Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Pursuing excellence in program quality and innovation

Dalton Mervold regularly receives phone calls from college and university administrators around the world. They're eager to learn about Saskatchewan Polytechnic's online learning programs, and how they can incorporate the content into their own curricula. As the head of the Parts Management Technician program, Mervold has spearheaded three innovative online programs that are earning national and international attention.

Take the Applied Trade Math MOOC, for example. An acronym for Massive Open Online Course, it was developed in partnership with the Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission. The non-credit course focuses on mathematical concepts commonly used in the skilled trades and apprenticeship programs. It's free, self-paced and available 24-7 to anyone with a computer and the Internet.

"We hear faculty and employers say, 'students come to us and they're not prepared in their basic math skills,'" says Mervold. "Sometimes students don't understand some of the basic math principles used in a trade, and sometimes they need a refresher because they haven't tackled certain equations since grade school."

Students can take a pre-test to determine what concepts they need to brush up on - such as fractions, geometry and working with money. "You can test yourself and see what you need help in, and there's content for each of those areas, and a post-test at the end," says Mervold. There are also real-world examples: students interested in the welding, construction or automotive trades can select their chosen field and learn math concepts a tradesperson would encounter in the workplace.

"Our first MOOC offered this spring had 267 students from around the world - Australia, England, all over Canada and the United States." says Mervold. "There aren't a lot of places you can get help with math for free," he says, adding that the MOOC is great for auditory learners because there's an option to turn on audio and listen to a speaker break down how each equation is solved.

Mervold was also the driving force behind two other programs offered online: Blue Seal Training for Trades Professionals and the Leadership Skills applied certificate. He says Blue Seal training is "for people who have the Red Seal who would like to get further training in areas such as leadership, managerial skills, company operations and supervision."

The Leadership Skills program was developed based on industry needs. While building the program, Mervold collaborated with the Canadian Construction Association (CCA), and as a result, students enrolled can earn credit towards their Gold Seal accreditation. "We're now one of the CCA's authorized training providers," he says.

The online learning environment provides plenty of benefits for students. The courses are highly interactive, so students learn not only from the content and instructor, but also from each other. The format also means students can remain employed and learn in their spare time. "They never have to leave work and find a second place to live," says Mervold. "Employers told us that it's almost impossible to send certain tradespeople away to school for several weeks - it's a significant loss of revenue for them. I knew we could come up with a better way."

This is the second instalment of a four-part series highlighting Saskatchewan Polytechnic employees who are demonstrating excellence in delivering on one of our four strategic themes: 1. Making successful careers possible, 2. Advancing economic and social prosperity, 3. Pursuing excellence in program quality and innovation, and 4. Leading organizational effectiveness.

Mervold is one of many employees pursuing excellence in program quality and innovation. Saskatchewan Polytechnic is known for the high quality of its programs, for its expertise in education and for its leading-edge solutions that make learning happen for its students. It works with employers to solve problems, to stay current with industry needs and to enhance student learning opportunities.