Sask Polytech moves student supports online

For continued campus safety, our students and employees will continue to work and learn from home for the fall and winter academic terms. Student support services have moved online to reflect this new reality. Over the spring and summer, Student Services, Indigenous Strategy and International Education have been busy putting plans in place to remotely deliver a variety of support services.

“Sask Polytech was already moving toward having more student supports online, but the pandemic has propelled us forward more quickly,” says Derek Tannis, director of Student Engagement and Learning Services. “As soon as we shifted to working and learning from home, we knew we needed to prioritize one-on-one counselling, accessibility, advising and learning services supports, which meant immediately shifting teams to working with videoconferencing and phone-based supports.”

Student counselling services and Indigenous Student Centre services are available online, with one-on-one appointments offered via Zoom or phone call. Students, faculty and staff can also visit Fitness & Recreation for online circuit training classes, yoga and personal consultations.

The Learning Services Zoom Room has faculty available online to answer questions Monday through Saturday and both Indigenous Strategy and International Education are also providing daily Zoom sessions. The Library has an online chat for questions and requests. Writing support, tutoring and other learning supports have also moved online.

It is no small challenge to shift traditionally in-person services to remotely delivered online supports. Tannis credits increased collaboration within and across departments with making it happen. Student Services worked hand-in-hand with Sask Polytech Communications and Marketing, Learning Technologies, Information and Communications Technologies and Library Services. Knowledge was also shared with the polytechnic community across Canada.

“Prior to the pandemic teams would organize and lead their own campus-based programming at campuses in Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert,” Tannis says. “When campuses closed in March, we had to move this localized programming to a provincial model. We also needed to learn what technologies would enable remotely delivered programming, such as online recreation classes or online employment and counselling workshops.”

The need to develop institution-wide, remotely delivered online student supports led to some remarkable outside-the-box thinking.

“We have seen so much creativity and innovation in the past months,” Tannis says. “For example, last January, we were discussing developing an online orientation for international students but decided it was premature. Then came COVID-19, and we had to turn our plans around and develop completely online orientation for all students.”

Indigenous Strategy collaborated to create a fully online version of its popular summer transition program. Student Wellness and Student Life collaborated to create a series of online recreation, wellness and social activities. More engagement activities are planned to keep the spirit of Sask Polytech alive and well throughout the pandemic.

“Internally, our teams have been able to meet more often and do more things online than we ever thought possible,” Tannis says. “We’ve been able to virtually bring people in from other campuses and other areas, and that’s led to more innovation.”

So, how is it working? “Early response from students has been positive,” Tannis says. “Our online student orientation was well-received, we had 1,000 students participate in our Getting Started Online Zoom webinars, with highly positive feedback, and our Student Services Operations team and Contact Centre are responding to hundreds of calls per day from their homes across the province.”

Although COVID-19 was the catalyst to fast-tracking the move to online student supports, Tannis does not expect the innovation to end when the crisis is past. “Our campuses will reopen, and we will return to enjoying the unique personality and culture of each campus. But we will also have developed excellent online institution-wide support services that Sask Polytech students can access, wherever they live.”

To learn more about online student supports, visit saskpolytech.ca/fall2020 or email counselling@saskpolytech.ca, WritingSupport@saskpolytech.ca or MathSupport@saskpolytech.ca.