Bridging the job readiness gap: virtual tools for a new campus-to-workplace pathway

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Sharing some thoughts on #leadership in #highereducation for ensuring greater #studentsuccess by developing their capacity for #collaboration

Broad access to the full range of dynamic liberal arts and science programming is the hallmark of an evolving Ontario high education system. But linking this education to the meaningful employment of learners has proved more elusive than building educational excellence. For many recent graduates, a gap continues to exist between what they learned in school, and opportunities to apply that knowledge in a professional work environment. A 2015 study found that 4 in 10 Canadian university graduates were unemployed,[1] an outcome that affects not only the lifelong earning potential of individuals but also the economy as a whole: recent research has calculated losses over the next 18 years at 0.7% of Canadian GDP.[2] Going forward, this gap between learning and work is bound to have significant impact on Ontario institutions of higher learning as well, as new funding models built on performance-based metrics such as graduate placement rates come into effect.[3]   

More demand than supply of workforce preparation

Work integrated learning is widely viewed as the key means to tackle this issue, and many programs now deliver ‘work readiness’ training aimed at creating more explicit links between formal education and marketable skills. Traditionally, these programs have relied on the 1:1 placement of individuals in physical settings where they can learn about the practical application of knowledge in science, healthcare or business roles. But co-op, internship, or in-person practicums have been costly to administer, and associated risk, insurance, mentorship and space requirements difficult to manage. Placements have not kept pace with student interest, and traditional programs will struggle to meet new demand as institutions work to improve graduate employment across the range of disciplines. The job readiness gap is especially acute for social science and humanities graduates, who are most likely to face underemployment, and earnings differential as compared to their STEM, health and business contemporaries.[4] Studies have shown that the “barista effect” disproportionately impacts arts students, and negatively can affect an individual’s career development for up to a decade.[5]

For most institutions, helping graduates from arts and humanities programs find work that is related to their field will represent a huge hurdle. What can be added to the top of an anthropology graduate’s resume to prepare him/her for employment? As employment rates show, domain knowledge is only half the battle. The critical issue is the “last mile”[6] – acquiring the digital and soft skills that are hiring differentiators, and highlighting how these match job requirements in a way that is compelling to an employer will be key. 

UNESCO calls these ‘transversal skills’, capabilities that cut across disciplines, such as research, writing and communication skills, or the ability to manage a team project. As we transition to a gig economy marked by rapid and regular job changes, these kinds of skills will become increasingly important. The question is, how to provide students with valid work experiences that can help them develop last mile skills while they’re still in school?

Tackling the barista effect with technology-enabled job learning

In consultation on experiential learning opportunities with representatives from key Ontario student groups, eCampusOntario found that skills gap findings highlighted in other higher education research resounded in the province. While learners in technical or co-op programs often benefit from work-related experiences, students in humanities, social science, or pure science programs typically have greater difficulty finding employment on graduation. 

To help address this issue, eCampusOntario invited students to engage in the design of self-directed, integrated learning experiences that would satisfy a student’s academic passion, while developing work-related power skills. eCampusOntario’s role in the Lab is to work with participants to ensure that the prototype experiences that are developed provide value to the student, and that they are recognized by an institution as valid work experience. The goal is to align experiential learning with curriculum, to gather support from faculty, and to share output with colleges, universities and individual students. 

For recent graduates, the Student Experience Design Lab (SXD Lab) provides an opportunity to demonstrate skills built in an internship or practicum on a resume. To extend this opportunity to students across the country, eCampusOntario is now transitioning these experiences to a series of templated approaches that can showcase skills in specific, targeted areas, which may be replicated by other job seekers. By transitioning these experiences to a series of virtual templates in various fields of practice, the Lab is helping to replicate validated study-work experience with different kinds of employers for multiple learners, scaling the success of one individual pathway to the many. eCampusOntario has also worked on a pilot project with Le Consortium d’Apprentissage expérientiel francophone de l’Ontario (CAPFO) to extend experiential learning to French-speaking Ontarians, leveraging the Riipen technology platform to create sharable, virtual learning experiences and to connect students with employers.  

The future of education is collaboration

A curious feature of higher education is that everything in the system is designed for learners, yet learners are rarely involved in the design process. In developing the Student Experience Design Lab, eCampusOntario has taken another tack, treating collaboration as a vital element in the creation and execution of the (SXD Lab) initiative. While students from multiple institutions across the province were consulted on needs, they have also been prime actors in the design process, working with eCampusOntario support to define experiences that could be refined for distribution throughout a broader community. eCampusOntario has also consulted with business, the tech industry and higher education experts to create integrated learning experiences – in several cases, virtual experiences – that would deliver relevant workforce skills development that will apply in real life work environments. This co-design initiative already begun to produce positive outcomes: while several SXD Lab participants have reported success in the job market soon after graduation, a systematic approach to scaling new skill building opportunities has been established. In its adoption of virtual tools to help model and support the “T-shaped graduate,” eCampusOntario is applying a modern perspective to the problem of skills gaps, one that scales for the future, not the past. 

[1] Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (2015). Labour Market Assessment.

[2] TD Economics (2013). “Assessing the Long-Term Cost of Youth Unemployment.”

[3] Marc Spooner. “Performance-Based Funding in Higher Education.” CAUT Education Review. October 2019.

[4] Ross Finnie et al. (2016). “Barista or Better? New Evidence on the Earnings of Post Secondary Education Graduates: A Tax Linkage Approach,” Education Policy Research Initiative.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Doug Lederman and Paul Fain. “A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College.” Inside Higher Ed. August 2018.

The value of micro-credentials and badging

Source: Politecnico di Milano – via YouTube

I recently attended a learning outcomes symposium organized by the Council of Ontario Universities, the organization that is responsible for the university sector affairs of the 21 major universities in our Ontario (Canada) system.

The keynote speaker, Ryan Craig, from University Ventures, surprised the audience with some challenging ideas taken from his recent book, A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College.  I was somewhat confused by the sense of fright that many of my colleagues in the audience expressed. Comments such as “too business focused,” “too American,” and “unrealistic” were some of the comments I heard. A short video summary of Craig’s thesis can be found on YouTube (and is included below), if you want to get a flavor for the central themes of his presentation. He supported his remarks with lots of data and current examples of alternative ways of thinking about learning and work that would seem to have appeal to today’s learners and employers.

Ideas such a “last-mile training,” and “competency networks” did not get a wholly warm reception from the predominantly university audience at the symposium, despite the seemingly obvious idea that today’s learners are highly concerned with their transition to work from post-secondary education. One point that seemed to concern some members of the audience was Craig’s assertion that on-campus career centers might be best situated to counsel students about jobs in career centers, rather than for more contemporary jobs in the workforce.

He definitely pushed all the buttons, and I expect on further reflection, there were lively discussions on our campuses about the implications of the keynote. Mission accomplished by the symposium sponsors.

Pressure builds from employers

Craig’s thoughts about last-mile training and competency networks did resonate with me. This led me to contact a few colleagues who have been actively implementing micro-credentials and badging schemes on their campuses, primarily in college settings rather than in research university environments.

I started with a very free-thinker when it comes to practice change, Phil Ker, CEO of Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin, New Zealand. Our paths have crossed a number of times because of our mutual involvement as founding members of

Phil was clear in stating the need for micro-credentialing strategies to satisfy both learners’ and employers’ needs.

“About three years ago it was clear that two things were running in parallel. One is that learners were starting to get irritable about mainstream qualifications, degrees that didn’t go anywhere. At the same time, employers, particularly in the New Zealand context, were saying:

“You guys are irrelevant. Employers, given half a chance, would have us do all their training for them. We accept that, but what they were really saying was that there is so much change going on, and by the time you build new skills and content into your degree programs, four years have passed by.”

Phil went on to explain the need for micro-credentials as a solution that would also better prepare students for the workplace, along with a way for them to prove or demonstrate their skills.

“It was really putting those two things together, and I guess we smelled it coming. It was time, it was back to the future, because the short course has been around forever, but the key here is the micro-credential. What the employers were saying is we actually want the skills developed, we want to know they’ve been developed.”

Phil and Otago Polytechnic have launched EduBits as a response to the emergent skills challenge from learners and employers in New Zealand. EduBits is squarely aimed at learners and employers, using custom-tailored approaches to skill development with distinct value propositions for each audience. The messaging on the EduBits website is focused and invites further exploration.

Key experiments in badging micro-credentials are underway

A local institution moving along a similar path is Humber College in Ontario, Canada with a micro-credentialing and badging initiative launched in September 2018. Eileen De Courcy, former AVP Teaching and Learning at Humber, and now Senior VPA at St. Lawrence College, explained her thinking about the Humber approach. She noted that there had been lots of discussion over the years around helping students to articulate the types of skills that they possess when they leave the institution, and that most often these discussions had resulted in interventions such as e-portfolios or co-curricular records, and neither was a perfect solution.

Eileen supported an experiment at Humber College in 2018 by building a badging system for micro-credentials in two program areas where the benefit to students and employers could be realized almost immediately. Humber chose to design micro-credentials for skills associated with a social media program, and for the REVIT software system that was used in architectural design programs. Each skill-set was in high demand by employers, and students needed a way to demonstrate they had those high-currency skills. What Humber did by selecting “hard skills” as the focus of their badged micro-credentials was to explicitly demonstrate the validity and integrity in a badging model, according to De Courcy.

Theresa Steger, Director, Digital Curriculum at Humber College, noted that the selection of REVIT to be the candidate for a badged micro-credential cluster was to bring a focus to “industry specific skills that employers were looking for that sometimes get lost in a transcript or course description.”

She emphasized that students may not always think to highlight the details of what they know or can do, and consequently with their badged micro-credentials, as well as their CV and their transcript in hand, they are in a much better position to highlight to industry recruiters the “big-demand skills” that they can actually demonstrate. A benefit to the REVIT program at Humber was micro- credentials at the college could be achieved in three different courses, in each of three different programs. The bonus according to Steger was that “we’re now badging a component in each of the courses and programs that is worthwhile immediately to industry.”

The mechanics of making the badges and micro-credentials work within the Humber curricular ecosystem required additional thinking on the part of designers and instructors. Theresa noted that her team spent time examining the REVIT learning outcomes and competencies and wordsmithing the REVIT-related course learning outcomes to make sure they were consistent across the three programs and that they were truly aligned with what would need to be assessed. It was a pragmatic approach to ensure they could map the badge criteria to competencies or skills frameworks and assess them.

The Humber team has used its two initial badged micro-credential programs to begin to set a pattern for programs that will follow.

Clarifying the distinction between micro-credentials and badges is a necessity

Don Presant, CEO of an open badging infrastructure provider, found it interesting that badges and micro-credentials are beginning to occupy a common thought space among academic planners and developers. The thinking on open badges did not start out that way, according to Don.

“In a sense, open badges were invented to deliver what formal education wasn’t delivering and it’s interesting that formal education has paid such increasing attention to them over the past three to four years. One of the consequences of formal education getting involved in open badges is the conflation of open badges with the notion of a micro-credential, a stackable credential that’s generally part of a larger credential… All of which tends to make what was an initially simple idea much more complex, and is viewed by some as the kind of containment strategy that a self-healing organism might use.”

With those pointed comments, Don highlighted the kind of skills pressure Phil Ker spoke about, where micro-credentials, short courses and badged evidence are forming a response pattern from institutions when employers point to the need for high-currency skills.

In fact, the combined approach of using badges and micro-credentials together might also be considered a clearer strategy for institutions to employ when they are looking to increase the employability of their graduates. By helping learners to show the high-value skills they possess using badged micro-credentials, institutions are also demonstrating that they understand the demand for high-currency skills in workplace settings, and are shifting their thinking to meet that demand.

Where do soft skills fit in the world of micro-credentials and badges?

When I asked Don about “soft skills,” or what UNESCO and the European Commission call “transversal skills,” he pointed out that soft skills were much more difficult to assess, and agreed that the move to badged hard skills associated with micro-credentials was definitely a more straightforward approach for institutions.

An image showcasing open badge concepts. The explanation reads: Knowledge isn't concrete; it can be gained in a wide variety of ways. Each day, valuable skills and expereince are attained by learners who get involved with activities outside of their formal classroom education. Sports teams and other extracurriculars can positively benefit a student's psyche. Unfortunately, traditional resumes and portfolio programs aren't typically formatted to shed light on the soft skills that are gained through this kind of involvement..

When asked about examples of programs that were trying to deal with the badging of transversal skills, Don pointed to the Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) program at Oklahoma State University, along with the 21st Century Skills Badging Challenge. He further noted that post-secondary environments that are skills-focused are usually the locations where micro-credentials and badged hard skills find their place more easily. It is somewhat more difficult within research university environments to bring badged skills into focus.

Dealing systematically with the emerging demand at an institution level

Laurel Schollen, VP Academic at Seneca College, recognizes the pent-up demand for micro-credentials and badging across her institution. She sees the importance of micro-credentials in satisfying students’ demand to express, and employers’ need to identify explicit skills, and is taking the strategic view that when her college does expand its approach, it would do so using a solid framework that includes consultation with students, faculty, staff and employers, to ensure common understanding of the goals and pathways.

That process is ramping up at Seneca, and Schollen emphasized that the biggest challenge for her team right now is to understand the nuances of micro-credentialing systems sufficiently in order to start off on the right foot, to adopt a thoughtful approach so as to avoid unintended consequences downstream.

One area of concern that Schollen highlighted was the potential for over emphasis on micro-credentials, to the extent that sets of skills badged as micro-credentials were represented in a manner not meaningful to other institutions or employers. She emphasized that when we use badging or micro-credentials, that we do so in a manner that does not disadvantage students or cause confusion with transcripted programs that already have high value to both students and employers. She recommended careful consideration of the programs selected for badging or micro-credential treatment, and solid consultation with industry and employers to validate the selections.

Where do we go from here?

I think it is safe to say that there continues to be limited experience with badges and micro-credentials across the post-secondary sector generally, and that is why we need more experiments at various kinds of institutions.

At eCampusOntario, we have funded a series of badging experiments in our universities and colleges, each of which is currently being documented in a short summary report which will be publicly available on our website.

We’ve also installed a badging infrastructure for the province of Ontario to test, using the badge passport as the repository for open badges awarded by our institutions.

A photo of a woman typing next to eCampusOntario login site for "open badge passport" webpage.

And we’ve experimented with a badged professional learning program called Ontario Extend that awards badges to educators based on the outcomes of their participation in the self-directed, online program.

Logo for the Ontario Open Badges Forum. We also hosted a Badging Forum in 2017 for institutions, employers and government representatives to attend, present, and discuss issues related to micro-credentials and badges.

We expect to host a similar event in 2019, and invite WCET colleagues with an interest in micro-credentialing and badging to attend and bring their ideas and examples to the forum. Keep an eye on our eCampusOntario website.

Learning by doing is still the best way to go

Spencer 699369 unsplashPhoto by Spencer on Unsplash

Last year at eCampusOntario we launched our program for professional learning. We called it Ontario Extend. Ontario Extend (Extend) has six core modules. The modules are grounded in constructivist learning theory, and also have some unique “learning by doing” elements that make it a different experience for many educators.

Extend is informed by an analysis of exemplary resources that were already available in the province and an exploration of professional learning models from other jurisdictions. In addition to the content modules, which can be used as a baseline for self-directed study or group instruction, we included daily social media connections over a six-week period, and action projects using Twitter #hashtags. We also developed a growing Activity Bank to which participants can contribute.

Finally, in its first iteration Extend provided access to a Domain of One’s Own opportunity for educators who would like to fully control their presence on the web, a step further towards empowerment in a digital sense.

The Extend idea arose directly from seminal and emergent literature on self-directed learning. Alan Tough’s The Adult’s Learning Projects (1971) was heralded as a fresh approach to theory and practice in adult education. It was all about learners taking control and planning their own learning episodes. We set out to harness Tough’s ideas along with those of other adult learning theorists (e.g., Knowles; Bandura; Lave & Wenger; Brown, Collins & Duguid) to provide an online framework built around six key themes for empowering educators in a digital age. Our goal was to give Ontario educators the opportunity to explore, engage and extend their knowledge of teaching practices in a digital age. And, the target was for educators to reach a level of empowerment where they would feel comfortable using the digital tools of their choosing to advance learning with their students.

Simon Bates (2016) has provided a model for the Anatomy of the 21st century educator that encompasses the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are identified as the foundational skills required to thrive (and not just survive) in a digital world (Allan & Grudziecki, 2006; Coldwell-Nelson, 2018). The model proposes that all educators must have:

  • An understanding and appreciation of what research has to say about how people learn.
  • The ability to curate, develop, use, and share appropriate educational resources.
  • Skill in discerning the possibilities—and limitations—of technology to support teaching and learning.
  • Developed professional learning networks through collaborations with other disciplines.
  • A scholarly approach to teaching.
  • A willingness to experiment: to try, reflect, and learn from new approaches, pedagogies, and technologies to support learning (Bates, 2016).

Extend Badge System
Our approach to program development has been guided by design-based research. We began the Extend program with the assumption that we probably wouldn’t get it right from the start and that we’d need to evaluate iteratively using participant feedback to make improvements to successive iterations.

Right now, we’re finishing up the evaluation of the first iteration, which was offered to three cohorts and a total of 102 participants from the college and university sectors in 2017-18. We’ll be presenting our findings at the Technology-Enabled Seminar and Showcase (TESS) 2018 in November.

After a tune-up of the resources, we’ll be ramping up a second iteration of Extend beginning in Winter 2019. There are opportunities for educators across Ontario to get involved.

Interested in participating in Ontario Extend? Discover how to get involved here: (Link).


Allan, M., & Grudziecki, J. (2006). DigEuLit: Concepts and tools for digital literacy development. Innovation in Teaching and Learning in Information and Computer Sciences, 5(4), 249-267, Retrieved from

Bates, S. (2016). The 21st century educator. Keynote talk given at UOIT, Ontario: first Symposium for Effective Teaching. Sept 1, 2016. Retrieved from

Coldwell-Neilson, J. (2018). Decoding Digital Literacy. Retrieved from,

Tough, A. (1971). The adult’s learning projects: A fresh approach to theory and practice in adult learning. Toronto, ON: OISE Press. Retrieved from

Getting a running start for 2018-19

T Shaped Student

As I look ahead to the 2018-19 academic year, I see an exciting trajectory emerging for Ontario college and university students. On top of exemplary programs already on offer from our institutions, we are seeing growing interest from prospective students about flexible online pathways to skills and credentials that will provide them with a range of academic and career opportunities to pursue. And, our institutions are responding with vigour. In fact, we already have a running start.

We are seeing increasing activity across our member institutions as they continue to  implement programs and courses in online and hybrid learning formats to better meet the needs of their students. We’re seeing growth across the spectrum of activity with more courses and programs adding technology-enabled features and affordances, with four clear themes standing out.

Technology-enabled learning is growing. It is available in formats ranging from fully-online courses, to blended online programs where in-classroom activities are paired with online or tech-enabled components for supplementary self-study, to hybrid models that intentionally seek to teach major portions of courses online and require fewer in-class sessions. All of these options are offered by Ontario post-secondary institutions and most can be found using the eCampusOntario search portal. As we look at the analytics from the eCampusOntario program and course search portal, all key indicators are up in 2017-18 and we expect to see further growth during the 2018-19 academic year.


Course and program searchesUsers

Experiential learning continues be a focus across post-secondary institutions. Co-op programs, work-integrated learning (WIL) and student practicums are just three of the ways in which meaningful learning experiences in the world of work can be provided for students while they’re still in school. Our focus at eCampusOntario has been on how we enable the concept of the T-Shaped Student for all post-secondary learners, supplementing the already rich experiences and skills they obtain in their programs, with cross-domain skills of the type many feel they need to differentiate themselves in hiring situations beyond college or university.

One of the questions still needing an answer is how to scale experiential learning in programs or courses where there is no existing formal connection to co-op programs or WIL. We believe that a technological solution is needed to scale access to experiences, while continuing to preserve the critical bond between faculty and students engaged in employer-sponsored work-related projects that dovetail with curricular outcomes. The eCampusOntario Tech Sandbox has been used by institutions to test their ideas with tools that might support scalable approaches to experiences and recognition of learning beyond classrooms. Our work with and to prototype and test approaches to experiential learning services and recognition will be evaluated through institution reports that are being prepared for August 31, 2018.

Shared and collaborative services is another key focus for eCampusOntario and its member institutions. One of the tech  programs we’ve helped install across all Ontario public post-secondary institutions is, a video-based skills training environment for self-study to supplement courses that students take and skills they will need. We’re already detecting patterns of interest from students. Through a partnership with the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), to conduct preliminary research to better understand patterns of use, we are collecting direct feedback from students to help inform implementation and curricular integration opportunities across Ontario colleges and universities.

Other shared services are being planned. Informed by focus groups and a survey of all public post-secondary institutions, we have identified the top five candidate technologies for expanded shared service support across our post-secondary institutions. The report will be published in September 2018, but a preview of the Top-5 candidate technologies is already evident from the early focus group and survey results. They include:

  • Captioning and transcription services
  • Learning analytics
  • Virtual labs
  • Academic integrity software
  • Virtual simulations (Virtual and Augmented Reality)

We’ll be exploring next steps with institutions in fall 2018. We’ll start by designing a lifecycle strategy for educational technology services that will include exploration (Sandbox), evaluation, operations planning, pricing structures, procurement, and service models . Our lifecycle approach will also be considering a sunsetting process for shared educational technologies that need replacement.

Open by design is hallmark of eCampusOntario’s  initiatives. We have been proactive in supporting an affordability strategy for students by making available a growing library of open textbooks and open educational resources (OER) created or adapted by faculty. Our new open textbook library, created in partnership with Ryerson University, is undergoing an upgrade and facelift in fall 2018 to integrate it more closely with our other web properties including the search portal, so that open textbooks can be featured alongside courses in which they are used.

The new open library will be coupled to the site that is dedicated to Ontario faculty and instructors. We have the capability for a complete OER workflow, including book cloning functions, embedded scientific notation, and a set of interactive activities for students that can be embedded within open textbooks using the open source H5P software that we have worked with Pressbooks to implement for educators.

The Pressbooks authoring platform is available to all of our college and university members with the following benefits:

  • Easy to use authoring platform with embedded features like H5P
  • Consistent template formats and authoring standards across Ontario to ensure adaptability
  • Opportunities for capacity-building at the institution level through libraries and teaching and learning centres

All of these innovations point to a sustainable OER future in Ontario

We share
eCampusOntario is committed to bringing new programs and services to its member institutions. In addition, we will begin to share research reports, survey data and analytical data that together will contribute to an expanding knowledge base for Ontario educators and will provide additional opportunities for Ontario students to find and select flexible learning pathways that match their needs and their lives.

Embracing the nudge

I recently attended WCET’s annual summit that examined Ethical and Equitable Access in Digital Learning. It’s been a few years since I’ve attended a WCET event and I’ve missed the high-level discussions that occur at them, often on topics that are just about to emerge in mainstream higher education conversations. This year’s event was no exception, and the timing was perfect for the theme.

The summit was promoted as an opportunity for rich discussion on three topics:

* Equity as a demonstrated priority for the institutions’ students, faculty, and staff

* Accessibility as the lens through which the institution examines its resources, policies, services, and infrastructure

* Data and evidence-based decision making for student success and ethical questions underlying analytics engines and edtech products.

There were expansive conversations with panel members and participants throughout the event. Lindsey Downs of WCET has provided a comprehensive summary of the event on the WCETFrontiers blog.

In particular, the Panel Three topic: Ethical and Effective Uses of Student Data, resonated with me.

The question explored how best to ensure learner success by ethically and effectively using data to promote positive action. The conversation with panelists was wide ranging from data governance models to data dictionaries that would help ground consistent language and approaches to proactive interventions.

A compelling part of the discussion arose from a question that was asked by a panelist, “What is an institution’s ethical obligation of knowing?”

Hmmm. The question caused noticeable reflection in the whole room and on the Twitter back-channel. And, I’m still thinking about it. I’m sure it’s related to a duty of care when a learner enrolls for a program of study. But to what degree? Do you directly intervene with data through advisors to support students, or would a nudge theory approach be a more ethical and effective strategy, as panelist John Fritz suggested?

Thoroughly enjoyed the perspectives presented throughout the WCET Summit. Bonus for me: two excellent sit-down and reflect conversations with Phil Hill of e-Literate fame. And, I also had an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues Russ Poulin, Darcy Hardy and Mark Jenkins. Great thinkers, all of them.

Possible shapes for the future of digital learning in Quebec

Numerique 2018

On May 29 and 29, I had the privilege to connect with colleagues in Quebec at Numerique 2018, a conference organized by the University of Montreal’s EDULib team, led by Professor Bruno Poellhuber – a very cool guy. My keynote opened the conference on the evening of May 28.

The conference looked closely at advances in thinking about OER, MOOCs, and distance education practices in general. Examples and discussions of a variety of possible futures were provided by invited speakers from France (Catherine Mongenet – FUN-MOOC), British Columbia (Tony Bates – Tony Bates and Associates) and the USA (Anant Agarwal – MIT + edX).

Numerique 2018 was also an opportunity for Quebec post-secondary educators to consider how they might see an eCampus in their province operate in the service of students and faculty. Theme-based discussions throughout the 1.5 days allowed lots of time for conversations about potential paths forward.

All in, it was a stimulating set of presentations and discussions.

On the day following Numerique 2018, the Quebec government made a huge funding announcement in support of digital education, which further buoyed the chances for the rapid ramp-up of eCampusQuebec.

Teaching and Learning Innovation Highlighted at CNIE 2018


I was fully engaged at the CNIE annual conference at Laurentian University in Sudbury, ON last week (May 15-17).

We were blessed with glorious weather – sunny and just the right temperatures. It was fun to be on campus at Laurentian and enjoy the clear northern air. I had no idea how many lakes there are in the Sudbury area and within the city itself. Amazing to see so much water and access to recreational facilities everywhere I walked or drove.

The Canadian Network for Innovation Education (CNIE) is “a national organization of professionals committed to excellence in the provision of innovation in education in Canada. Its inclusive culture welcomes all of those interested in examining innovation in education from our K-12 systems, post-secondary organizations, private training and professional development and those involved in industry – its goal is to provide a space for dialogue, collaboration and innovation.”

CNIE lives up to those values and goals. The conversations and presentations were stimulating and invited further dialogue off-line, in the corridors of the university, over coffee, lunch and dinner. I met a bunch of folks I had heard about but had not met. That’s always the fun part. Got a chance to meet with Susan Campo (@SusanCampo) from the Peel Regional School District and chatted briefly about her work. Unfortunately, our sessions were scheduled in the same time slot, so I couldn’t attend and had to hear about the great stuff she is doing from our open education fellows #OEFellows. The session Susan led with Christine Hill and Vivian Myre was titled: It’s not about the grade: Feedback-focussed assessment.

The eCampusOntario #OEFellows were well represented in sessions throughout the conference along with out program managers, Jenni Hayman and Joanne Kehoe, and Terry Greene (virtually). The CNIE 2018 conference program highlights the many presentations that our team led.

Blog posts from #OEFellows also describe their experiences:

Also got the chance to talk about the design-based research approach that Valerie Lopes @valerlopes and I are undertaking with the Ontario Extend project. The slides from the session can be found on Slideshare.


And, no visit to Sudbury would complete without a pilgrimage to The Big Nickel.

By Marcoplo78 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Using reflective scholarship as a portal to improved practice

Greetings #ExtendEast + #ExtendWest– @ontarioextend Extend East and West Cohorts – and welcome to the Scholar module.

When I was thinking about how to construct the Scholar module, it didn’t take long for me to think about the most challenging moment I’d experienced as a teacher during the last few years. Much of my most recent teaching had been as an online instructor in UBC’s Master of Educational Technology (MET) program, which is a fully online experience for students. However, when I was asked to be a guest lecturer for colleague’s face-to-face class of over 150 students, each armed with a laptop, I fretted about how to hold their attention for an hour-long class on the theme of knowledge construction, and also make the experience engaging and productive for the learners.

The situation caused me to reflect on my practice…

This module examines how you can use your classroom and your courses as a research lab to explore how you might improve your teaching practice and positively affect student outcomes and their satisfaction with the overall learning experience in your course.

It invites you to consider research about teaching and learning within your discipline area and provides a process to implement a research plan. This kind of action research is often called scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), and it involves an awareness and appreciation of effective, research-based, discipline-appropriate pedagogical approaches for examining your own practice.

We hope you will use the resources from the Scholar module as a portal to improved practice.

Let’s Hammer Out a Strategy for OER in the Trades in Ontario

In May 2017 at the ONCAT Student Pathways Conference, Tracie Marsh-Fior (Executive Director OntarioLearn) and I presented some ideas about open educational resource (OER) development for trades training. What we were pitching was the collaborative development of openly licensed instructional resources that could be used in classrooms or in more flexible arrangements through online delivery. Specifically, we were suggesting open resources to support the theory portions of technical and vocational programs in a way that benefits learners, employers and institutions. There are already some instances of these ideas happening in Canada and a few in Ontario, but it is not yet a widespread practice. We’d like to support further development of OER for trades training through eCampusOntario, and our strategic plan for 2018-2021 highlights this goal.

In 2015 UNESCO adopted a recommendation concerning Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and a strategy to support member states’ efforts in enhancing their TVET systems. The recommendation encouraged members to “exploit the potential of information and communication technologies in TVET” through “distance and online delivery, including through blended models and the development and use of open educational resources.” UNESCO followed up in 2017 with a global study of OER in TVET. A report on the results of the study by Robert Schuwer and Ben Janssen (2017) noted some key factors that argue for the adoption of OER in vocational training.

  • Technical education is relatively more expensive than other sectors of education. OER are one option to extend more equal access to TVET. Videos, in particular, are an important means to realize this equity
  • OER increase efficiency by sharing short courses among institutions
  • OER contribute to quality improvement when used by teachers: improvement of their own
    technical knowledge and provision of updated learning resources to learners
  • OER enable a more agile response to market needs
  • OER contribute to inclusion and increasing equity

The Schuwer and Janssen report also underscored specific barriers to providing an OER solution in the TVET sector. Most of their observations dealt with capacity issues within the community, and the continued need for ICT training for instructors. And, while there was a relatively straightforward path to making the theory portions of technical trades open and reusable, the important skills focus of technical and vocational training would require more creative and innovative solutions.

At eCampusOntario we are committed to supporting and incenting innovative solutions for learning and teaching, including support for extending instructor skills with information and communications technologies (ICT). We believe that technical and vocational programs could benefit from collaborative initiatives to provide shared and customizable open resources, and one of our goals is to make this area a focal point for funding programs in 2018-19.

Schuwer, R. & Janssen, B. OER in TVET, an overview of the state of affairs and harnessing the potentialities of OER for TVET: summary of findings and recommendations. UNESCO. Available from

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Open 5 X 5: Some Thoughts on Remix as a Strategy

This blog is a remix of a remix. A good thing in my view.

Since 2013, I’ve built upon a presentation created by Clint Lalonde of BCcampus. He called it Beyond Free. The original presentation was licensed CC BY-SA, and I’ve since added to it and updated and localized its message to suit different audiences. It remains a winner that consistently inspires instructors to rethink their current practices and take a leap into the open realm.

The great thing about Clint’s original presentation was that it stated five great reasons to use OER, beyond the simple “because it’s free” mantra.

What he did in Beyond Free was to build upon the five freedoms (permissions) expressed by David Wiley in his now famous baseline definition of open content. Clint added context to those theoretical freedoms in a way that demonstrated real practice and conveyed a message of possibility to even the most reluctant open educator. The five reasons to move beyond free remain a great explanation for the open education community, and the original presentation remains a reusable and remixable template for anyone to use. Thanks, Clint.

I’m going to reprise those five great reasons in a shortened prose format. The graphic presentation version has many benefits and far more illustrations than appear here. Here are five benefits (reasons) to use open resources and open practices.

Benefit #1: Full legal control to customize, localize, personalize, update, translate, remix…

There is no better way make resources your own than to develop them yourself. But a close second is to exercise the provisions of Creative Commons licenses by clicking on the license logo and reading the plain language provisions of the human readable deed. No letters to authors needed, just acknowledgement of the creator with a straightforward citation – a simple, practical, generous starting point to customize an existing learning resource.

Benefit  1

Benefit #2: Access to customized resources improves learning

Studies, journal articles, and research papers are pointing out what might seem obvious: when you have access to free and open learning resources at the start of your course or program, you’ll likely be successful in your studies. No financial pressures, no workarounds. You are able to concentrate on your course and give it your full effort from day one.

More detailed studies are beginning to investigate the effects of localized and customized resources, versus generic textbook approaches aimed at a broadly defined population of learners. I expect that localized versions of case studies, illustrations that reflect the local culture, and images that engage students because they are relevant to their experiences, will all contribute to better open resources and improved outcomes for learners.

Benefit #3: Open provides opportunities for co-creation and more authentic resources

Our colleague Terry Greene at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario has been engaged in a co-creation project with peers over the past year, soliciting exemplars and advice from seasoned veteran educators to provide a sourcebook for new faculty and instructors. As new instructors they will need support and guidance as they take on their teaching responsibilities.


The Open Faculty Patchbook: Patching Pedagogy Together, for Each Other is a contribution space by faculty for faculty, and carries on open invitation to educators to contribute their authentic experiences and advice for an incoming generation of higher education instructors. A printed copy of the current “patchbook” was given to new faculty at their orientation session in August 2017. It is a work in progress. Help build it out further.

Benefit #4: Collegial collaboration helps build the commons

BCcampsu open textbook sprint

Image credit: BCcampus 2014. License CC BY-SA.

Our colleagues at BCcampus are pioneers in the use of “sprints” and professional networking among institutions to quickly and purposefully build team capacity and open resources for learners using a collegial collaboration strategy. They’ve done it all:

Benefit #5: Demonstrate the service mission of higher education institutions

Research, teaching and service are three key principles that guide higher education institutions. Many institutions have experimented with freely available courses in the form of MOOCs. But few have actually done so with freely available open resources with an accompanying mechanism for gaining credit – through challenge exams or prior learning assessment and recognition. is a consortium of 30+ higher education institutions from around the globe who have come together to prototype alternative pathways to recognized credentials for learners. The partners are working together to provide courses from their own institutions as contributions to a first-year program of study that will invite learners to participate in university level courses and also apply for assessment, leading to credit towards a certificate, diploma or degree.


Every piece of content, software, and infrastructure supporting the OERu is open source or openly licensed. is a demonstration of openness in support of the service mission of its institutional partners. OERu partners walk the open talk.

In Conclusion

Open education is more than freely available, openly licensed content resources. It is also about people, like-minded educators who see the benefits of rethinking the status-quo, and who are willing to see what will happen when we bring teaching and learning into the open.

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