2021 RED Forum Town Hall
Featuring Fred Meier, President and CEO
Moderated by Priyanji Mediwake, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist
Q&A Table of Contents
- About Fred
- State of the College
- Strategic Planning
- Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
- Employee Engagement
- Student Experience
- Academics and Program Delivery
Please share with the College community what has been happening since last September with yourself and the rest of the SLT team.
I would start by saying that it’s been more challenging for me personally to get to know people at the College through the pandemic. We’ve tried to connect as much as possible through different platforms, but that has its own challenges.
That said, even though I haven’t been able to meet with many of you face-to-face or in person, I have been fortunate to participate in some fantastic virtual meetings, and events such as this one, as well as other initiatives organized by some of our leaders and others across the College. These have provided me that opportunity for connection and growth during this period of time.
I do have high hopes, though, that we’re going to see the other side of this pandemic quite soon, and in a few months, we’ll be able to get together in person again. As you know, huge efforts are focused on the vaccination campaign rolling out across the province. I encourage you to talk to your healthcare provider and get vaccinated, so that we can continue to work towards a return to normal. We all want to see the other side of this.
As a College community, we have all been extremely busy. It’s been a year like no other, full of personal and professional challenges. But despite those challenges, this community continues to rise to the occasion each and every time we’re asked to, and I can’t tell you how proud I am about the work we’ve been able to accomplish together – whether it’s the creation of micro-credentials in response to the pandemic, or virtual convocation celebrations, or our ability to bring our students through to graduation during the past 15 months, or the participation on strategic planning.
I’m always so impressed by the commitment from this community to get involved, and to go above and beyond on an ongoing basis.
One of the things our Senior Leadership Team has been talking about a lot is how this pandemic is shaping post-secondary education, and how we anticipate that change will continue after the pandemic. This topic is the centerpiece of our strategic planning. I can’t imagine a better time for us to talk about strategy than right now, even though we’re in the midst of this pandemic and focused on so many different priorities. If we were developing our strategic plan prior to the pandemic, I don’t think we would have had the same vision, approach and understanding that we have right now.
The world of work was already changing before the pandemic, and now we’re seeing how COVID-19’s disruption has accelerated those changes within the economy and the labour market.
For instance, we continue to see how new technologies and economic realities are playing out right before our eyes. The world of work was already changing before the pandemic, and now we’re seeing how COVID-19’s disruption has accelerated those changes within the economy and the labour market.
We understand now, better than ever, that we need to ensure employers have access to a workforce equipped not only with hands-on learning and technical skills, but human skills such as problem solving, decision-making and collaboration needed to navigate the disruption we’re facing today and will continue to face tomorrow.
For us, that means creating a strategic plan and vision that enables us to make big leaps forward instead of small steps, so that we can stay ahead of workforce needs that will continue to change. It means continuing to create programs that are uniquely designed in collaboration with employers. It means staying nimble so that we can rapidly develop micro-credentials to fill labour market gaps and provide training for employees who are upskilling or reskilling. It means committing to be more inclusive – not only in terms of the learners we attract and the graduates we develop, but as a value we instill in the leaders we shape to lead and serve our communities tomorrow.
I see this as an exciting time for the College I’m looking forward to building on this momentum.
What are the badges on your jacket, and why are you wearing them today?
The first one is RRC Polytech, and the second one is Pride in honour of Pride Week, for which we’ll be raising the Pride Flag on campus.
This third one says I’ve been vaccinated. As soon as the age limit dropped for AstraZeneca, I talked to my doctor about the risks and benefits, and I couldn’t be happier about doing my part to support Manitoba’s vaccination effort. I encourage everyone who hasn’t been vaccinated yet to talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional for more information. The Manitoba Health and the Government of Canada websites are great resources.
What have you discovered about RRC Polytech that surprised you the most? And what hopes and challenges excite you the most?
Full confession: I think the greatest surprise to me was how little I knew about Red River College Polytechnic when I started here.
I’m going to take personal responsibility for that: as a lifelong Manitoban, I probably should have known more about the great things happening inside the College, especially as someone who’s known many people who have gone on to enjoy great success after graduating from RRC Polytech.
Take one example: I learned early on that we have 700 connections with industry and community organizations who sit on our strategic councils, the people who provide us with guidance for our programs. I still see shock on people’s faces when I share that number, because the breadth and depth of our connection to industry really is impressive and unique.
I’m also surprised by how humble we are. We just get things done, and do them so efficiently, effectively, and in alignment with what the labour market and our community need from us, including applied research and outreach. We keep our heads down and we move forward – and I think that’s one reason why there isn’t as much awareness about the tremendous things that happen here as there should be.
I’ve seen this reflected in conversations I’ve had throughout the strategic planning process and earlier, while reaching out to community and business leaders to seek their feedback and advice. When they ask about what’s happening at the College, I get excited and start talking about all the things we’re doing. What I get back from those conversations is a sense of how impressed they are, but also how unaware they are of the work we’re doing.
What that tells me is we need to tell our story better, and to be bold about sharing what we have to offer. I’m committed to helping tell that story and spreading the word about the spectacular things happening at Red River College Polytechnic.
State of the College
Education is being challenged by cuts to spending and historic levels of government involvement in curriculum and strategy. How are we protecting our autonomy and vision moving forward?
Thank you for asking this. Often the most difficult questions are the most important to answer.
I can offer some perspective on this because I spent much of my career in government.
The interplay between post-secondary institutions and government has always been an interesting one, and what we see playing out today, here in Manitoba, we’re also seeing in Alberta and Ontario.
The fact is, we rely on public funds to operate, and our largest funder is the Province of Manitoba. Legislation dictates what we do as an institution as well. At the same time, we need to remain autonomous to an extent so that we can, for example, take the lead with the programming we offer and how we deliver it.
Right now, there’s significant debate over how deeply government should be involved in how post-secondary institutions function.
In the Manitoba government’s current Skills, Talent and Knowledge Strategy, they’ve outlined markers that tie our funding to outcomes. They’ve also provided space for us – as individual post-secondary institutions and as a collective – to offer feedback and participate in determining and shaping those markers. Which parameters and criteria should ultimately go into that outcomes-based funding model? We all need to come to an agreement on exactly what we’re going to measure and how the government will allocate funding accordingly.
When I read the Skills, Talent and Knowledge Strategy from Red River College Polytechnic’s perspective, I’m relieved, because much of what they’re talking about is exactly what we excel at.
We’re served well by our proven strengths such as work-integrated learning, which we do so much of through our apprenticeship programs, hands-on learning, co-ops, and even our business programs, and by leveraging tools that help us build and develop robust relationships between students and future employers in industry.
Again, as far as outcomes go, Red River College Polytechnic is already very well aligned with the strategy’s current expectations.
The question then becomes: What if those expectations change to outcomes we aren’t aligned with? That’s one of the more controversial aspects of this approach to funding, where an institution may face funding challenges if it doesn’t change programming to suit an entirely new and different set of markers.
I will continue to advocate, along with the other post-secondary presidents in Manitoba, for autonomy in the creation of the formula for outcomes-based funding, and also for the selection of the programs we offer.
During our strategic planning consultations, I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the Minister. What they’re asking is for us to be nimble. But being nimble is challenging in an environment that includes a great deal of government oversight. What I’ve suggested to the Minister is that we be given macro-objectives, which we can work towards while managing the minor details of how we achieve them. I’m optimistic we’ll find the right balance.
As a public institution, we are bound to – and benefit from – the public funding model. However, as we look to the future, I think every post-secondary institution is now looking for ways to diversify our revenues. At Red River College Polytechnic, philanthropy will play a larger role for us in the years ahead. When we release our strategic plan this fall, we’ll also launch a comprehensive new fundraising campaign. I believe this approach will help us build greater independence and flexibility in what we do.
How many full-time and part-time students does RRC Polytech currently have? Do you see any upper limits to our growth in terms of students/programs, or, given the move to more online/remote learning, do upper limits exist anymore?
I’m going to be frank: there are some challenges to answering this question with exact numbers. Some of our data systems are currently being updated to ensure we have more consistent, reliable figures and measures to draw from across the College.
Add to that the recent creation of new program types such as our micro-credentials, and you can see how deciding how to count students as full or part-time becomes more complicated.
We currently have around 20,000 students enrolled, but because of what I just said, I can’t be more specific than that.
This question is really about growth, though, and I’d like to speak more about that. Growth doesn’t always mean bringing in more students. There are other ways of growing that our leadership team and Board of Governors are interested in: for instance, growing not only the number of Indigenous students, but their success rates. We can do better on that front, so we’re exploring ways to customize programming and improve access.
We can also measure, for example, the growth of our applied research, and our capacity to work more closely with industry, entrepreneurs and community organizations, and our ability to leverage research to enhance work-integrated learning and the student experience. We can measure how much we learn from these partners, and them from us. I see those as important indicators of growth, as well.
Are we going to see more and more students enrolling in the years ahead as we create more accessible, flexible ways to access our programs? It’s possible – and I hope we do. There are also new areas we can expand into, including the variety of types of students we attract.
More important to me is seeing us grow our prominence as a College, and as a catalyst for economic and social prosperity in our province.
After a decade of exponential growth in international education, combined with an increasing financial dependence on international student revenue, how do you see the role of international education in the mandate of RRC Polytech in the next decade? How can we maximize the benefits of international education on our learning community while mitigating the risks?
We play a dual role when it comes to international education. Obviously, we’re interested in developing international learners into skilled professionals and helping them achieve their own professional goals. At the same time, we want to provide them with opportunities to gain residency status and participate in our labour market, because we understand the critical role newcomers play in the economic growth of Manitoba and Canada.
I think in the future, the role of international education will continue to expand much as it has over the past few decades. Our task will be to match that growth with appropriate supports for the students we bring in and the faculty teaching them.
That means building up resources required to overcome language barriers, for instance, and providing more cultural supports – a complex task because each culture is unique, and because we also want to ensure everyone in our community understands our own values in Manitoba and Canada, such as reconciliation and the importance of our Indigenous community. This has always been a point of pride for us: that Red River College Polytechnic goes the extra mile to provide students with wrap-around supports throughout their journey. We want to maintain that.
For instructors, the Academic Success Centre is a great resource we have in place right now, with workshops that can help you enhance your cultural competency as we develop our programming. We need to ensure that keeps up with changing needs as well.
I know the question asks about our dependence on international revenue, but for me, the bottom line is about ensuring we can sustain the quality of our instruction along with those extra supports that are so critical to a student’s success as we grow forward as an institution.
How are we planning to capitalize financially on our applied research in terms of knowledge transfer/commercialization? How will RRC Polytech support applied research (e.g. scholarship of teaching and learning/SOTL) in other disciplines (e.g. Education)?
RRC Polytech does not take IP positions from the applied research that we do. We view the partnerships we build as being based on “knowledge exchange” (two-way) rather than “knowledge transfer” (one-way), by way of which we learn as much from our partners as they do from us.
The College thereby benefits from applied research funding in terms of expanding and upgrading our own expertise and capacities/facilities in research and education, whether that funding comes from industry or government. We grow and develop in concert with the community and industry sectors we serve via a symbiotic exchange.
The College provides financial and other supports to the mission of Research Partnerships and Innovation, which is to develop an integrated research ecosystem for the College in which the nexus between teaching and research can be re-defined for the benefit of both. This will align closely with the strategic plan for the College as it is established.
I’d like to hear about the progress of the development of the RRC Polytech Strategic Plan.
Our new Strategic Plan will help lay the groundwork for us to be successful in moving forward – post-pandemic and beyond. It’s why you’ve heard me talk about it so much these last few months and why we look forward to sharing this new vision for the College this fall.
This was actually one of the questions I know I received online in advance of the Town Hall – asking for an update of where we’re at in the strategic planning process – and what I can share with you is this: A lot of incredible work has been done by a number of individuals, including many of you who participated in the ThoughtExchange and also in the 12 focus groups that have taken place.
There have also been conversations with senior leaders, Elders, alumni, industry partners, community stakeholders – a range of voices and perspectives have been heard throughout this assessment process.
Over the next two months, there are a number of sessions happening to build out two parts of the plan.
In May, we are focused on the Strategic Framework – the vision, mission, values, and strategic objectives. And in June, we start to build out the plan with key initiatives and measures. These will serve as the starting point as we begin cascading the plan into departments over the summer and fall.
Each phase of the work happens in the same way – with senior leaders starting the work, Leadership Council expanding on it, and then a period of validation, where leaders look for input from stakeholders, including you.
Then, during the refinement step, we take all that feedback and build it into the final recommended language for the Board of Governors to approve.
If you haven’t had a chance to watch and listen to the Strategic Plan update provided by Joanne Zuk last week and again earlier this morning, I strongly encourage you to watch the recorded presentation that is available online.
What are your personal “BOLD” ideas for the College and why?
This is a clever question because it’s exactly the request I made of our leadership team throughout this strategic planning process. I ask for bold ideas because big ideas drive forward an organization’s vision and stretch your thinking about what is possible. It challenges the status quo, and in the long run, better prepares your organization for the future. So when you ask me about my bold personal ideas for the college, I will tell you that I want to have a strategic plan that contains a future-focused vision and captures objectives that move us forward, not only in incremental steps, but also with a significant leap.
Will the College’s primary focus be to strengthen its position within Manitoba or beyond?
This question ties back to our strategic planning.
Part of the goal of creating our new strategic plan and vision for the College is to ensure we have the right plan in place to support and build in Manitoba.
As a College, our mandate is to provide high-quality, hands-on post-secondary education to students here in Manitoba. However, part of our goal is to also grow, attract and retain international recruitment and incorporate even more global perspectives because it only strengthens our economy.
Part of the Skills, Talent and Knowledge Strategy put forward by the province is to create more pathways to learning and to employment for our Indigenous, Immigrant and newcomer learners too.
RRC Polytech is committed to being even inclusive of the learners that we attract and the graduates we develop who will be the leaders of tomorrow.
All of these things help position the College to support and grow our economy here in Manitoba. When we can help empower businesses, industries and grads here in Manitoba to be successful it helps build our national and global reach so that we can continue to stay competitive.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
How do you think the College can be more diverse, equitable and inclusive? What can we do better?
We know equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are extremely important for our College community: this was seen consistently through the feedback we got both from our engagement surveys as well as strategic planning sessions, and we have a lot of exciting work already underway to address EDI.
We have analyzed our employee equity representation and shared that with staff. This analysis showed us that we are underrepresented as an organization when it comes to some of the equity groups based on the diversity of the communities we live in. We also have to acknowledge that some of this under-representation is at the senior leadership level. This means we have work. We have to create more opportunities to bring greater diversity into all areas and levels of the College.
We have a number of corporate initiatives on the go aimed at enhancing EDI at the College. One action item is to develop recruitment and outreach strategies to increase employee representation.
We work very hard to create spaces where all of our employees and students can feel safe to be themselves. However, we know that we can’t have true inclusion until equity is achieved as an organization. In order to work towards equity for all our employees and students, we have to fully recognize the systemic, attitudinal, communication, physical and policy-driven barriers that exist throughout our organization, and then address them. This will go a long way towards contributing to authentic equity and inclusion.
Right now, across the College we are talking about what this looks like at the strategic planning level, but we also have EDI Departmental Action Planning underway. This means that all areas of the College are, or will be, holding conversations about where we can improve and where we see gaps, and then developing action plans to address that. If you’d like to contribute to the EDI planning for your department, reach out to your area’s Diversity Champion and share your feedback with them.
What have you learned on your own personal journey in anti-racism and reconciliation, or perhaps as you confront privilege?
Anti-racism and reconciliation are enormously important to me on a personal and professional level.
In my personal life, I’ve been actively making more time for reconciliation and anti-racism by reading and listening to a wider diversity voices and perspectives. I’ve also completed training and workshops such as the 4 Seasons of Reconciliation. As a side note, hats off to the team that developed that material. It’s incredibly well done, informative, relatable, and speaks from an informed perspective. I encourage everyone to go on the LEARN platform and complete it, as well as the other workshops we’ve brought in, such as the Indigenomics workshop.
This personal work informs how I approach anti-racism and reconciliation in my professional role. We as a College are mandated to develop learners into future leaders, so fostering a culture and mindset that valorizes anti-racism and reconciliation is a high priority for us as a post-secondary institution. That has to start at the top, with me.
As a College, we have a responsibility to take an active role in anti-racism and reconciliation. That means coming up with better solutions to some of the challenges we face as a College. The more diverse perspectives we bring to the table, the better we’re able to challenge past approaches and arrive at those better solutions.
We need to challenge ourselves to apply a different lens to every decision we make, to widen who we seek direction from, to make sure we’re developing products, programs, students and leaders that are aware of and informed by different points of view.
I can tell you that in almost every conversation I have with industry and community leaders, diversity, inclusion and reconciliation are very important to them as well. We know we can’t just be participants – we have to take the lead. That’s why you’re going to see these values and priorities underscored heavily in our new strategic plan.
Do you think the current compliment of two Indigenous Elders is enough for this institution? What do you think about having an Elder for each program area?
Elders are a rare and limited resource, and having easy access to them recognizes the importance of Indigenous traditional knowledge in all facets of the College, from admin, faculty and students.
Currently, RRC Polytech’s three Elders-in-Residence are able to assist for cultural events, group activities, ceremonies, and land base training. As well, they are able to meet the one-on-one needs of students and staff requesting spiritual and life guidance.
Elder consultation for new RRC Polytech initiatives occurs as we request it, and we will be implementing an RRC Polytech Elders council to further support the need for consultation processes. We do have the ability to bring in guest Elders when the need is greater.
Planning continues across the College to serve the needs for Indigenous students, staff and faculty.
This question allows for an opportunity to acknowledge not only the Elders’ role in supporting the College and students, but also the additional culturally appropriate resources that staff and students can reach out to throughout the year.
The opportunity to work alongside Elders builds community and bridges respectful relationships for the spirit and intent of reconciliation efforts.
This past two years, we had the pleasure of having a Deaf student in our program who is now graduating with honours. In turn, we also had a great experience working with ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters. We as instructors learned so much about diversity and inclusion, and were able to accommodate our student successfully in many ways – except one: to personally communicate with him. ASL staff and instructor learning opportunities would be a wonderful addition to our College!
These comments are very encouraging. They show how much our staff value accessibility, inclusion, and communication for all. They remind us, too, that diversity enriches the classroom environment and encourages us to look at things from other perspectives.
Red River College Polytechnic is dedicated to providing a diverse, inclusive and equitable environment for all those in the RRC Polytech community. Events such as RED Forum would be a fantastic first step to educate both RRC Polytech faculty and staff about the complexities of ASL, Deaf culture and history, and how the College can create a barrier-free, inclusive environment.
With the transition to course-based registration (CBR), we are hopeful that there will be opportunities to offer introductory ASL courses in the future, which would provide staff and students with basic information on ASL.
Where can staff get an RRC Polytech Pride pin?
The pin I’m wearing was originally purchased for the Pride Parade two years ago.
We hadn’t anticipated on distributing them this year just because of public safety, but those who are interested in ordering a pin can complete the following form and we will be mailing them out.
Is the Indigenomics presentation or training that you mentioned accessible on the RRC Polytech website?
Yes, there are a number of resources on Staff Forum for workshops and training specific for staff. Click here for the Indigenomics workshop.
Staff can also participate in the 4 Seasons of Reconciliation – a professional development training program offered through RRC Polytech’s LEARN website as part of the College’s commitment to embed Truth and Reconciliation education. This multimedia initiative has been developed for post-secondary workplaces through collaboration and co-creation with the First Nations University of Canada, its Indigenous Advisory Circle, and Indigenous contributors.
The training program creates an understanding of the history of colonization in Canada and how it impacts current issues and Indigenous Peoples today. It uses engaging slideshows, short videos, documentary films, and mini quizzes. 4 Seasons provides the knowledge required for informed, respectful and effective engagement in the classroom and workplace. This knowledge helps combat personal biases and preconceptions about Indigenous people. Only through education can we build a stronger future for all Canadians. More information can be found here.
RRC Polytech also recently announced its first TRC faculty star.
There will be more ways to participate in the fall, including the third annual TRC Week in the last week of September, and a TRC book club.
Anticipating a post-COVID return to normal, will instructors have any say into whether they teach in-class (full-time), remote (full-time), or hybrid? Or will the mode of instruction be pre-determined by the course/program?
Thank you for raising the question. I’m sure this will be on the minds of many instructors, given the rapid change to various modes of course and program delivery that we’ve had to transition through to ensure our students are able to meet progression rates, graduation and subsequent employment.
The first step in determining how a course will be delivered will be driven by the nature of the course itself.
As a polytechnic that identifies itself, in part, as an institution of applied learning, we know that many of our courses will be delivered in-class, in-lab, in-shop, or in-clinic, since application of knowledge (theory) must be hands-on: that is, it needs to happen with equipment and spaces that cannot be easily replicated in a remote environment.
The determination of which courses will have to be delivered on-campus will ultimately be decided by the program’s Chair, taking instructor considerations into the decision-making process.
We are not giving College-wide direction at this time regarding how we will deliver those courses not dependent on hands-on learning.
We know that many students prefer to have at least some their programming delivered on-campus. Human connection and interaction with fellow students and instructors remain valuable components of education and skills training.
We also know that there’s a lot of pressure on learning spaces at the College, particularly at Roblin Campus.
However, we also know – thanks to the pandemic – that we are able to successfully deliver programming through multiple modes: online, blended, face-to-face. We find ourselves in the great position of being able to deliver courses in modes that don’t require students to be on campus. These delivery options, and initiatives such as CBR, will help us address questions related to institutional sustainability and student demand for more flexibility in how they register for and take courses.
The future will most likely be one in which every program will have one or two courses that will be delivered online or blended, or in some other hybrid version. In a future state, I can imagine a time when we have our common courses (communications, math, project management, for example) available to students delivered face-to-face, online, and blended, providing students and instructors with multiple options.
When Winnipeg on-campus COVID-19 cases are shared, they are reported under NDC and EDC. Should PGI not have its own alert like the other campuses, since they are separate?
This is a great question.
I first want to commend the College community for the incredible work you have all done over the last year to keep one another safe. From reducing your contacts to reconfiguring learning spaces and complying with all of the recommended health and safety measures –all of this hard work has made us so successful in preventing community transmission on campus.
We believe it is our responsibility as a College to keep you informed when there are positive COVID-19 cases connected to individuals who work or study on campus. However, we also have a responsibility to those individuals who test positive to keep their private health information confidential, safe and protected.
When we share these updates, we never disclose the building or exact location where the case has been identified because it can reveal or lead to information that makes the case or individual identifiable.
Since PGI is part of our Exchange District Campus (the same way that the Skilled Trades and Technology Centre is part of NDC), we do not share exact building locations of cases.
We work very closely with public health, and perform our own comprehensive contact tracing through our team of nurses at the Health Centre, who provide support to those who test positive and those who may be identified as a close contact.
Once we have completed a thorough contact tracing exercise and spoken with all those who may need to self-monitor or self-isolate, we share high level details to the rest of the College community to keep you informed.
What is the College doing to address the effects of student mental health issues on student success rates and instructor workloads? What are we doing to expand and enhance our response to this epidemic, and to ensure that we are meeting the needs for support and not contributing to these problems?
One of the greatest impacts of this pandemic has been its lasting effects on our mental health – and that’s based on the need for human connection. What I hear from our instructors and advisory groups and council meetings is how much students miss that human connection. We all do.
First, I want to recognize that we’re all struggling with our mental health as we go through this pandemic. Even I’ve found myself struggling at times.
But none of us has to go through this alone. The College has put together a set of tools, including workshops, resources, guidance, and speakers talking about mental health issues such as Dr. King, who led a wonderful wellness discussion. You can find more on the Wellness blog.
We’ve also worked with the Students’ Association to bring in additional mental health supports, and they’re using their connections with students to help with this.
I have learned anecdotally that high school students for the next three or four years will suffer in reading comprehension and math skills. Can we formally examine this, maybe through a survey, to determine what shortfalls there may be, and how we can backfill those shortfalls for our transition students?
This question is on the minds of a lot of people, including our faculty. It’s on my mind as well, as a parent.
I have two children, one who graduated high school last year, so the last part of his high school education was remote. I have a second son who is in Grade 11 right now, and he has gone through 15 months of remote on-and-off learning. As a parent, I’ll tell you this: I’m worried about learning loss. I’m worried about his preparedness going forward. I’m worried about the lasting impact this will have on students transitioning to post-secondary education.
I think that the government through the Department of Education will likely be doing some monitoring and speaking to some of the K-12 teachers about learning losses and preparedness for post-secondary education.
Consider the idea that if you focus on experience, successful will follow. Please outline your long-term vision for how we plan to prioritize the student experience, specifically in relation to departmental budgeting in the students support and services areas.
As we look at the feedback we’re hearing through different forums around student outcomes, we’re starting to understand that learning is going to look different than it did in the past.
You’re going to start to see programming that is much more flexible and modular, with room for more student-centered customization. We’ll also move further into online and remote learning and blended formats, while leveraging digital tools more often.
Of course, we’re an institution that sets itself apart by offering high quality hands-on, applied learning, and those experiences will remain a critical part of our value equation. But these new remote learning tools will allow more students to access programs, and to learn at their own pace, than was possible before.
In the core values, Learning, Respect, Integrity, Sustainability. Can you elaborate on what “Sustainability” means to RRC Polytech? Does that refer to RRC Polytech’s impact on environment and community?
My understanding of what sustainability means at RRC Polytech has always been based on the three pillars of sustainability: economic, social and environment. It means supporting employee development and engagement, enhancing the College’s financial sustainability, and decreasing our environmental footprint.
I think this question is asking me to elaborate more on that last pillar, environmental sustainability, which is where RRC Polytech has shown real leadership both on and off our campuses, and in our operations as well as our teaching and research, so I’ll start there.
I’m very proud of the way we demonstrate leadership in the environmental sustainability of our operations, from our waste diversion programs, building energy efficiencies and pumpkin drop-offs to the ways we promote carbon footprint reduction and encourage people to commute more sustainably. In fact, we’ve been recognized repeatedly as one of Canada’s most sustainable employers.
I’m also proud of how we’ve elevated the value of sustainability to a cornerstone of our work in applied learning and research. Our instructors work with industries to develop more efficient building envelopes, zero emission vehicles, heavy equipment testing through our MotiveLab, and more. It’s important to mention that we’re a member of the Canadian Colleges for a Resilient Recovery, and in fact we were one of the first to host a workshop there, on zero emission vehicles.
We’re in the business of creating leaders, innovators and professionals who can help our industries and communities thrive economically, environmentally and socially, so giving our students hands-on training and opening their eyes to sustainable practices and ideas and problem-solving is vitally important to us.
Of course, we can’t achieve these goals if we don’t operate in alignment with those other two pillars: we have to operate in a financially sustainable way, and in socially sustainable ways that enhance our community – which we accomplish through, for instance, our focus on reconciliation.
Academics and Program Delivery
Has there been an increase in registrations for courses that adopted course-based registration (CBR) in the first three phases? Has the move to CBR made these programs more profitable and/or resulted in better return on investment?
Significant progress was made through Phases 1 to 3 of our CBR journey for programs converting into the course-based registration model.
However, the full impacts of CBR on those programs aren’t yet fully realized in terms of changes to student behaviours and choices (i.e., how many students are moving to part-time, how many new students are we attracting as a result of greater flexibility, etc.) and the associated return on investment you are asking about.
To provide some context, Phase 1 programs (four of them) were implemented in Fall 2019 and Phase 2 programs (12 of them) were implemented in Fall 2020, immediately before the pandemic. Phase 3 programs are just being converted now, and will be implemented in Fall 2021, so they can’t be assessed.
So, the relatively small number of CBR programs currently implemented, and the timing of the pandemic (which affected student registrations in those programs), both mean it is too early in the process to suggest that any of those programs’ current enrolments are predictive of the impact of CBR in the longer term.
It is also important to recognize that some of the key intended outcomes of CBR – such as the ability to have students take electives in other programs and to develop a suite of shared courses across programs (such as communications, math, project management, accounting, etc.) – will only be realized once we have a sufficient volume of programs converted to CBR.
That said, we are now reviewing what we learned from the initiative thus far to ensure that as we move ahead in our implementation, we can make the necessary adjustments required.
Since you reference ROI, we are taking time in the next year to test our business practices and foundational assumptions that drive the financial impact of the conversion to CBR by assessing a number of factors such as:
- the tuition costs of courses in comparison to the true costs of delivery
- the impact on the budget and resources
- various system changes that we anticipate will be needed
One of the key benefits of our CBR journey to date is that it has helped us better understand our business processes and their impacts.
Our short-term focus will be on addressing our business requirement needs, but our long-term commitment remains to transforming how we design and deliver education so that they meet the changing needs of students and industry – outcomes that have been reinforced through our strategic planning consultations.
CBR is a major part of the College’s future academic model, so thank you for asking such a thoughtful question about how we are ensuring due diligence in our analysis of the initiative so we can be sure we are realizing the goals for CBR that we have set without putting the College, our students or our partners at risk.
Recently we’ve seen several new programs offered at the College. How do you view the turn-over in dropping some programs and adding new programs in the future? Will this occur more frequently?
As labour market demands change, we have to make sure our program offerings remain relevant on a continuous basis. Our programs will continue to change in pace with what employers and industry partners need from our graduates.
Sometimes this means exciting change: new initiatives, courses and ideas we can create as we go forward. But our resources are finite, and sometimes the changes we need to make are difficult – and that includes the decision to discontinue a program.
We never take those decisions lightly, and I want to reaffirm our commitment to working closely with our colleagues and coworkers to help them through the impacts of transitions like these.
Some students are thriving with the blended learning model, while others are struggling (inadequate home environment for learning, as well as the isolation). Do you anticipate on-campus classroom lectures will return, will classes remain blended, or will both options be offered?
As we navigate our way out of the pandemic, we want to leverage the benefits that we’ve seen as a result of some of blended learning. At the same time, we need to address some of the challenges posed by this kind of learning.
At this point, I can say there may be some courses we offer remotely to learners who prefer that format, and in-person for those who want a more personal experience.
Decisions on how we offer courses after the pandemic will be led by the academic areas. The Chairs are going to have a large role in that, in consultation with instructors who know their students and course material best. I’ve already received a lot of feedback from the instructor advisory group about the experiences they’re having, both positive and negative, and we’ve got to take all that into consideration as we determine what the future of our programs and courses will look like.
I want to be clear: We do not have details worked out just yet. Deciding how to approach this is going to be a process, so I can’t offer any certainty at this point.
Given our ongoing and new-found expertise in remote instruction, is RRC Polytech planning to expand the number of fully remote classes, courses, programs of study to students in Manitoba and abroad? Would it be possible for students to get, say, a Business Administration diploma from RRC Polytech without ever having set foot in Manitoba?
We are in the process of Winter 2022 planning sessions, planning that assumes a return to campus for student and staff. This planning will seek to develop principles and guidelines for programs with regard to online, blended and face-to-face program delivery. We can imagine—now that we’ve been delivering online and blended learning successfully through the pandemic—that many programs will have mix of course delivery modalities. For example, a program may have one or two courses delivered online or in blended format for each semester, depending, of course, on the nature the learning required.
We already have programs delivered completely online, and it is possible that we could develop more programs that way. Now that we’re implementing course-based registration, for larger programs, students may be able to choose how they want to take their courses; that is, we may offer each course three different ways: online, blended, or face-to-face, depending, of course, on the nature of course requirements.
Can you talk about the move to blended learning in the longer term? When my classes were face-to-face, I already used lots of LEARN features. Is this considered blended learning ? Will we be returning to this when it is safe to do so? Many students in our program (Creative Communications) are saying they want more face-to-face and synchronous classes. How is this feedback being incorporated into the long-term plan?
I can tell you that blended learning will definitely play a big part in how we deliver education post-pandemic.
That said, as a College, we still have much to work out when it comes to specifics and details for each program. We will be seeking information and feedback before that happens to make sure we properly understand how blended learning works, or could work, in specific settings and contexts.
The only thing I can say for certain – and we’d all agree on this, I think – is that post-pandemic program delivery at Red River College Polytechnic won’t look the same as it did in March of last year, when we first moved over to blended and online delivery.
We will keep some elements of what we’ve been doing, and we’ll be leveraging the digital tools we’ve invested in over the past 15 months where appropriate. But Red River College Polytechnic is an applied learning institution. Certain skills require hands-on training, and so we’ll continue to offer that where it’s necessary.
Keep in mind, the digital tools we’ve adopted continue to improve. There’s been discussion about how we can leverage, for example, immersive rooms in our training. I think it’s important we find ways to integrate tools like these, because when our graduates enter the workplace, they’ll need to know how to use them when they find themselves working in flexible work conditions or upskilling and reskilling for employers.
Blended Learning (RRC Polytech Glossary) combines face-to-face instruction with online learning in the delivery of a course, program, or micro-credential. Blended learning can also be used in the delivery of training sessions, workshops and other learning opportunities.
Using LEARN in the face to face delivery of a course is called web facilitated delivery, and a great way to enhance the student experience and provide additional opportunities for students to receive information and engage with course content.
These tools help our students from a training perspective, but they help us offer students more accessible, flexible learning options as well. How we incorporate them in the future, and the processes involved in that, are subjects we’ll discuss as a College community.
Academic integrity has been top-of-mind for many people involved in academic programming, particularly during this shift to online learning. Moving forward, what will the College do to ensure academic quality, to support instructors in ensuring academic integrity, and to help students approach education with a perspective of integrity?
I know there are challenges as we move to remote learning and leveraging digital tools to ensuring that we uphold the integrity of the academic process. We’ve seen them play out across Canada and North America.
At the time of RED Forum, I didn’t have all of the answers to this question, but I did commit to including more information for those who are interested in learning more. There are a lot of resources available on academic integrity through our Library that I would encourage students and faculty to refer to, and to connect with Lisa Vogt, RRC Polytech’s Academic Integrity Specialist.
Another resource shared through our Library is a webinar produced by the Manitoba Academic Integrity Network (MAIN) on Promoting Academic Integrity in Remote Learning.