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Online Bridging for Computer Engineering: Broadening Access to High-Demand Competencies

The EvoLLLution | Online Bridging for Computer Engineering: Broadening Access to High-Demand Competencies
Developing a bridging program that supports the transition from college to a computer science bachelor’s degree program can have a major impact on degree completion in a high-demand field for students who likely would not otherwise have the option.

Labor market expectations for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in computer science are estimated at excellent according to Service Canada. While the number of graduates in computer science programs has increased more than 45 percent between 2008 and 2012, the labor market has been able to comfortably absorb the rising number of graduates, and demand is expected to continue as more students pursue computer science degrees. A 2014 Workopolis survey found 91 percent of graduates in computer science were working in related jobs, making computer science one of the top three disciplines in terms of the percentage of graduates working in their field of study.

Furthermore, graduates of computer science degree programs tend to have higher starting salaries when compared to other fields of study. Computer science was found by the National Association of Colleges and Employers and CNN Money to be the fifth top-earning degree in terms of starting salary. Popular media suggests computer science graduates will be in high demand in the coming years.

Degree completion is important for employability in the computer science field. Northern College students receive a diploma in computer technology, but are not fully prepared to enter a computer science engineering program to obtain a degree. There is currently no fully online mechanism in this sector for learners in Ontario to move between the college and university systems seamlessly. In our case, Northern College has a great partnership with Algoma University in diploma-to-degree pathways, including joint acceptance in some programs. Northern also works with Durham College—one of the other institutions in the Colleges Ontario system—and knows Durham’s reputation in e-learning and online development. So this three-way partnership seemed like a great fit!

As an open-source resource, this bridging program will be available to all college graduates across the college system, and acceptable by all university programs in the Ontario system.

Collaboration the Best Way Forward

For Northern College, collaboration is a way of life. We are the smallest college in the Ontario public college system, and we are the only postsecondary institution in our region. Northern has been known for building partnerships with industry, other postsecondary institutions and not-for-profit agencies as a way to assure we fulfill our mandate to deliver quality programs that meet regional economic needs.

Our communities often express the need for more advanced training and university-level education.

For this particular project, we did not have the complete skill set to bring it to fruition. We needed additional subject matter expertise, as well as more e-learning support. While distance learning is part of our mandate—and we have almost 50 years of experience with it—the need to create interactive, high-quality learning objects that facilitate a complete bridging program requires additional capacity that we did not have.

Getting the Program Off the Ground

Making this program a reality will mean a lot of hard work in a short window of time. We have approximately 14 months to complete the project. Geographically, Northern College is about 600 km from Algoma University and about 800 km from Durham College. As such, we will have to build this online program using predominantly online methods of communication. We’re going to have to practice what we preach!

Funding for the project has come from eCampus Ontario, through a rigorous RFP process that had 174 applications, of which university/college partnerships were in the minority. The funding will support the project and allow us to backfill our faculty who are pulled in to work for the project.

Combining ideas with practical solutions will be the reality of bringing this program to life. We have lots of great ideas, but they have to be tempered within the constraints of time and money.

It may be naïve but, at this (admittedly early) point, I don’t see any major roadblocks. The critical considerations are how we will work together, and we have drafted MOA’s for each partner—as well as terms of reference for our Advisory Committee to govern the project—to clarify the terms of our partnership. What’s more, we have all previously worked together on other projects. Keeping the lines of communication open and working in respectful ways should keep us on track.

The Crystal Ball: How We Hope To See this Grow

As Vice President Academic and Student Success, my hopes for this program fall into the category of “the sky is the limit.” There is tremendous opportunity in this field. We will be able to offer any of our Computer Engineering Technology students the opportunity to go further with their education—and they will be able to do that seamlessly. This bridge also allows us to think creatively about the various specializations we may want to attach to our diploma program, such as gaming technology and cyber security.

In ten years, I hope to see joint acceptances for our CET learners to any university in Ontario, to carry on to computer science degrees in a variety of computer specializations. Perhaps we can expand the bridging program to other areas as well. As I said, the sky’s the limit! I am hopeful that in ten years we will be able to say 5000 students benefited from this bridge to the future.

The impact of this project for Northern goes far beyond our diploma program in computer engineering technology. The impact reaches across disciplines within Northern to demonstrate that, although we are a small institution, we can do truly unique and innovative things that are cutting edge in the province of Ontario. This message is powerful and promotes a culture of innovation, which we want to foster and encourage at Northern.

For our external community, building this bridge sends a strong message that we have heard what you need, and we are making it happen.

This is the first installment in a three-part series by the leaders of the schools involved in this collaboration—Northern College, Algoma University and Durham College. Over the course of the series, each institution discusses their role in the program and its expected impact on their students and their region. To read the next installment from Algoma University’s Dawn White, please click here.

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