Online credit offers competitive edge

Karen Herland

We are currently poised to use the internet as a recruitment tool for students across the country and around the world.

Online education is certainly not new, and an increasing number of institutions are offering courses on the internet, but few are offering actual certificates and programs.

“The moment you step out of the bricks and mortar, you are in competition with a brand new market. Concordia’s biggest asset in this market is its our intellectual property,” said Patrick Devey, eConcordia’s director of research and development .

Devey is currently working on a 30-credit certificate in Canadian studies targeted at international students. The 10-course program was approved at Senate last spring for delivery in September 2007.

The certificate will allow potential students to earn a year’s worth of Concordia credits while in their own country. This means they don’t have to worry about housing, travel and the potential culture shock when they begin their degree. “They have the opportunity to take their foundation year online from within their home country, after which, they will come to Montreal — this is a win- win situation for the student in savings and for the university in recruitment opportunities,” said Kaoru Matsui, eConcordia’s director of business development.

“We recognized that this was a niche market,” Devey said. Devey and his team have found professors for most of the classes, which provide an overview of Canadian history, politics and culture. They are working on the online adaptation.

“You can’t replicate the full synchronous, face-to-face environment of the classroom. But you can take some of its best practices that work in the classroom, and recreate them online,” he said.

Devey will sometimes spend time in a classroom to get a sense of the professor’s style and the overall climate in order to properly adapt a course.

He cited a class on bioethics offered by Jack Ornstein (Philosophy) as an example. Ornstein often baits his class on issues like animal testing and euthanasia. In order to translate that mood online Devey had him create Jekyll-and-Hyde like personae who present the issues to students.

Devey and Matsui see the certificate in Canadian studies as an opportunity to get international students acculturated to Canada and to North American teaching practices.

“The videos will demonstrate what lectures are like here, and they will need to express themselves in written English,” Devey said. Matsui added that the potential to add a formal language component also exists.

The model of distance education could be applied to specific fields. “We know that China would like more courses in commerce and computer science,” Matsui said.

Concordia may also develop a foundational year of courses for Canadian students. Students who do not go through the CEGEP system need 108 credits to graduate with a BA. They could earn the extra 18 credits online the summer before they arrive, again cutting their potential expense.