Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dinner with the President: what Douglas College students told me

At the end of March, about 40 students responded to my open invitation to join me for dinner to talk about their college experience.

I’d like to share my impressions of these students, and what they told me, with all Douglas College students and employees.



The group reflected the incredible diversity of Douglas College. Two of them brought young children, and I’m so pleased they felt comfortable bringing their kids. There were international students and ESL students. There were students completing Douglas degree programs and diplomas, along with students planning to transfer to a research university in a variety of disciplines. There was also a good mix of younger and older students, with several second-career learners in the mix.

As a group, they were bright, poised and confident in sharing their thoughts, both positive and critical. I was so impressed with them personally and equally impressed with what they had to say.

Student engagement was the topic that sparked the conversation. We asked: how important is engagement to you? Do you feel engaged — academically and intellectually and also as part of a college community? What can Douglas College do to better facilitate and support your engagement?

From there, the discussion took us into many different areas, as you’ll see from the full summary below.

Here are a few points that stood out for me:

  • Students want to feel engaged in their learning and in creating their own learner pathway; they want to be part of a community. All that follows from their desire to discover what they love to do and their determination to make a difference in the world.
  • Students expect high quality instruction and high quality classroom experiences. We’re delivering for the most part, but when we don’t, students notice.
  • Students want the College to communicate more — more often and through more channels — so they’re more aware of all the opportunities available to them.
  • Students want more flexibility in delivery of programs and services so that it’s easier to pursue their education while dealing with other responsibilities, such as work and family.

Does this feedback have anything to do with our vision to become the largest and most progressive baccalaureate degree-granting college in BC by 2015? Does it feed into our work on learner pathways, teaching quality, student and employee engagement, internationalization, experiential learning, or social, environmental and financial accountability?

Absolutely, 100%. After all, what’s all that hard work for? Why do we exist? Who are we really serving? It’s all about our students and that’s why it’s essential that we continue the dialogue with students. We need them to hold our feet to the fire so we can learn how to better facilitate their learning pathways.

Since the dinners, several students have said hi to me and we’ve continued the conversation in the hallways. I welcome that and I really enjoy talking to students about whatever is on their minds.

I invite all the students of Douglas College to take a look at the feedback below, and then add your own, by leaving a comment to this blog post.

I’m interested to know: what have you enjoyed about your experience at Douglas? What experiences and opportunities would you like to see more of? How does the College engage you as a student? What can we do differently to engage you better?

Best wishes for success on your exams and final assignments as you complete this semester!

—Scott

Dinner with the President: complete summary of students' feedback


Dinner with the President #1
March 27, 2012
Coquitlam campus


Engagement — academic and intellectual

Students said:

  • we want more engagement opportunities
  • we need opportunities to get experience that will help with career transition (help avoiding the chicken vs egg problem where you need experience to qualify to get experience)
  • the College’s internal opportunities (such as co-op) should have the same access-based mission as our admissions to the College

Students want:

  • more opportunities to be actively involved in applied research: including opportunities that are directly program linked as well as opportunities that are non-program linked; research experience strengthens resumes and adds value to four-year programs
  • more funding for research opportunities
  • stronger relationships between Douglas and other institutions through collaborative research

Engagement — co-curricular and campus life

Students said:

  • a student said that getting a job at the College (Learing Centre) increased his engagement and networking ability and helped him feel like part of the community for the first time
  • sometimes we are too busy to get involved
  • it can be hard to find ways to engage
  • Tues/Wed lunchtime seems to be best time for DLC events; best timing in the term is week 3-4

Students like:

  • douglife.ca — a central network
  • clubs

Students want:

  • more activities for students
  • a lipdub and flashmob — show college spirit, entertaining, evoke nostalgic memories for alumni
  • more events in atrium at Coquitlam and concourse at New West
  • more DSU activity
  • more social gatherings: activities, events, charitable events, pub crawls
  • more information about clubs including how to start one
  • free food events (DSU breakfasts are great)
  • to meet and get to know College leadership, staff, students better
  • more events to get to know others
  • events to meet the DSU reps

Quality instruction and curriculum

Students said:

  • teaching quality is generally good — need to keep it and the academic standards high
  • we want clear process for addressing teachers who provide a sub-par experience; but there are concerns about anonymity; perhaps the College can do a better job of sharing information about this process?

Students want:

  • use of iPads in the classroom

Learning environment

Students said:

  • the quality of the learning environment at Douglas College is generally good
  • Douglas employees are warm, helpful and welcoming (some perception that Coquitlam feels more friendly and helpful than New West)
  • there can be communications issues in the learning environment — issues can arise in many kinds of interaction, such as: faculty to students; faculty to faculty; students to faculty; admin to students; students to admin
  • there can be inconsistency in the administration and communication of programs from year to year
  • College can do more to create a framework that will reduce incivility (“horizontal violence”) which can occur in many kinds of relationships, such as: student to student; student to instructor; instructor to instructor; instructor to student
  • there is an expectation of cohesion with faculties and departments, but some areas seem more cohesive than others
  • some academic areas have to be careful about how changes will affect other departments or faculties; other academic areas can make changes without impacting other areas
  • GNUR has created positions that seem to contribute to a positive learning environment: a faculty liaison works with faculty issues; and a student liaison works with students’ issues

Students want:

  • consistency in administration and communication between programs
  • consistency between courses and expectations
  • more help for students in the transition from high school to college
  • the College to do more to make the learning environment more comfortable for non-traditional students

Communication / information

Students said:

  • we think this kind of discussion is good – but make it more open, transparent and accessible to more people

Students don't like:

  • myDouglas email — it isn’t used much

Students want:

  • better communication of program and course requirements — perhaps through better online info and use of in-person orientations
  • more information on governance, structures and systems
  • better promotion of things to get involved in – we need to do a better job of sharing opportunities
  • to hear about engagement opportunities in class, from instructors and from students
  • more use of video to communicate all kinds of things, such as the registration process, waitlist process, etc.; use Youtube (College should reduce dependence on text based web pages — “words just confuse people”)
  • a New Student Orientation event to be held after classes start for those who can’t make event before classes start
  • more information about clubs — should be on website home page; use announcements; use video screens
  • the College to consider using Google+

Services

Students don't like:

  • the wi-fi

Facilities

Students said:

  • Nursing students generally don’t hang out in the A/B buildings at Coquitlam because there are too many high school students around
  • we think that facilities are important — flexible spaces, like concourse and atrium, and soft seating, make a difference in how we feel about the environment

Students like:

  • the soft seating in the atrium

Students want:

  • more social space for students in C/D buildings (students sit in classrooms during lunch break, since there is nowhere else to sit in C/D buildings)

Miscellaneous

Features students would like to see on a mobile/tablet app:

  • Blackboard integration
  • myDouglas
  • Douglife
  • Library
  • DSU
  • Registrar’s Office
  • Athletics
  • Campus maps
  • Financial Aid
  • Comments
  • Videos

Dinner with the President #2
March 29, 2012
New Westminster


Engagement — academic and intellectual

Students like:

  • Douglas College Business Association — an example of a club/association that’s doing a great job of engaging students academically

Students want:

  • more symposiums / conferences in various academic subjects and disciplines
  • more field trips / field schools
  • to celebrate Black History Month and offer more activities for African Canadians (including academic options and classes)
  • more expert speakers’ events, College-wide and in classes, to help create more academic engagement

Engagement — co-curricular and campus life

Students said:

  • a student perceived a weak sense of community at Douglas College, but wasn’t expecting a strong community feel in the first place, given that Douglas is a commuter college

Students like:

  • clubs — because they're great for developing friendships

Students want:

  • improved funding structure for clubs
  • clarity around policies for fundraising on campus
  • more student activities, especially during the summer
  • more interactions with other post-secondary institutions – events, academic sharing
  • more encouragement for students to participate — awards/prizes
  • more activities or options on evenings and weekends for mature students
  • a pep rally and spirit team, dance team
  • faculty to be more involved in co-curricular activities on campus, to encourage students
  • better communication and more activity from Douglas Students’ Union — can the College do more to support the DSU?

Program / course delivery

Students like:

  • University Transfer options — good quality and less expensive than university

Students don't like:

  • when instructors change at the last minute — some students deliberately choose course sections with particular instructors
  • our grading system: it is harder to get an A+ at Douglas than it is at other schools; so there is a discrepancy of grading schemes between Douglas and other schools; this has negative repercussions for students transferring to other schools since their GPA might not be as high as it could be
  • when two courses needed to graduate are only offered once per semester or once per year, and are offered at exactly the same time, making it impossible to take both courses and therefore causing a potential delay in finishing the degree
  • when part-time students can’t get seats in certain classes because priority given to full time students
  • scheduling conflicts between academic and co-curricular activities

Students want:

  • lectures to be recorded and offered on iTunes U
  • more online options for popular classes
  • earlier start and end times for evening classes
  • more summer classes
  • classes to go ahead with as few as 10 registrants
  • more higher level courses
  • more post-baccalaureate programs
  • more bachelor’s degrees
  • more partnerships with other universities and institutions to share facilities and resources
  • more Aboriginal focus across CFCS programs and courses
  • more flexibility in electives that count towards graduation
  • more support in finding practicum / co-op jobs – this is not consistent across faculties/programs
  • more help in more areas to bridge from program/course work to work and career — co-op placements, student employment, field work

Quality instruction and curriculum

Students said:

  • we appreciate and expect good quality instruction; for the most part instruction at Douglas is really good, but we notice when it’s not
  • Business student extremely impressed with instructor who used his own business connections to introduce students to career opportunities
  • Business student extremely thankful to instructor who spent extra hours helping student fine tune a resume and conduct job search

Students like:

  • clear and interesting assignments and content
  • real-world examples
  • clear course structure, learning objectives, syllabus
  • instructors who are empathetic, adaptable and accommodating
  • smaller classes that allow for lots of interaction and discussion, and make it easier to introduce yourself to new friends
  • group work — being mixed in different groups
  • peer to peer learning, listening and learning from others’ views
  • discussion and opportunities to express yourself
  • when instructors bring in relevant guest speakers
  • research projects

Students don't like:

  • being required to buy expensive textbooks or other resources that go unused in class
  • being required to buy a brand new edition of a text book when the older one will do
  • when instructors’ office hours are too limited
  • when emails, phone calls, etc. to instructors are not answered or returned promptly
  • when instructors finish classes early
  • when instructors don’t make themselves available enough for discussion outside of class time

Students want:

  • faculty assessments / evaluations ratings for all instructors (they use ratemyprofessors.com — whether we like it or not)
  • lectures to be engaging, or else don’t do them
  • more discussion and group problem solving, and less lecture-based process, because information gained through engagement sticks with you more
  • more opportunities to apply learning
  • more peer educators, whether volunteer or Teaching Assistants

Learning environment

Students said:

  • some international students feel segregated — sometimes it's hard to initiate friendships
  • some ESL students feel there can be unrealistic expectations for them to engage like a native speaker in classes
  • some international students feeling discrimination of various kinds
  • a domestic student and an international student agreed that there is a sense of separation/segregation between international students and domestic students — international students sometimes keep too much to themselves, and miss opportunities to learn about and participate in Canadian culture (and, domestic students miss opportunities to learn about other cultures too)

Students like:

  • how people open doors for each other

Students don't like:

  • incivility between students in the classroom — and they wish faculty would intervene
  • when students show up late for class — it's disruptive
  • international students find it hard when instructors use culturally specific examples that are unfamiliar to them

Students want:

  • instructors to have a policy where class doors are locked at start of class, or part way through, so that latecomers aren’t admitted to class
  • more to help international students get involved both academically and culturally

Communication / information

Students said:

  • we have a strong desire to be involved and a strong need for information

Students like:

  • the New Student Orientation event — it's a great introduction to College services

Students don't like:

  • that it's hard to find details on first steps and services on the College website
  • not hearing about opportunities to get involved until it’s too late, or not at all
  • that if you work full time, it’s hard to find someone to answer questions during “off hours”
  • when College faculty/staff assume you know more than you do about College services and processes

Students want:

  • better information about academic departments
  • more information about College events
  • more/better information about road conditions and getting around by transit
  • a College mobile app
  • better explanation of waitlists
  • ability to provide feedback to the President – maybe through the President’s blog?
  • the College to reach out and communicate with students mid-semester to see how things are going (especially with first year students)
  • events to be shown on screens like the big one in the NW concourse
  • to see engagement opportunities on screens where students are waiting around, like in Tim Horton’s line upimproved website content/layout to make it easier to navigate
  • more live, real time support through the web
  • more information about the local area – for example, from the BIA or Chamber of Commerce
  • more use of audio and video to communicate events on campus (such as an informational video playing periodically throughout the day on concourse screens)
  • faculty to be more involved in communicating opportunities in the classroom
  • the College to use of all available forms of communication: email, tv, classrooms

Services

Students like:

  • free recreation classes

Students don't like:

  • poor wi-fi access
  • slow, expensive photocopiers

Students want:

  • less expensive, healthy food
  • more options for daycare and after-school care
  • more and faster printers
  • access to the College print shop for producing presentation handouts for in class presentations
  • water bottle refilling stations
  • in-house health services: doctors, nurses, dentists as well as para-medical services like massage and physio
  • more resources to supports students’ mental health
  • in-house professional services: for example, accountant
  • cell phone plans
  • better academic advising, and shorter waits to get an appointment; want to come away with a step by step action plan — consider hiring students to do some advising
  • advisors to provide documents from UBC and SFU
  • longer advising appointments – 30 mins is not enough
  • advisors to know more about universities outside of BC
  • advisors to offer better information about how to transfer: how to do it and what the process looks like
  • better academic advising for international students
  • the library to be open on Sundays
  • more help with career opportunities
  • the bookstore to improve textbook buy-back
  • the bookstore to consider book rental option instead of purchase
  • more open gym hours
  • the College to arrange access to municipal facilities for students
  • services to be open later
  • a snack kiosk on 4th floor at New West campus for quick access between classes
  • the College to provide blood pressure monitoring equipment for student use (equipment is quite inexpensive)

Facilities

Students like:

  • the Coquitlam Campus because it's nice, and roomy
  • the 1st floor of the library at New West because it's open and inviting

Students don't like:

  • when computer labs are full but some of the student users are only doing Facebook, etc., instead of doing school work; is there some way that students doing school work can have priority — maybe designate some computer lab space as school work only space and some space where you can do whatever?
  • that some classrooms affected by sound coming from the gym
  • the poor sound proofing and air circulation in the library small group rooms
  • the poor air flow in the “Den” in the New West concourse
  • that the 2nd floor of the library at New West feels constrained due to single-seat study carrells

Students want:

  • improved physical layout of library
  • more security at night outside the College
  • a hot tub and sauna in rec centre for relaxing after workout
  • more recreational and athletic facilities
  • a dormitory
  • the College to put instructions on group computer study stations at New West
  • more hallway seating so students don’t need to sit on the floor
  • better access to 3rd and 4th floor deck gardens at New West

Financial

Students want:

  • lower tuition fees
  • more scholarships
  • more campus jobs

Transportation, access, parking

Students said:

  • we're excited about better transit coming to Coquitlam campus

Students like:

  • that the New West campus is close to city centre and key services

Students don't like:

  • the steep hill from Skytrain station to New West campus

Students want:

  • a shuttle service between campuses
  • the College to allow students to trade U-Pass for a parking pass or have a better opt-out option

Miscellaneous

  • the College should get more involved with local businesses to create a better environment in the local area
  • the College should change its name to “James Douglas University”
  • will Douglas College become a university?

6 comments:

  1. I would like it to be acceptible for students to be able to hear what the personal opinions of instructors are on controvercial topics such as religion, and politics (in particular in classes that involve studying such topics). I do not think enough flexibility is given to instructors to be allowed to speak their mind. This would make classes a lot more engaging, and would inspire curiosity in my fellow students.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Morgan, that is coming. We are overhauling our wi-fi access over the summer and the service will be *much* improved by the start of the fall semester!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great comment. I've responded to it in a separate blog post published today (Friday, April 13).

    ReplyDelete
  4. I wouldn't mind seeing the possibility of a CSIS only lab. I know from personal experience that when we have highly graded projects to finish and we need to install software, we can't be shuffling from room to room because there is a class in there.

    Or possibly image the computers in the school based on login instead of the computer itself so we can go to a 1st or 2nd floor computer and be able to use visual studio to finish our projects instead of staking out the open lab for potentially over an hour.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Better Wi-Fi is must.

    ReplyDelete