On November 29, five members of the CUPE 3911 Executive held a friendly and constructive discussion with AU Provost Matthew Prineas. The discussion was organized to continue the discussion begun with Dr. Prineas at the CUPE 3911 Annual General Meeting. Present with Dr. Prineas in the room were co-chairs Dougal MacDonald and Glynnis Lieb and Membership Officer Brenda Kuzio. Online were co-Chair Ronnie Leah and PD Officer Mark Dimirky.
The main focus of the discussion was to try to broaden the conversation around AU’s teaching and learning models. Important questions include: What should the student learning experience be? What is learning? What are best practices to enhance learning? What do students need? How can we support student learning? It was noted that the entire set of interactions with students needed to be considered, for example, stresses in student lives play a role in their learning.
Obviously of interest to the CUPE representatives was some discussion of what role the tutors and academic experts will play in any revamped model. It was pointed out that CUPE members have excellent credentials and a vast wealth of teaching experience, as well as other experience beyond the university, e.g., in their various occupations. This experience is appreciated by students, as are specific things like writing references, addressing student diversity, extension of deadlines, etc. One issue pointed out by the CUPE representatives was the lack of orientation/training for new tutors. This has led to CUPE creating its own network to help members get oriented.
The CUPE representatives made a case to the Provost that the current call centre model is not the best system to give support to students because it places unnecessary barriers between the two groups.. Students need to be able to personally contact their academics. In any case, AE’s are already going beyond the restrictions of the model to better serve their students, which is a sign of the model’s inadequacy. Some courses have been moved from the call centre model back to the individual study tutor model with good results. Confusion between models exists. Another point is that students often take a second course because of the close relationship with their instructor. Overall, instead of dictating the call centre AU needs to examine it more critically.
The CUPE representatives suggested that an outside study could be made of the call centre and its effectiveness, a suggestion previously made several years ago. The study could start with what students need rather than current practice/models. It was pointed out that the AU Student Union had done a study of the two models and concluded that the individualized study tutor model was better for students. At the same time, to get away from people dividing into “camps” on the issue it would be good to have someone outside the university do a study in order to ensure objectivity.
There was also discussion of AU’s potential target audiences in terms of continuing to recruit students. This goes back to AU’s original mission. Some groups that in the past were considered very important include indigenous students, prisoners, athletes, and those in the military. Why are some of these groups now less represented? Is it the economy? The technology? Increased competition for students? Etext? It would be good to try to find out.
The discussion ended with the CUPE representatives reiterating their great value to the university and their pride in teaching. It was pointed out that tutors and academic experts feel disrespected, e.g., by statements blaming them for AU’s “unsustainability”, and that this does not bode well for how they do their job. Overall, everyone agreed that a key issue that urgently needs to be addressed is, how can we all get AU back to being the vanguard of online education that it once was before it is too late.