Top Ten

August 27, 2013

Alberta introduces improvements to student loan program

Alberta’s Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education Thomas Lukaszuk was at Medicine Hat College on Monday to announce changes to Alberta’s Student Aid program. New this year, students who have been approved for Alberta and Canada student loans will only have to submit one set of loan agreement papers. Also, students who are applying for continuing loans do not have to submit new loan agreements each year. Alberta has also introduced a grant for students enrolled in one-year certificate programs who meet eligibility requirements. The grants are worth $120 per month of study, and it is expected close to 5,000 students will access the grant this year. The improvements to Alberta’s Student Aid follow last year’s switch to an online application process, which made applying for loans more streamlined with less paper. 80% of applicants apply for Student Aid online. Alberta News Release | Medicine Hat News

uOttawa professors and librarians to vote on tentative labour deal

Professors and librarians at the University of Ottawa will vote tomorrow on a tentative 4-year labour deal that includes agreements on 5 fundamental issues, reports the Ottawa Citizen. The agreement would see the creation of 60 new tenure-track positions and one librarian, a “market catch-up” fund that will align faculty salaries with those at similar institutions in the province, pension plan increases of 0.8% in the last 2 years, and no reductions to benefits. uOttawa’s board of governors has already ratified the deal, which was created during mediation earlier this month, after the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa issued a strike mandate. Ottawa Citizen

Update: Sept 4, 2013

Last week, members of the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa voted in favour of a tentative agreement put forth by the board of governors. 365 members voted for, and only 6 voted against the deal, which will see the creation of 60 new tenure-track positions, one new librarian, a “market catch-up” fund, and small pension plan increases . The 4-year agreement is retroactive to May 2012, and will expire April 30, 2016. Ottawa Citizen | uOttawa News Release

Ryerson to build new smart-grid laboratory with support from province

The Ontario government announced it will support the building of an innovative smartgrid laboratory at Ryerson University's Centre for Urban Energy. The new laboratory will serve as a “hub for researchers and will provide a collaborative facility for testing and demonstrating smart grid ideas and products for Ontario institutions.” Ontario’s smart grid connects the electricity system with innovations and information that allows it to operate more efficiently and securely. Smarter grids also enable consumers to be more energy efficient, reducing household costs. Ryerson president Sheldon Levy stated, “not only will the lab play an important role in creating future smart grid technologies, it will also give our students wonderful experiential learning opportunities that will educate the next generation of engineers.” Ontario News Release

Canada among top 5 countries in entrepreneurship

Ernst and Young has ranked Canada among the top 5 G20 countries for entrepreneurship in its G20 Entrepreneurship Barometer 2013, released this week. The barometer uses 5 “pillars” to come up with its rankings: access to funding, entrepreneurship culture, tax and regulation, education and training, and coordinated support. The report states that Canada scores high in all 5 categories relative to its G20 peers; however, entrepreneurs in Canada are still reportedly less positive than might be expected. It goes on to say that this mismatch may be due to higher expectations that come with greater levels of support. Ernst and Young News Release | G20 Entrepreneurship Barometer 2013: Canada

Don Drummond doubts existence of skills gap

Noted Canadian economist Don Drummond weighs in on the “skills-gap” issue in a Toronto Star article, stating he “hasn’t found a shred of credible evidence that Canada has a serious mismatch between skills and jobs.” Drummond questions the federal government’s position that there is an alarming mismatch between the skills of Canadians and the needs of employers, relying on his 23 years of experience working in the federal finance department, as well as 10 years as chief economist for TD Bank. The skills-gap argument has been of particular interest since the launch of the Canada Job Grant program, which seeks to redirect funds from provincial control to a federal program that will require further provincial contributions. According to the Star, Drummond considers the Job Grant program “ill-conceived and unlikely to work.” Toronto Star

More professor interaction, fewer lectures lead to greater student engagement

Students are more engaged in classes that provide lectures online, and reserve class time for interactive discussions and problem solving, reveals a study by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO). The study focuses on a first-year geography course at Queen’s University, which is usually taught as a lecture-only class of more than 400 students. 157 students took a course model in which most of the lectures were online, and students attended a small 50-student interactive discussion and problem-solving class once a week, while 324 students took a more traditional course model. HEQCO then gathered data about the students’ performance using a ratings system called the Classroom Survey of Student Engagement (CLASSE). The re-designed course model improved student engagement on 25 of the 38 CLASSE questions, particularly in asking questions and contributing to discussions in class, integrating ideas and including diverse perspectives, working with others, and giving class presentations. HEQCO Website | Full Report

SickKids to open new research tower to foster innovation

The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto is set to open a new 21-storey research building next month, in which it hopes its 2,000 researchers will foster greater innovation due to the open-concept, collaboration-encouraging design. The $400-million Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning features a large, light-filled common atrium for every 2 or 3 floors, and open-concept labs that encourage researchers to mingle and share ideas on breaks. “Think of the intensity of the work a scientist does; this breaks them out of it,” said Mary Jo Haddad, SickKids’ CEO. “We’re challenging the way we do what we do.” Recent studies have shown that business and industry leaders feel Canada is lagging behind when it comes to innovation. National Post

US sees drop in law school applicants

The US is experiencing a decline in law school applicants, with 20% fewer applications this fall, due to the slowly-recovering economy, staffing cuts at law firms, and the rising cost of a law degree. There are roughly 30,000 fewer applicants than there were just 3 years ago, says Wendy Margolis, an official from the Law School Admission Council, which tracks enrolment. Ohio State University’s dean of the Moritz College of Law, Alan Michaels, explains that the recession caused a decreased demand for lawyer services. At the same time, he says, tuition at law school has risen; Ohio State’s law tuition is currently $28,000 per year. WOSU Public Media

Faculty experience with MOOCs lessens scepticism

Inside Higher Ed has published a survey of faculty attitudes on technology for 2013, which found that, not surprisingly, many academics are skeptical about the value of MOOCs. However, the survey also revealed that as faculty become more experienced in online learning, their appreciation for its quality and effectiveness grows. 50% of professors who have taught at least one course online agree or strongly agree that online courses produce equivalent learning outcomes to in-person courses, compared to just 13% of professors who have not taught online. The survey garnered responses from 2,251 faculty members and 248 academic technology administrators from all types of institutions. Inside Higher Ed

The world’s first “SMOC”

A pair of University of Texas at Austin psychology professors will this week launch yet another form of massive online course, only for this one, students will all tune in at the same time twice a week to stream lectures by James W. Pennebaker and Samuel Gosling. In this “SMOC,” or synchronous massive online course, students will work virtually in small groups or “pods” following each lecture, monitored by former students. Gosling says running the course just like a regular MOOC would be easier and more efficient, but adds that a "con of a MOOC is that you take away a sense of intimacy, a sense of community, a sense of a simultaneous, synchronous experience.” Inside Higher Ed