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.

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,

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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