Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Learner Pathways - let's start the conversation

To start our conversation on the strategic theme of Learner Pathways, Brenda Walton has written the following post. Thank you Brenda!

Click "Read more" to see the entire post, then please add to the discussion with your own comment. New to blogging? See the Dec. 22 post: "How to post a comment".

Take it away, Brenda. --Scott

Learner Pathways - from Brenda Walton, Associate Registrar

To what extent should Douglas College strengthen its relationships with universities to enhance our University Transfer program? How can we make internal and external transfer pathways as open and clear as possible?

There are three challenges that come to mind immediately. We need to improve the transfer process for some of our programs. We need to consider other institutional partners. And we need to review our programs to capitalize on credential laddering.

Many of our programs have seamless transfer to third year for degree programs, however, some of our programs do not and therefore result in students having to take additional course work or bridging courses. They now see that they have to spend more money and time which may result in them not completing a credential as per a specific timeline.

Unfortunately, when there are difficulties, all of our programs tend to get tarred by the same brush. Some of our program articulation agreements need to be reviewed and programs may need some redevelopment to specifically improve the transfer process.

I believe we need to start looking for other partners such as Royal Roads – e.g., their BA in Professional Communication comes to mind. Thompson Rivers University, especially their Open Learning Division, is another option we should be targeting.

With more of our students opting to take courses part-time, it's clear that many of them are working and going to school. Online course work may be enticing to a segment of our student population now, in addition to allowing them a broader range of degree options.

Douglas has little to offer our students with respect to UBC articulation agreements yet we offer a good variety of sciences, health sciences, computer sciences and sport sciences. Perhaps something in one of these disciplines would be appropriate now.

Finally, we have many students coming to us from BCIT and many of our students going to BCIT. In addition to looking at BCIT for partnerships, since we both are heavy into Business and Health Sciences, I suggest our institutions look at a reciprocity agreement allowing DC employees to take a limited number of BCIT courses for free and vice versa. Since both institutions offer quite different credentials, and since this as a benefit in both Support Staff Collective Agreements, this type of reciprocity may be beneficial to both institutions provided appropriate restrictions are included in an agreement.

We need to look at our programs and develop or redevelop programs that ladder from one credential to another. Allowing the student to step out of a program at a lower credential level (e.g., certificate level) with an option to step back in, giving the student the opportunity to leave with a viable credential that would assist them in the job market, but also having the knowledge that they can come back and continue their education, working on a higher level credential, without having to repeat, duplicate, or take bridging courses.

Taking this a step further, I would like to see us extend this laddering concept to the program pre-entry level. If a student does not meet admission requirements, we need to look at options that would allow us to admit a student to a “pre-entry” program that will allow the student to do some upgrading concurrently while “testing the waters” of college life and the environment to gauge whether this is what they really want. We need to guarantee, provided the student is successful at the pre-entry level, continuation to the next credential level.


Now what do you think? Please use the comment feature to share your thoughts.


  1. Brenda--
    I'm not sure what you mean by our having "little to offer our students with respect to UBC articulation agreements." All Douglas CRWR courses are articulated at UBC, as are (I suspect) all of the College's UT courses.

    On the other hand, those closer partnerships you suggest (e.g. with TRU, Royal Roads) can be fruitful. I know that some UT areas have already made connections with Fraser Valley University and I suspect more of this will begin to happen in the next few years.

  2. Hi Calvin, thanks for your comment - you have a good point and perhaps I was not clear or articulate properly. You are correct, we have tons of courses that transfer to UBC, the problem is putting them together in blocks to transfer them as a package. An example would be our block transfer to UBC BSc Wood Products Processing - while the block transfer is only to UBC 2nd year, is there a way to capitalize on this so Douglas students can transfer to 3rd year of their program?

  3. Thanks for clarifying, Brenda.

  4. The discussion so far has focussed on the College as the beginning of a pathway for students. These things are certainly important.

    I'd like to highlight though that for many of our students and potential students, the College comes somewhere in the middle of the path. For example, many foreign trained professionals enter the College in order to progress to re-credentialing in Canada. If we had more options for these students, specifically tailored to their needs, I think we could both attract more students and better meet the needs of those we have.

  5. Douglas college has the slogan of “You can go anywhere from here”. However, some students might say “NO, I cannot.” Let’s look at a real life story.

    Student A started first in Commerce & Business Administration University Transfer Diploma (CBUT) program at Douglas College. His original academic goal was transferring to UBC Sauder Business School. However, during his sophomore year he found out that he could not transfer to UBC because CBUT Diploma cannot satisfy the admission requirement of UBC 3rd year Sauder School of Business. As a result, he stayed at Douglas and finished the 2 year UT diploma, thinking he could directly enter the 3rd year Douglas BBA program. However, the program coordinator confirmed that he could not do so because CBUT Diploma cannot satisfy the prerequisites of the 3rd year Douglas BBA. Hence, he would have to study one more semester (9 credits) in order to get into the 3rd year BBA. The student was very frustrated that he had to spend extra tuition fee and time.

    1.Why student in the CBUT diploma program CANNOT transfer to UBC? – External pathway barrier.
    2.Why student in the CBUT diploma program CANNOT directly advance to 3rd year BBA? - Internal pathway barrier.

    Another case: On SFU website news about SFU-Douglas co-admission program, one student made the following comment,

    “I would greatly appreciate a bridge between Douglas' Comp. Sci. & Information Systems (CSIS) and SFU's CS program.

    The only thing deterring a student like me (enrolled in CSIS at Douglas) from attending SFU is the incompatible programs.”

    The goal of Learner pathway should not merely be about how many UT courses we offer in Douglas College. Rather it should emphasize on the ultimate educational outcome of the students, i.e. our students being able to advance to their desirable degrees or diplomas both externally and internally.

  6. Sorry for this long post:

    Here is one Framework for Discussing Learning Pathways.

    The traditional way of discussing pathways is to assume that a student is essentially entering, studying, or leaving one institution at a time. On this basis, most ‘Douglas’ students follow one of 4 main pathways:

    A: Transfer Out from Douglas UT or Applied Programs to a University or BCIT.

    B: Transfer In from another Institution to complete a Douglas Program.

    C: From Start to Completion in one Program at Douglas.

    D: Internal Transfers from one program to a different program at Douglas.

    Increasingly, though, students are admitted and enrolled at more than one institution at the same time. Most Universities try to control this practice by insisting on letters of permission and through substantial residency requirements, particularly at Upper Level. But there are great advantages for students in this practice. The SFU/Douglas Arts agreement is a pioneer in this area although it still operates under SFU residency requirements. So we should also consider:

    E: Dual Registration Pathways

    Is This a Strategic Issue?

    Although almost every institution claims that it is trying to facilitate learner pathways, but in practice the system has become far more complex with increasing numbers of institutions trying to ‘hold on’ to ‘their’ students. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that large numbers of students are changing their minds about their program directions. I believe that meeting the needs of these students in a better way is one of the most important strategic directions but it requires substantial change and a willingness to think about programs in new ways.

    Main Problems?

    There are some issue that need work for Pathway A. In particular, ensuring that students can transfer to a range of institutions at the end of the 2nd year rather than having to transfer ‘early’. There is also the issue of transfer GPA for specific programs which has acted as a barrier.

    Arguably, however, the main problems requiring more radical solutions are with Pathways B and C. It is often easier for students to transfer out of Douglas than transfer across into another Douglas program. Many of our new Degree Programs have not been constructed to allow for easy ‘transfer in’.

    Curriculum Structures

    One of the main reasons why this is such a difficult issue is that the barriers to transfer are often based on curriculum structures. Many programs require substantial lower level requirements for program completion and prerequisites. In part this is because they have been built on prior one and two year programs. There is a lot of commitment to existing courses and prior structures making it very difficult to start from scratch. In addition, there is a strong tendency to reduce the number of electives at both lower and upper level. This makes it harder for students with a wide range of academic credits to apply these credits towards the program.


    Realistically, we are not going to change our curriculum structures and our pathways (A to E) overnight. Some of the programs will remain quite restrictive and (possibly) quite successful. But this does require a cross faculty initiative here to see what can be done (I think). Up to now we've tended to leave it up to each faculty and department to come up with their own program structures without a lot of this kind of discussion and this has not promoted internal transfer.