divisions, the CoP model allows members from across the association to find one another, share practices and develop resources that inform and advance one’s practice.

The Supporting Student Success team heard about the power of CoPs during phase 1 and 2 data collection. At one institution, a respondent shared about the value of bringing people from across the division together to discuss student leadership development. The perspectives varied and from learning together the staff were able to work efficiently and synergistically to strengthen the support they provided student leaders.

At another institution, we experienced the potential forming of a CoP as a result of the focus group. In this situation, focus group participants learned that they both were involved in developing peer mentoring programs but didn’t know of the other person’s work. At the end of the focus group, they exchanged information and set a time to meet to discuss developing joint training materials.

I’m a big advocate of finding ways to work smarter rather than harder. For me, this naturally means looking for opportunities to partner, collaborate, share resources, and look for synergies of what I’m doing with what others are doing. I see Communities of Practice as a means for community members to learn from one another in ways that inform and improve practice. From a higher education administrator perspective, CoPs may provide additional knowledge and ability to leverage resources to best support a more diverse student body. From a CACUSS member’s perspective, engaging in a CoP (or several CoPs) may allow one to seek professional development and contribute to the professional development of others along the multiple facets of one’s professional identity.

I think we are in for many more days of fiscal restraint. In the current political climate, the pressure toward efficiency and accountability is likely to grow stronger. This has implications for both higher education administrators and the professional associations that aim to meet the professional development needs of those administrators. As Cambridge, Kaplan and Suter note, CoPs have the potential to help people organize, introduce collaborative processes, share existing knowledge and generate new knowledge — all important aspects in today’s world.

I want to hear from you! Please share your experience as a member of a CoP in the comments section below.

By Tricia Seifert, Primary Investigator for Supporting Student Success research study.