College Beat: Red Deer College reaches beyond Central Alberta

Red Deer College faculty are diverse, experienced, and their contributions extend beyond the classroom. I am constantly amazed at the work they do in our communities, our province, our country and around the world.

To illustrate the great work that our faculty are doing each and every day, I’d like to share a recent pilot project completed by two of our Social Work professors, Dr. Baiju Vareed and Carmen Plante.

Baiju began teaching at RDC in 2013. Before arriving in Canada, Baiju was a professor in India. With experiences on both sides of the globe, he saw an opportunity to create a learning partnership between Canada and India. He has a passion for teaching, and he felt the mutual learnings for students could be very valuable.

With the support of RDC’s School of Arts and Sciences, Baiju submitted a proposal to the Government of Alberta’s i@home funding, which provides Albertan students ‘at home’ international learning experiences through the use of technology. The project received funding, and Baiju connected with the Social Work Department at Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit in India. A partnership was formed.

Back at RDC, Baiju connected with Carmen, a fellow Social Work instructor. Although their expertise was different, they soon realized that their work in the course “social issues,” a class that provided students opportunities to research social issues, was complimentary. After discussing ways in which they might collaborate, they soon realized an opportunity to work with students in India might provide a unique applied experience for their students. But it also presented some challenges. What is considered a social issue in one culture isn’t necessarily the same in another. The student teams – in consultation with their instructors – landed on two topics that were relevant to both nations: the discrimination of women in educational institutions, and a cultural understanding of domestic violence.

Students immediately saw the benefits of such a partnership. Under the leadership of their professors, they worked through the initial technology glitches and began communicating regularly with their fellow students in India. Students in both countries conducted the research, and RDC students compiled the data into a final report.

The feedback from students was very positive. They learned about different global perspectives, and they learned to be aware about assumptions and stereotypes. As you can imagine, students learned from each other. Our students shared pictures of an Alberta snowfall, and their partner students in India shared details of their trip to the Taj Mahal; just one of many cultural exchanges between them.

One of the key differences between a university and a polytechnic university is the focus on applied learning and real world experiences. When RDC finally makes the transition to become degree-granting through becoming a polytechnic university, experiences for our students, like Baiju and Carmen provided will become the norm for our learners.

Next time, I will tell the story of an apprenticeship instructor’s work in South America.

Joel Ward is president and CEO of Red Deer College.

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