Top Ten

June 17, 2014

UBC unveils plans for new aquatic centre

The University of British Columbia has revealed plans for a new $39.9-million aquatic centre that will replace its existing indoor and outdoor pools. To accommodate a broad range of users, including student and community users, high-performance athletes, and student drop-ins, the facility will include an Olympic-sized competition pool, a 25-metre lap pool, a warm-water family pool, and a hot tub big enough for 35 people that can be used for rehabilitation purposes. UBC researchers will also use the new facility to study the environmental impact of public pools and to evaluate human health risk and management strategies for public pool chemicals. UBC expects that the new facility will attract a 40% increase in users. The aquatic centre will be constructed next to UBC’s War Memorial Gym and is expected to open in fall 2016. UBC News Release | CKNW

TRU re-opens Old Main building after $20.2-million redesign

Thompson Rivers University officially re-opened its newly renovated Old Main building, home to its law school, on Friday. The building was redesigned to include over 4000 square feet of learning space and includes “green” features such as energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, solar energy collectors, and high-value insulation. The new learning space was also built from locally harvested, beetle-killed pine. The province contributed $7.4 million to the $20.2 million project. “We are proud to be a partner in Thompson Rivers University’s expansion and revitalization of the Old Main building that will be home to the province’s newest law school. Students who choose Thompson Rivers University are getting the benefit of high-quality education in an outstanding venue,” said BC Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk. BC News Release

New scholarships to support student leaders and community builders

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) have partnered with the federal government and the Rideau Hall Foundation to offer up to $40 million in scholarships over the next 5 years. “The Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships offer young people in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth an outstanding opportunity to gain research-based global experiences that will benefit them throughout their careers,” said AUCC President Paul Davidson. The scholarships are intended to help train leaders and community builders in Canada and abroad. AUCC will use existing networks to promote the program to PSE institutions while CFC will help steward, invest, and disburse the funding to participating universities. AUCC News Release

NDP MPs propose federal regulations on internships

2 federal NDP MPs have introduced a private member’s bill intended to help protect interns from unsafe or exploitative working conditions. The bill, co-sponsored by MPs Lairin Liu and Andrew Cash, would grant interns the right to refuse dangerous work and protection from sexual harassment; the legislation would also set conditions for the use of interns. The proposed bill would apply only to federally regulated workplaces but Cash said that it is an important first step. “It is a bit of a Wild West out there,” he said, “in that … if you are working at an internship program, you’re at the whims of an employer who is not paying you.” There has recently been strong demand for regulation of internships. As a private member’s bill, this proposed legislation faces an uphill battle. But Matt Ferguson, whose brother Andy was killed in a collision in 2011 after a night shift as an unpaid intern, says he is hopeful that if nothing else the bill will initiate further discussion. The Record

uOttawa Health Services reorganizes mental health support staff

The University of Ottawa has recently made changes to its approach to mental health services that has doubled its caseload capacity. In what it describes as a “redistribution” of staff, University of Ottawa Health Services (UOHS)—a private clinic that is affiliated with but not managed by uOttawa—eliminated 2 part-time psychologist positions in favour of 2 full-time social work counsellors. UOHS Executive Director Christopher Fisher explained that “we saw more contextual anxiety as opposed to the pathological stream,” and the change helped the clinic better meet the particular needs of uOttawa's student population. However, the cuts to the services were not without controversy. One student said that “we need to understand that a counsellor, psychologist, and psychiatrist work to address different needs and issues in every patient. This is only further depriving the outreach that is available to students struggling with mental health issues.” Institutions across North America are grappling with high demand for mental health support on campus. Ottawa Sun

“Textbook Zero” initiatives improve retention rates, but need senior support to succeed

Participants in the Open Textbook Summit, held in Vancouver in April, have offered 4 lessons to educators interested in pursuing “Textbook Zero” programs. Textbook Zero initiatives rely on openly licensed, free learning materials to offer students a complete course of study without any textbook-associated costs. Proponents say that 10% fewer students drop Textbook Zero courses because of economic hardship, benefiting students and universities alike. However, adopters have noted that there are significant barriers to more widespread adoption of such programs. Foremost among these barriers is the degree of change that is required. “We’re trying to change an ecosystem. Open textbooks are more systemic than we sometimes realize,” said Kim Thanos. She recommended that interested educators find a senior level champion to support the project but added that more must be done to simplify implementations for faculty members. David Wiley emphasized the importance of continually measuring the value of such initiatives and looking for opportunities to improve. BC Campus Blog

CBU President calls for “fundamental reform” to PSE in Canada

Cape Breton University President David Wheeler told an audience at the Canadian International Conference on Education that a “fundamental reform” of Canadian PSE is necessary for Canada to remain competitive. Wheeler said that in the future PSE will be built around an “integrated educational ecosystem” in which K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities collaborate in areas including entrepreneurship education, innovation, creativity, and sustainability. Wheeler foresees a future in which the public funding model of PSE changes drastically into a system in which universities are rewarded for their performance in economic development, student employability, and commercialization of research as well as traditional metrics. Wheeler used his platform as an opportunity to advocate the development of a “super-university” in Halifax, which he says could help drive Nova Scotia’s economy forward. CBU News Release | Full Presentation

Gender gaps in education, employment figures

Some researchers are growing concerned about what they describe as “the guys crisis”—a gap in academic performance between young male and female students. In 2011, 14,185 BC males aged 20–24 had no high school diploma, compared to 9,435 females. Data from the same year indicate that 76,015 BC males aged 24–34 had a university degree, a significantly smaller number than the 106,660 females. “It’s a disturbing trend. There’s no reason to believe that it won’t remain the same or get worse,” said researcher John MacLaughlin. Nevertheless, females continue to earn just 80% of the salary of a male, and are less likely to hold a “top job” with a large Canadian company. In spite of the education gap, males benefit from a stronger “opportunity structure,” said retired UBC professor Charles Ungerleider, who also noted that women are underrepresented in the trades. Various explanations and solutions to these gaps have been proposed, but there is little consensus. The Province

Starbucks to help pay for employees’ educations at ASU

Starbucks has announced plans to help pay for the cost of an education at Arizona State University Online for its employees. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan will be available to 135,000 employees who work at least 20 hours a week and who enrol as full-time students at the junior or senior level (third or fourth year). Participants will be reimbursed upon the successful completion of 21 credits. They will also have access to an enrolment counselor. Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz said there will be “no strings attached”: employees will not be required to stay with the company after graduation and will be free to choose from any of ASU Online’s more than 40 online bachelor’s programs. Students will have to apply for any available federal funding before they will be eligible for the program. A Starbucks spokesperson told CBC that Starbucks already offers its  benefits-eligible Canadian employees a tuition reimbursement program worth between $500 and $1000 per year. CBC | The Chronicle of Higher Education | ASU | Inside Higher Ed

Postscript: September 3 2014

Nearly 4,000 Starbucks employees have applied to complete their college degrees online through Arizona State University under the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. The initiative offered free college tuition to Starbucks employees with no requirement to repay the company or to stay on as an employee post-graduation. ASU President Michael Crow said that the program has been a hot topic of conversation on campus so far this semester. Admissions decisions are still pending, but Crow said he expects several thousands of students to participate in the program each year. AZ Central

Prof rebuts anti-laptop New Yorker article

A New Yorker article outlining the rationale for banning laptops in the classroom has been critiqued in the pages of the The Chronicle of Higher Education. Robert Talbert, a professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, has pointed out 3 critical problems with the New Yorker piece. He notes that the issue is not with laptops specifically but an incompatibility between technology and lecture-based pedagogy. Talbert proposes instead that there may therefore be an equally compelling case to ban or modify the lecture rather than the laptop. Talbert also argues that it is critical to teach students how to use laptops as learning tools as well as entertainment devices. Finally, he says that studies that say that handwritten notes are superior to typed notes are often misinterpreted to mean that analog notes are superior to digital, and points out that it is possible to handwrite notes on a tablet with a stylus. The New Yorker | The Chronicle of Higher Education