One of the biggest transformations in postsecondary education has been the move away from classroom learning.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced institutions to figure out new ways to convey complex concepts to students.
But those enrolled in colleges or universities have a range of skills and aptitudes when it comes to working with virtual platforms.
That's one reason why Capilano University has decided to hire five student digital ambassadors to assist their peers.
One of them is Josie Buno, an international student enrolled in business administration.
"I enjoy teaching students the technology because I am an IT professional back home in the Philippines," Buno told the Straight by phone.
Prior to coming to Canada from Manila, Buno was a manager at a major newspaper, the Philippines Daily Inquirer, helping set up systems for business and classified advertising.
One of her instructors advised students to improve their communications skills, which explains why she decided to become a digital ambassador.
"We provide technical support for students using digital platforms like WebEx, eLearn, Microsoft Teams, Altera, and ePortfolio," Buno explained. "It's a new position so we are finding ways to help students.
"We're also creating tutorials, videos, and FAQs [frequently asked questions] for digital learning," she added. "And we're also assisting faculty in creating resources for students."
Ambassadors help flatten hierarchy of learning
Laura MacKay, director of Capilano University's Centre for Teaching Excellence, oversees the program, which is available to students from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Monday through Saturday.
In a phone interview with the Straight, MacKay said that university officials quickly realized that when the school embraced virtual learning, some students were exceptionally savvy with digital technology. But others weren't nearly as adept.
"Really, what we have is peer support where the students are taking the initiative, figuring out what’s the best way to help support students in navigating that online environment," MacKay said. "So it’s very student-driven."
To her knowledge, it's the only peer-to-peer student tech-support program in B.C.'s public postsecondary system.
"UBC has something called 'tech rovers', but those students support faculty," MacKay said.
She pointed that instructors often think about what type of help students need. But sometimes, she added, the students' understanding of their own needs is very different. That's where the digital ambassadors can play a unique role in crafting solutions.
"The key thing, from my perspective, is it changes the dynamic of students as 'recipients of information' to students as partners in that learning process," MacKay said. "And that’s a big deal. We can’t keep having this sort of hierarchy where they’re recipients of what we decide. I think we have to co-create the environment that we want.
"So I’m really excited to be working with this group of students," she continued. "They’re really amazing.”
For her part, Buno said it's also not a one-way information highway between the digital ambassadors and the students.
That's because sometimes, the digital ambassadors don't know the answers to a student's question, so they have to conduct their own research.
"So we're learning from them, also," Buno said.