In the midst of the amazing discussions I have been having with faculty over the past year and a bit, I was hearing stories of the BEST (Building Employment Success for Tomorrow) Certificate program at Camosun College, a seven-week tuition-free program. You may remember BEST from reading Diane G’s and Val’s stories – both faculty members in the program (and we mustn’t forget their third member, Allyson, the Instructional Assistant for BEST.) Well, I knew from previous conversations with colleagues that the BEST program had gone through a program review right before the pandemic hit, and I wanted to hear from Monique (a fellow Instructional Designer in eLearning) and Deidre (an Educational Developer in the Curriculum Development and Program Renewal unit) about their experience with the BEST program review. Now, full disclosure: I interviewed Deidre and Monique quite some time ago, and since then the BEST program has been “discontinued,” but not really – it will be reappearing under the name Education and Career Planning Certificate Program soon, but with the same amazing faculty and dedication to meeting learners where they are at.
And meeting learners’ needs led to discussions around how best to offer the program: continue with in-person or explore blended and online modes, and online became a strong contender. Deidre and Monique recalled that the impetus for taking the BEST program online came from a desire to reach more people. “The conversation sparked out of a desire to drive up enrollment – could it be offered in a different delivery format that would encourage people who were working, etc. They were looking at ways to reach more people because it’s the only program of its type.”
Of course, moving a program online can be met with trepidation and BEST was no exception. “There was real fear about going online because the program is community-based and takes a very personalized approach, including one-on-one coaching.” But the BEST faculty were curious and keen to explore what opportunities online might bring. As the program review started, “we were starting to develop online components, not necessarily for full online delivery, but more of a gentle start helping them to become receptive to a hybrid approach.” But then, March 2020 hit and any options involving in-person instruction flew out the window.
Luckily, as noted, the BEST group had already begun to develop online materials, and in addition an already vetted open resource was available through BCcampus. But while content wasn’t much of an issue, Monique told me that “the challenge was that each module of the program generated its own D2L course with students enrolled in each of those courses discretely. So, we had to merge those courses right away, then fit them into a larger framework within D2L.” Rebuilding the courses into one whole was an overwhelming task within the sudden shift to online, but the team jumped in and started working. “We merged the courses and they worked on a course map to guide students through the online materials. Then because it’s such a short program, they surveyed students every Friday about how they were experiencing the program, and every week we would meet and tweak the program. Then for each following iteration of the full program we would make more substantive fixes.” And those weekly meetings continued for the duration of the pandemic. Finally, last June, they were able to take a breath and redevelop the program into a week-by-week structure to make it easier for students to navigate in the online format.
What Monique and Deidre really wanted to emphasize for me was the team effort of the BEST group. “They divided and conquered and were open with each other, always giving constructive feedback. I would say they were high performing. It was nice because Allyson is very technical, so she understood the need for a structure and version control, while Diane really grabs onto the vision of the program, and Val is the cheerleader.”
Once BEST settled into its new online mode, the program review process had to be picked up again, which happened in May 2020. At that point, Deidre says, “they had to decide whether to articulate at the provincial level which had implications for the learning outcomes. There was discussion about how to structure the program and we landed on four courses (there used to be five) which felt better in the overall structure. Then we spent a lot of time redeveloping the learning outcomes and identifying which courses they wanted to include.” And by May, the group knew that students were embracing their online instruction, which helped inform the program review going forward.
But while BEST emerged as a seven-week course with four modules, the way students complete the program is not by doing one module at a time, but by working on all four modules simultaneously. As Monique put it “if you’re doing labor market research, you’re doing it for the full seven weeks, not just in two weeks. The content all needed to be integrated as a kind of spiraling curriculum.” And as Deidre pointed out, “BEST isn’t a typical program in the Camosun sense of the word, and while I think we ended in a good place, it was not a linear process to get there.”
One of the things that has made the revision of BEST a success is the support from leadership, specifically the Dean and Associate Dean of the School of Access. “All the pieces were aligned going through the program review cycle – in addition to Curriculum Development, they brought eLearning in at the beginning of the review process and had leadership behind them all the way. They ended up with the right people on the team.”
So now, we have a tuition-free, seven-week program with four discreet modules, operating as one course using open educational resources, and taught entirely online. But Deidre reminded me that “they’re not teaching a subject; they’re teaching people confidence building and self-belief. They’re teaching about growth mindset and all those intangible things like self-leadership. I think it’s amazing that that they’re able to build this community online in a safe place for people to share and grow.” And in only seven weeks. In addition, Monique adds that the BEST team “worked to Indigenize the curriculum as they went. Because the Indigenous ways of learning are how you build community, representing the core values of the program which is about developing from the inside out and building community where everyone has a story and grows at their own pace.”
Monique and Deidre reflect that the biggest reason BEST was challenging to put online was this emphasis on building community along with the personalised development piece, the pieces that make BEST a transformational and life-changing program for students. But by taking a risk, BEST has opened its doors to many more students than it could have reached by remaining a solely in-person program. Deidre says “The BEST team jumped off the boat into deep water and they swam. They more than just swam; they did the butterfly. They didn’t just dogpaddle, they were doing backflips off the high diving board.” Their dedication to the BEST program’s underlying principles, to trusting in others to guide them into the online environment, as well as working with students to get feedback on what was working and what wasn’t as they trialed the online course, has created a solid foundation for success.