Celebrating Collaboration in Rural Institutions

How do rural post-secondary institutions across B.C. manage to make use of the wealth of student wellness and support resources created and shared by BCcampus? For years they’ve simply managed to find a way because they’re passionate about the work and their people. Too often, it’s a side-of-desk or passion project where instructors, counsellors, or campus coordinators squeeze the content into their schedule because they understand and appreciate the value of the resources. When you’re a department of one, it’s a big ask to get everything done. A cadre of counsellors and educators from three local institutions, North Island College (NIC), Selkirk College, and College of the Rockies (CoTR), have developed an innovative, collaborative approach that facilitates a better experience for faculty, staff, and students and leads to safer campuses for everyone. 

Post by the BCcampus editorial team

Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence is a series of open education resources (OER) focused on building safer campus communities throughout the province. Synchronous training resources look at Consent & Sexual Training, Supporting Survivors, Accountability and Repairing Relationships, and Active Bystander Intervention. An asynchronous training, Safer Campuses for Everyone, is also available. The open textbooks are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence and, like almost all of the OER in the open textbook collection, are available for adoption or adaptation by educators throughout the province. 

These resources have been well received by the post-secondary sector of B.C. While some post-secondary institutions have a dedicated staff to disseminate this volume of information, some of the small, rural institutions can find it challenging to allocate the time required to lead these lessons. A trio of these schools opted to do something different and collaborated on a presentation approach that saw each institution take ownership of one of the four trainings and present the materials to their respective students. And it worked far better than the group had hoped.  

“Having access to this volume of high-quality OER is incredible,” said Doris (DJ) Silva, director of student affairs at CoTR. “We can provide consistent and standardized messages for students so that regardless of where they transfer to, they’ll have similar training. What they learn at CoTR is just as relevant at Selkirk or NIC. It won’t be a foreign concept for them: it’s the same message of what we expect regarding safer campuses for all. These topics are addressed in the same way because they have been thoughtfully prepared and presented by one group of people.”

“Sharing ideas, concerns, and challenges — as well as our successes— has been vital to those of us in rural institutions for the past couple of years,” shared Rhonda Schmitz, director of student development at Selkirk College. “We’ve been finding ways to have our people connect, especially when they’re working on the same thing. When this collaborative idea came forward, we talked about it in our directors’ group and said, ‘We need to do this,’ and then we connected our employees from each of our institutions: people who are passionate and willing to engage in this work and can make it happen.”

“We’re proud of the resources that we’ve developed at BCcampus,” said Robynne Devine, senior project manager of collaborative projects at BCcampus. “The innovative and collaborative approach these institutions have used is a truly best-case scenario. Not only are the OER being adopted, but they’re also sharing resources and learnings together. Everyone wins.”

Aces in Their Places

“Some people are born presenters,” shared Felicity Blaiklock, director of student affairs and campus administrator for NIC. “They know the material, and they present it brilliantly. Some people have the expertise but not the presentation skills, and some have great presentation skills but not the expertise. By breaking up the delivery model, it was easier for people to find their groove, allowing everyone to share the load while doing the part of the presentation they enjoy the most.”

Many hands make light work. In unity, there is strength. The more, the merrier. Whatever idiom you prefer, it’s clear this group put aside any inter-institutional rivalry and focused on finding ways to bring the most value to the learners. 

A Recipe for Success

The key to making this work was delegation and communication. “We connected before each session to get ready, check our numbers, and prop each other up for their presentation,” explained Matty Hillman, instructor at Selkirk College and member of the creative team behind the development of the sexualized violence OER. “We would connect before the session on the day of and then debrief the following day to go over how it went and identify tips and feedback to improve. It was very supportive, and everyone attended each workshop, even if they weren’t facilitating. I wasn’t the presenting in the first event, and this gave me the chance to watch the counsellors from CoTR deliver while I experienced their tone and delivery style. We got to share elements of humour and lightheartedness, and on the other side, we learned how to deal with challenging questions or concerns. During the debrief, we anonymously discussed specific questions or concerns that participants had brought up through private messages and how the counsellors and facilitators were able to support them. We also had counsellors on hand to address any sort of deeply triggered student concerns.” 

Sharing the Learnings

“One of the things we learned from each other was recruitment techniques,” shared Matty. “We checked our numbers and then asked each other about recruitment techniques. There were typical ones, like postering and social media, but at Selkirk, I leveraged my position as an instructor to get my students and colleagues’ students to attend, and that boosted our numbers. I shared that approach with the other institutions, advising that they go to the instructors of relevant fields — health and human services, anything like that — and tell them about this workshop. We even saw some of the instructors offer their students classroom time credit for the time. Sharing those recruitment methods was key and impactful for a lot of people.”

A Model Model

This approach was a great way to explore how individuals from different institutions might be able to work together, whether it’s for related mental health concepts or other materials. 

“Looking ahead,” shared Matty, “we discussed the possibility of making this a reoccurring experience. Although we don’t have a framework on paper yet, we can take what we’ve learned through this experience and structure it into a formal process that could be applied to other topics.” 

“When you show up and demonstrate success,” shared Rhonda, “it starts to plant seeds today that can be harvested in the future. I think we’re going to see much more collaboration between small, rural institutions because there’s so much value for everyone involved.” 

“This is the kind of innovation we love to see in the post-secondary sector of B.C.,” shared Robynne. “As more institutions join this model, we can see this evolving into a great learning experience for their respective students and a fantastic opportunity for the counsellors, facilitators, and instructors leading the workshops.” 

Notable Quote(s):

“OER — it’s all about the democratization of knowledge.”

— Matty Hillman, instructor, Human Services, Selkirk College

“BCcampus and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training have been so incredibly supportive in recognizing the unique and distinct challenges that smaller rural institutions face” 

— Felicity Blaiklock, director, Student Affairs and Campus Administrator, North Island College

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The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by Hassan OUAJBIR