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It’s been another active week at the college, with yet more students starting their apprenticeship labs, as well as faculty on campus (and at home) shooting videos (instructional and promotional) and getting all kinds of curriculum prepped for our September 14 Fall Semester start date! Now more than ever, with such limited on-campus activity, it feels kind of like all of the feverish “backstage” action that happens in a theater production, getting ready for opening night.

And in this case, we’ve got a 13-week run, with an incredible diversity of tools, applications and platforms to engage our students in a rich and immersive learning experience. Every semester, in every single class, we build learning communities and create the magic of discovery, and inquiry, and connectedness. Mastering the art of doing this all (or at least mostly) online expands our students’ own skills of engagement and professional practice in a world gone more radically digital than it has ever been.

We have already experienced cataclysmic change, and it’s a sure thing that we will continue to do so in the coming academic year. But what will never change is our deep and dedicated commitment to our students: transforming lives and communities through learning. You’ve probably heard the quote by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “You never stand in the same river twice, because it’s never the same river, and you’re never the same person.”

We are all in a swirling river of change, so let me offer some “safety tips”.

At faculty meetings last week, I used the analogy of taking a white-water rafting trip in anticipation of the coming semester. A heart-stopping adventure that mingles together trepidation and excitement. We’re probably all feeling a little of both those things right now, and our students as well, and when I searched online for “whitewater rafting safety tips”, there were some pretty compelling parallels:

So for the coming semester:

“I hope you see things that startle you.

I hope you feel things you never felt before.

I hope you meet people with a different point of view.

I hope you live a life you’re proud of.

If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

We are all students, and we are all teachers

This past week I did a session for Northern College at their Faculty Development Conference reflecting on some of the key themes and opportunities for higher education, as we collectively navigate through this “Year of the Pandemic”.

There were faculty and staff joining from across northern Ontario, and a lively discussion following my talk. One thing that stood out for me was how, regardless of how large or small, rural or urban, our institutions – all of us in higher education are grappling with the same big questions, big issues, big challenges, and big opportunities for transformation, redress, growth and change.

Here are the “Top 10” standout themes from Wednesday’s conversation:

  1. Leading inclusion and action through “two pandemics”: COVID-19, as well as the more destructive, corrosive and longstanding pandemic of racism, particularly Anti-Indigenous and Anti-Black Racism, and other forms of violence and exclusion
  2. Navigating institutional sustainability in the face of enrolment challenges
  3. Mastering online and digital technology tools and applications to support online teaching, and preparing students for meaningful engagement in online learning
  4. Digital inclusion and student access to technology and WiFi/bandwidth
  5. Fostering connectedness and community in this time of physical distancing and remote working and teaching
  6. Assuring student and employee health and safety, especially those who are engaging in face-to-face, lab-based learning on our campuses
  7. Supporting student (and employee) mental health and wellness
  8. Fostering closer connections with industry and employers to enrich opportunities for Work-Integrated Learning and graduate employment
  9. Balancing work with child care, elder care, and other competing priorities and responsibilities
  10. Finding our way into a new reality for PSE, one which can offer students choice and “hyflex” learning opportunities across a range of face-to-face, online, and hybrid credentials and micro-credentials…all pretty unimaginable just six months ago!

As we prepare for a fall semester in which so much is uncertain, and in which our students are placing so much hope and trust in us, the axiom that “we are all students, and we are all teachers” has never been more real. We are on an extraordinary learning journey together. It’s not going to perfect, it will certainly be messy at times, and the occasions when we get things absolutely right will be worth celebrating.

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