Saying that education has to be adaptable to the modern world is akin to saying that a fish needs gills to breathe in water.
With the speed that our surroundings are changing, compounded with the way information is being shared and technology is advancing, preparing students for future careers is becoming more and more difficult.
Dr. James Sandercock, chair of NAIT’s Alternative Energy Technology program, sees this as the responsibility of both teacher and student. Sandercock pointed out that part of that relevancy comes from the students who have a previous knowledge base. It is this experience that gets immediately injected into the curriculum.
“A lot of the people in our program are retooling their careers,” Sandercock says. “They have already done a career in say, oil and gas. They already are a holder of a degree. They are already a holder of their journeyman ticket, and this is their opportunity, this is their investment in their career.”
Owen Brierley, executive director of the Edmonton Digital Arts College (EDAC), sees the moulding of that knowledge as a challenge. Using the video game industry as an example, Brierley explains how fast this industry is evolving and how he keeps his students in the flow.
“We learned very early on that computers make you faster, not better,” Brierley says. “If you are making crap and we give you a computer, you are just going to make fast crap.”
For the first bit of their EDAC education experience, Brierley and company teach the students the basics. When they build a board game, they use clay to build models, basically strengthening the students understanding of the fundamentals to better be able to adapt to quick changes in the industry. On top of that, EDAC keeps class sizes very small. With 15 students to one instructor, the class can change with new ideas or technologies on the fly, whereas larger schools are more like cruise ships.
“There are all sorts of wonderful things about going on a cruise … but, if there needs to be a course change, it is going to take several kilometers and a couple of hours to make that change.”
Brierley likens EDAC as more of a speedboat, easily maneuverable and adaptable, being able to make course changes very quickly.
From the perspective of alternative energy, Dr. Sandercock sees this as a world evolution, not just something happening in our backyard. When the world advances, he expects his program to do the same. The role of the institution, he believes, must be that of the conduit. It is the acceptance of change, not the fear of it, that keeps his classes pertinent.
“It is moving so fast, it is incredible with how much change is happening,” Sandercock says. “So, the instructional staff are keeping our eyes open and keeping those industry relationships going where we are having very open, very free conversations about what are the trends, where are things going.”
Brierley sees education relevancy as something that superseeds curriculum. That is not to say that his staff don’t have a plan, rather that his staff are directly influenced by current trends.
“We have a faculty of made up of people who are working in the industry. They are connected to others who are working in their various industries,” Brierley explains. “By leveraging our network, we have two types of instructors. One is the faculty that I call the core, and they work with the students from their first to their last day with us.”
The others, according to Brierley, are the ‘subject matter experts’. They are people who are in the industry working on current productions. They aren’t necessarily the best teachers, but they come in and do the ‘big brain dump’ that wows everybody. Working as translators, the core teaching staff then make the material relevant to the students—something they can immediately apply to their projects.