Top Ten

April 8, 2015

Canada invests nearly $250 M in international observatory project

Canada is investing close to $250 M to help build what will be reportedly be the world's most powerful optical telescope. Canada will contribute $243.5 M to the Thirty Meter Telescope project, to be located on the summit of Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii. Canada joins partners from Japan, India, China, and the United States in backing the initiative. Much of Canada's funding will support the construction of the telescope's enclosure and optical instruments, features that were designed by Canadian engineers and that will be fabricated in British Columbia. Construction of the observatory, which had been delayed pending the Canadian government's decision, can now begin in earnest. Researchers across the country applauded the announcement. "[It's] an amazing day for Canada," said Ray Calberg, an astronomer at the University of Toronto. Paul Davidson, President of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), said in statement that "this timely investment gives certainty to Canada's role in this globally important project." The 22-storey-tall observatory is expected to be operational in 2023. Toronto Star | National Post | UBC News Release

Canada makes grants for low- and middle-income students more accessible

Canada will expand access to a federal grant program that provides funding support for low- and middle-income PSE students. The program provides $250 a month to low-income students and $100 a month to middle-income students. The amount of available funding will not change; however, beginning in 2016–17, students enrolled in programs that are a minimum of 34 weeks long will be eligible for the grants. Currently, students must enrol in programs of a minimum of 60 weeks in duration to receive funding. The move may affect as many as 40,000 students across the country. A government source told the Vancouver Sun that the changes are being made in order to make shorter-term skills-training programs more accessible to students in need; easing eligibility requirements is also hoped to boost the number of skilled workers in Canada. Vancouver Sun | CBC

MHC presents strategic plan to city council

Medicine Hat College on Monday presented its 5-year strategic plan to Medicine Hat city council. The plan, approved by MHC's board of governors in December, is organized around 3 pillars: students, employees, and communities. MHC President Denise Henning told council that the college plans to provide students with rich learning experiences and personalized supports while fostering a positive workplace culture in which employees feel valued for their contributions. She also said that the college will work closely with businesses, governments, school districts, service agencies, and other PSE institutions in Alberta in order to better meet the needs of the 20 communities it serves. "The partnerships are what lead to sustainability for the future," Henning said. She said that students can expect "to see more of a prioritization of the programming and offerings" and can look forward to "more intensive experiences" that will include applied research projects. Henning also indicated that MHC will shift its marketing efforts to target adult learners as well as underrepresented groups, including Aboriginal learners. Medicine Hat News

OUSA issues recommendations for supporting mature learners

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) has published a new policy paper examining the needs of mature students. The paper notes that mature students are an extremely diverse group and must be recognized as such by institutions and policy makers. Nevertheless, as a group, mature students face a number of barriers and shared concerns. These include issues related to financial assistance, the mature student experience, and teaching and learning strategies. Mature students who support children and families also face particular challenges. OUSA makes a series of recommendations, including that universities evaluate mature student retention and persistence strategies, offer flexible service and childcare hours, and provide year-round orientation and support programs. The paper further recommends that the provincial government provide additional funding to support childcare space on or near PSE campuses and evaluate financial aid guidelines to better meet the needs of mature students. OUSA also issues recommendations to educators on how to better reach mature students by embracing the concept of "andragogy," defined as "the art and science of helping adults learn," and by broadening instruction methods across all disciplines. OUSA Blog Policy Brief | OUSA Paper

uWindsor law student campaigns for legislation against essay mills

A law student at the University of Windsor wants the government to introduce legislation to fight essay mills—companies that offer to write students' essays for money. Essay mills, according to Maya Kanani, "are morally wrong of course, but they're not illegal ... Universities can punish their students but not necessarily the organizations, so we need legislation or some kind of strategy to deal with the essay mills." She added that in enabling cheaters, essay mills devalue degrees and defraud taxpayers who help subsidize PSE. While many institutions use websites like to detect plagiarism, essay mills offer students custom, original papers that are not as traceable. Kanani is working with the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) to help stop cheating. ICAI Outreach Coordinator Tricia Bertram Gallant said, "it really needs to be more of a public outcry. These essay mills are akin to Ponzi schemes. They're akin to cops taking bribes to look the other way. They're akin to politicians getting favours for doing things for external interests." CBC

Georgian launches new career assessment tool

Georgian College has launched Career Match, a new online tool designed to help students determine their career path and identify the programs that will get them there. Career Match asks students a series of questions in order to generate a personality profile. It then offers suggestions from Georgian's catalogue of programs as well as proposing related career clusters. The survey takes just 3–5 minutes to complete. "Deciding on a career isn't always easy. Georgian Career Match helps students focus on specific academic areas that fit their personality and preferences and can help accelerate their learning and success," said Lisa Banks, Georgian's VP External Relations. Georgian News Release

Sauder students use video technology to hone presentation skills

UBC's Sauder School of Business has turned to a high-tech solution to help students sharpen their presentation schools. Traditionally, students would give their presentations and be evaluated by a professor or teaching assistant. But, with between 800 and 900 students enrolled in a mandatory course on presentation skills, Sauder needed a solution that was more scalable. Cameron Morrell, the lecturer in charge of designing the course, turned to Panopto, a video platform based on technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University to capture lectures for flipped classrooms. Using recycled laptops and screens and inexpensive microphones, Sauder has implemented pop-up media labs that capture as many as 40 presentations in one 80-minute class. The video is then uploaded for feedback and grading, and made available to students who want to review their work. "Students can log in and see their videos, they can see other students' videos. The learning process is they watch their own performance afterwards and I ask them to write diaries each week to critique how they went, so they can see their own progress," said Morrell. Vancouver Sun

Colleges help students meet industry demand for soft skills

An article in the Globe and Mail looks at how Canadian colleges are working to overcome a gap between the demands of employers and the skills of recent graduates. The article notes that recent US-based surveys have found that while 75% of education providers said that graduates were adequately prepared for entry-level positions in their field, only 42% of employers and 45% of youth felt the same way. 49% of employers felt that grads had adequate written communication skills, in contrast to 63% of education providers. In response, some colleges are working to enhance their soft skills offerings, providing instruction on communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, sometimes in collaboration with employers. The British Columbia Institute of Technology, for example, requires that students complete a hands-on consulting project for an industry client in order to graduate. BCIT has also collaborated with SAP Canada to develop a high-school course that has students working on real-world projects and learning about teamwork and job readiness. "I firmly believe you have to simulate what is done in industry if you are going to call yourself industry-ready," said Robin Hemmingsen, Dean of BCIT's business school. Globe and Mail

Faculty use course trailers to attract students

Hollywood-style trailers for courses have been around for nearly a decade, but are now becoming increasingly common on campuses across North America, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. OCAD University professor Richard Hunt, who has created a trailer promoting his online "History and Evolution of Typography" course, said that he wanted to "put a face to the voice" of his audio lectures. The trailer begins with a shot of Hunt speaking, which he says is "a way of selling the course to students who resist the online format." Some have gone so far as to create trailers for individual lectures. Harvard computer science professor David J Malan starts his classes with a series of clips as a way "to get [students] excited in those first 3 minutes of class." He's created videos with muppets, and others that borrow from the visual style of popular shows like House of Cards. These videos don't just get students excited to learn; Royal Roads University professor George Veletsianos points out that they also can help scholars reach larger audiences. One video produced for a Centennial College calculus course has had more than 90,000 views since last April. Malan said, "if the end result is more excitement, more engagement, and hopefully more learning, then all the better if we're trying to outdo ourselves." The Chronicle of Higher Education (Subscription Required)

Delaware program uses text messages to combat summer melt

Delaware is using teenagers' love of texting to help reduce "summer melt." The state offered each of its nearly 9,000 high school seniors the chance to opt-in to a program that would send them text messages a few times a month. The messages would vary depending on how far along students were in the application process. More than 4,000 students enrolled, as well as nearly 400 parents. A computer sends the text message, but the state has assigned a team of 10 people at the University of Delaware's Institute for Public Administration to field replies. The team there reports that many students asked for help dealing with confusing scholarship applications and financial aid forms. "Even after students apply to college there are many time-sensitive tasks they need to keep up with. Really the goal is to say, 'Hey, don't forget you need to do this thing. Do you have questions about doing this?'" said University of Pittsburgh researcher Lindsay Page, who is publishing a paper on the value of text messages for reducing summer melt. Delaware isn't the only jurisdiction to use text messages in this way, but it will be the first to launch such an initiative state-wide. University Business | Newsworks