Conference ReflectionsProfessional DevelopmentStudent Learning Support

Conference Reflection: HEQCO Got Me Thinking

Lately, there’s been much thought kicking around about the deeper side of education, and this conference reflection from Christina Halliday is a hopeful reminder that, even amidst budget cuts and rising classroom sizes, we are not stuck—that with creativity and spirit, hopefulness and optimism, we can not only hold on to the human side of education, but allow it to thrive.

How do we deliver quality education, to a mass audience, in a cost efficient manner, and not let go of a core value in post-secondary education… That education is a wholly human enterprise involving the cognitive, the social, and the affective?

This question was posed in various ways by panel members for “Not your Grandparents’ funding formula,” at the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario’s 2013 conference, “Rethinking Higher Education”. It struck me because it’s a lurking, insidious worry behind almost every resource allocation decision I make with colleagues in Student Learning Support at Ryerson. Sometimes I feel cynical about the question and wonder where calls for efficiency will take us in Student Affairs and the learning support areas I direct, more specifically. If we do actually value education, as a human enterprise, where is the end-point that defrays that intention until it’s totally unrecognizable? I’m not sure. But I suppose there must be one.

I have a creative side, though, that brings me to places of optimism and experimentation and that side has me thinking. This question is about the inspiring and humanistic priority we’ve put on post-secondary education which is that it should be accessible to all people who have the aptitude to pursue it. In Canada, in Ontario, and at Ryerson, we want all students with the academic capacity and desire to have the option to pursue post-secondary education. For Ontario, among other things, this has meant more students attending post-secondary with greater diversity of backgrounds and intentions. Panel members for “Not your Grandparents’ funding formula” suggest that the post-secondary systems, in both Canada and the US, while committed to the value of access in post-secondary education, have not adjusted to what it means from a funding, systemic, and programmatic perspective. This is where the creativity comes in.

I want to believe, as the panel members seemed to, that our post-secondary system is in a time of adjustment and that change will come, eventually, as the current way of organizing and funding post-secondary is not sustainable. We are stuck between the honourable imperative to welcome large numbers of students while still making it human and holistic (and with shrinking or status quo funding). Change might not be in my lifetime (shhh… cynical me). But with my academic skills support “hat” on, and with the great minds and energetic people I work with in Student Learning Support, we come up with creative solutions: online or digital solutions for engaging and teaching students new academic skills, group learning solutions to encourage students to learn together and learn from each other, and attempts to influence teaching solutions through working with faculty, TA/GAs, and our Learning & Teaching Office. These are a few of our favourite, creative things. And that’s good. That’s positive. We’ll learn from these new models and experiments—we might even find something that’s better than our “old school”, resource-intensive approaches. I say, optimistically, that we have the potential to shape how our post-secondary system evolves.