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Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology: Connecting Learners and Teachers Across Canada

With little more than 1 million residents, Canada’s Saskatchewan province spans 250,900 square miles, about four times the size of New York State. In such a sparsely populated area, distance learning has always been a fact of life. For 41,000 students at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST), which provides 200 programs in agriculture, business, health, industrial training, and technology skills, the tyranny of distance has now been largely tamed.

After an initial pilot project involving online electrical apprenticeship training, we launched our Virtual Campus last fall with 11 courses and two programs ranging from new media to emergency medical services training. Almost immediately, we were generating waitlists. Virtual course registrations for the year totaled 700, a response that augurs well for the 17 courses we will add this month and the 21 more that will be under development.

We credit two key principles with our success: First, we supported our online learning initiative for students with faculty and staff development by providing a steady offering of workshops and seminars to employees through “technology greenhouses” at each of our four campuses. Second, we established an integrated online environment that enriches interaction between teachers and learners and facilitates electronic communications and administrative services for employees.

For students, we use the term “connected learning” to denote electronic access to administrative services, collaboration and communication services, and instructional support. This environment brings value both to full-time, on-campus students and to part-time students who never set foot in a physical classroom. The same portal where this happens also brings employees and the administration together electronically.

In order to be truly virtual, we require integration between our administrative and academic content systems. We accomplished this through automatic, real-time integration between SCT Banner, our administrative system, and WebCT’s Web-based course tools and e-learning hub. Campus Pipeline provides a unified online campus environment and visual integration of our e-learning and administrative systems. As a result, we now have an enterprise wide solution with single sign-on and real-time data synchronization. Synchronization ensures that user information is always up to date. The integration also reduces the likelihood of error because we are able to move information through a variety of sources without repeating processes.

The connected learning system also enables instructors and students to integrate technology into the teaching and learning process without having to know or learn complex systems. For example, each SIAST course automatically provides access to chat and discussion boards through Campus Pipeline, features that are available to the instructor and students registered in every SIAST course. Class lists are also automatically generated for instructors, allowing them to e-mail an entire group. As a result, both off-campus and on-campus students can work together in an educational community.

Each student who registers at SIAST is given access to Campus Pipeline. WebCT provides both on- and off-campus virtual students the opportunity to access content anywhere, anytime, while the Banner applications integrate human resource functions, finance, and a variety of student information. Student and faculty can access grades, class lists, and communications services while staff and faculty maintain timesheets and monitor budgets online.

Having access with a single sign-on into administrative, e-learning, and communications systems speeds access to services and information for all users. Faculty, staff, administrators, and students do not need to make multiple entries, bookmark pages, or memorize URLs.

Also, having real time access to services 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week is helping us meet increased student demands without compromising quality. It is also reducing the contact time required to answer routine questions. Faculty are as accessible as before, but an alternative method of communication is available for those who cannot reach them during normal work hours. The solution enables us to cater to off-campus and on-campus learners without compromising services to either group.

The Virtual Campus allows us to integrate technology with learning, delivering education and training in the style and format appropriate to a new generation of learners. And it helps us remain competitive in the online educational arena. Educational opportunities are just a click away, so it’s imperative that Saskatchewan, through initiatives such as SIAST’s Virtual Campus, be part of the e-learning landscape.

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