Kinasevych (2008). Conversations about a community college.

This paper reflects on the responses of two members of a Canadian community college to questions about themselves and about the college. The participants discussed their current roles and activities within the college. They described their views regarding the role of the college within its community. They considered and described their thoughts on how the college could address issues that the college may be facing.

The participants’ responses are then compared. These responses are then considered against the author’s own experience within a community college context.

Introduction

The author prepared this paper to document the observations and insights of two selected members of a Canadian community college. In their day-to-day interactions, many members of the college may never take the opportunity to consider the perspectives of their colleagues regarding the role of their institution and the larger issues facing it. This paper provides a context in which such an examination could occur.

Method

The author selected two participants from a large pool of members of the community college. Both participants are employees of the college.

The author included the first participant for a number of reasons. She is a recent graduate of the college and now works there as an employee. Her perspective allows her to compare her recent experiences as a student at the college with her experience there as an adjunct to faculty. She is relatively new as an employee at the college.

The second participant was included because of the breadth of her experience within the community college context. Her work with college faculty and students overlaps with her interactions with other college stake-holders, such as professional associations and industry. These interactions provide her with a perspective quite different from that of the first participant in this paper.

The participants each met with the author individually during the week of April 14, 2008. The author provided a list of questions in advance to allow the participants some time to consider their thoughts on the subjects under discussion. Each meeting took between sixty and ninety minutes.

The prepared questions fell under several headings. One set of questions was meant to establish the role of the person within the college, the general responsibilities of that role, and the experience each participant brings to their respective roles.

A second set of questions pertains to the range of work that the participant performs. These questions also seek to understand the interactions that these duties may have with members of the college community, with outside stake-holders, and with members of the community at large.

The last set of questions tries to determine the key issues that the participants believe to be facing the college. The participants were asked to compare these issues with ones facing other post-secondary educational institutions. The participants were also asked for their thoughts on how, from their perspective, these issues could be resolved.

Results

Educational Assistant

The first participant for this paper works as an educational assistant. She completed her studies in 2005 at the college where she now works. She worked in the field of her studies for one year and then was hired as a educational assistant at the college in 2006.

She explained that her primary role is to provide support in the classroom to faculty members. These activities are largely focused on information technology issues. They include resolving software problems for the students, directing students to the appropriate usage of software tools, ensuring that equipment is correctly configured, and similar activities. Her assistance allows the class to have a greater number of questions answered more quickly, thus allowing the instructor to focus attention on the material that is being covered.

She noted the following experience as having prepared her for her current role. She completed studies in digital multimedia. She took one year of university courses prior to her admission to the community college. In addition to the year of work between her college diploma and her employment at the college, she had worked in the training department of a major financial institution for three years.

Her duties vary from term to term. She stated that, generally, her job is to serve the students and to assist them with the software on their laptop computers, with printing issues, and with issues related to computer hardware.

Outside the instructional semester, she is more involved with project work. These projects include assisting with the organization of a major college conference, and providing graphic design for its brochures and collateral materials, for example.

This participant noted that because her core responsibility is to assist the students with computer related issues, she must continually update her knowledge of the requisite technologies that she may be called upon to support. She therefore took on a great deal of self-directed learning through self-paced tutorials and with experimentation with the software and hardware tools.

Most of the direction for her work comes from the instructors themselves, she stated. She is not aware of any formal job description for her role. The college is in the midst of a human resources-led project to re-categorize various support roles to better describe their functions. Her position is one which may be affected. She indicated that there is a fair amount of freedom in her role to identify and pursue areas that would be of value to her core responsibilities.

The first participant’s interactions outside her core activities include work with the organizers of the annual business conference at the college. She also maintains ties to industry and professional associations, stating that these are very important due to the information she can bring back to the classroom.

When discussing the issues facing the college, this participant felt that rapid change in industry must be recognized by the instructors in their curricula. Her view was that instructors must stay current in their subject fields but many may not be doing so. She understands that there may be demands on time that make it difficult for instructors to keep current. She wondered if the college could do more to assist instructors with professional development and current technology competency.

She expressed her view that students benefit from the specialized knowledge that instructors bring back from the field. She was concerned that there may be too much of an acceptance of educational generalists who may be good in the practice of adult education but have little knowledge of the subject matter.

Comparing to other institutions, she noted a wider trend that online learning is likely to increase, with degrees being granted through online delivery of courses.

In the last topic of discussion, the first participant stressed that instructors need to be able to stay current with the technologies that they include in their curricula. She added that the college must play a role in better helping instructors stay current.

Continuing Education Manager At The College

The second participant works as a program manager in the area of continuing and distance education at the college.

This participant has been with the college for more than ten years. She has extensive experience in human resources management as well as with materials and event management. She has worked in a number of large organizations in broad roles and as a human resources consultant, a field in which she has academic credentials. She is currently doing post-graduate work in the field of education.

This participant considers her role to be a manager of resources such as people, materials, and processes. She interacts with five educational advisory boards and meets with other college staff regularly across several campuses. She pays attention at levels from “micro-to-macro” in order to ensure that the programs she oversees are delivered successfully. She interacts with instructors and students, as well.

She interacts directly with many departments across the college. For example, she will work with academic departments to reserve computer labs for the courses in the programs she oversees. At a more fundamental level, she works with the academic departments to determine how new or proposed courses in her area tie in to new or existing full-time programs. She is also engaged with industry and professional associations to keep abreast of their requirements.

Considering the question of identifying the most important issue facing the college, this participant stated emphatically that the foremost issue is “meeting the needs of Manitoba society in a changing world.” She elaborated on this statement by saying that the needs must be researched and assessed by the college itself and not necessarily dictated by other parties. She chose the word “society” to include all stake-holders of the college, including the citizens of the province.

Further to this topic, she noted that change is happening very rapidly because of advances in information and communications technology. She felt that the college has been successful in meeting the changes but it is an ongoing challenge.

The issue of change, she added, was common to all post-secondary institutions.

The issue of change is best addressed by keeping one’s knowledge up-to-date, according to this participant. This could involve working and co-operating with various stake-holders, such as government, labour, industry associations, community representatives and so on. Although having the input of all stake-holders is important, the college can act more nimbly by limiting direct influence from outside parties on college decisions. Committees can have a tendency to slow an initiative.

Discussion

The participants touched on several common themes in their discussions. The key theme was one of keeping pace with change. The first participant alluded to this in describing how instructors need to maintain their knowledge of current technologies. The second participant reflected this view in the context of the entire college.

Another theme in the discussions was that of connecting to the communities which the college serves. The first participant saw this as directly beneficial to her role, where she described how she maintains these ties to inform her abilities as an assistant and to determine the relevant technologies with which she must stay current. The second participant maintained ties with many stake-holders as a matter of course, recognizing the importance of her role as a marshal of many resources.

In the author’s own experience, both these insights ring true. Changes in information and communication technology are having profound effects on curriculum and in the delivery of course content. There are many opportunities where these technologies can be implemented but it is difficult to do so effectively without current knowledge of the tools.

On the second theme of college involvement with the community and all its stake-holders, the author will add that many of his students are interested in all the opportunities that may be available to them, not simply the ones that have been proscribed by the department and its curriculum. The college does well to be aware of the interests of all involved in the learning community so that it will be better able to bring those interests together.

Appendix 1

Questions Asked of Participants

About the Participant

1. What role do you play at the College?

2. What experience or education prepared you for this role?

Participant Roles

3. What does a typical day entail for someone in your role? What are some of the responsibilities?

4. What interactions do you have outside your office? Outside the College?

Perspective

5. What would you say are the most important issues facing the College?

6. How would you compare these issues to ones faced by other post-secondary educational institutions?

7. What suggestions would you have to address these issues?

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