Constant anticipation of change

Developing new programs at Mohawk College is a multi-year, multi-stakeholder commitment

Published in Momentum Fall 2021

Mohawk College’s second standalone degree program, Analytics and Data Management, is awaiting approval from the province and, if all goes according to plan, it will launch next fall. It is the first standalone degree for the McKeil School of Business and will add to a degree in Digital Health that began this past September.

The College is also leading the launch of a Bachelor of Business Administration (Trades Management) completion degree in conjunction with George Brown College and Algonquin College. It’s the first three-way degree partnership in the Canadian college system and will be delivered entirely online and be self-paced.

“It’s exciting to have our first standalone degree launched and others in the pipeline. Our degree strategy is now well underway with a strong foundation to build upon,” said Alison Horton, Vice-President Academic.

“We will be adding more programs in our key areas of strength. This growth will be supported by the strong planning structure we have in place that reflects our strategic and integrated approach to credential development, whether that’s a postsecondary degree, diploma or certificate.”

Forecasting the future
The process of identifying, testing, building and marketing new certificates, diplomas, advanced diplomas, degrees and post-graduate certifications is a multi-year, multi-stakeholder endeavour with the goals of answering future job market needs, fulfilling student demand, attracting enrolment, and satisfying Mohawk’s strategic priorities.

“It takes anywhere from two to four years to build from the initial idea to getting on the Minister’s desk for approval,” said Sylvia Lowndes, Dean of the McKeil School of Business, School of Creative Industries and Liberal Studies and Communication.

”When it comes to program design, we must have the intuition and the ability to validate where the emerging competencies for the job market are moving towards. We rely on faculty who are our subject matter experts, market research and our deep connections with industry.”

– Sylvia Lowndes, Dean of the McKeil School of Business, School of Creative Industries and Liberal Studies and Communication

So that means by the time the first group of students graduates, it could be six or seven years down the road. So, to respond to the emerging needs of the learners and the workplace, we must have the foresight to anticipate what job competencies will be in demand, says Lowndes.

The new Analytics and Data Management degree is a great example of that in action, she says.

It’s a unique program, says Lowndes, combining business, computer science, project management, data modelling, storytelling and visualization. She believes this kind of interdisciplinary approach will be a model for future degrees at Mohawk.

“This really points in a novel direction because it connects so many aspects together. A business analyst needs to be able to tell the story behind the data. That’s a huge asset at the boardroom table.”

‘Constant anticipation of change’
When choosing directions for new programs, Lowndes says it’s important to pay attention to strategic and emerging trends in the workplace.

“We must have exceptional listening and probing skills, be ready for opportunities, and listen to what employers are forecasting from a skills-requirement perspective. Anticipating change, is a constant.”

Critical to that approach is having faculty who are well connected to industry and program advisory committees that are forward-thinking and innovative, says Lowndes.

“They are our guiding lights in many ways.”

With that in mind, Lowndes’ portfolio is adding diplomas in e-sports administration and a gaming program, and has just launched a graduate certificate in project management.

It’s important to be strategic in terms of thinking about the mix of credentials the College offers, so there is a “strong learning ecosystem” that meets student needs, says Janet Shuh, Dean of Continuing Education and Academic Development.

Programs often come out of consideration of complementing existing strengths and offering options and pathways to multiple kinds of learners—those coming directly from high school, those with diplomas and degrees, and those looking to undertake in-career upskilling.

But being strategic is also about quality assurance at each step of program development and investing resources in developing programs that are viable in terms of workforce demand, Mohawk’s capacity to deliver, and projected enrolment, says Shuh.

“It really is a tremendous undertaking, so determining that viability and validity early on is key.”

Interdisciplinary degree
The degree in Analytics and Data Management complements and builds on the expertise Mohawk has established in its graduate certificate in Analytics for Business Decision Making that was established several years ago, says Dr. Steven Way, professor in business who is helping to lead development of the degree.

“Moving into the degree path is a natural extension. We have the core staff we need and the experience with work-integrated learning across just about every sector. There is also industry awareness about what we do thanks to the Higher Education Analytics Data competition that we launched three years ago.”

Backed by industry input into the kinds of skills graduates should have, the degree program was developed to prepare graduates to answer a fast-emerging demand for data skills by merging disciplines.

“Our students will have a strong business foundation when they enter the workforce. They will be able to analyze data as it applies to business, and effectively communicate observations and illustrate the connection to key decision makers.”

Way has worked alongside experts in the Centre for Teaching & Learning (CTL) at Mohawk to build the courses and curriculum and reviewers with the Postsecondary Education Quality Assurance Board (PEQAB) were impressed during a site visit in April of this year undertaken to assess academic quality and the College’s capacity to deliver.

For Lowndes, there is great excitement about the prospect of developing more interdisciplinary programs within her sprawling portfolio of 55 programs and six more in the pipeline.

“Bringing disciplines together for the purpose of innovative program design and delivery is a complex, however, rewarding undertaking.”

Shuh also believes that interdisciplinary and collaborative programs will be Mohawk’s greatest differentiator. She says the newly launched Digital Health degree, which combines engineering technology with a health lens, is a prime example of bridging sectors and disciplines together.

A model for collaboration
The four-year Bachelor of Business Administration (Trades Management) is generating excitement in industry and at the provincial level, says Laurence Smith, a business professor and program coordinator for Business Administration at Mohawk.

That’s both due to combining trades and business together, but also the three-way college partnership between Mohawk College, George Brown College and Algonquin College.

“This will be a model for how future collaborations can work. Each college will provide six or seven online courses and transfer the credits to each other.”

A PEQAB three-day site visit has recommended the program be approved by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. A Program Advisory Committee attracted 40 members, illustrating just how much interest there is in the approach, says Smith.

Students will get the technical and operational skills required in their field, combined with the business, marketing, finance, strategic planning and project management knowledge that will help a company grow, says Smith.

Students with a two-year trades diploma can generally enter in year three of the degree. The program’s online and self-paced delivery will be highly attractive to those getting established in the trades and to mid-career employees looking to get into management.

The hope is that the program will eventually attract more young people into the trades.

“There is a desperate shortage of tradespeople but a lot of parents want their kids to get a degree,” said Smith. “This may offer a career path that satisfies both a student who wants to pursue a trade and their families who want them to get a degree.”

The future of program development
The pandemic has shown the power of fully online, self-directed learning, say Mohawk’s academic leaders.

Horton believes future education will put a premium on flexible learning and virtual delivery options that combine simulations, virtual reality and other technologies with traditional lectures and labs.

“There are so many exciting innovations in teaching and learning that will offer the best experience for students.”

A shift in approach doesn’t only apply to new programs, says Shuh, because quality assurance doesn’t end once programs are established. Each program is reviewed annually for retention, graduation and employment rates and comprehensive reviews are conducted every five years by the Centre for Teaching and Learning. Those reviews include interviews with Program Advisory Committee members, students and graduates, along with financial audits and other performance measures.

“That ensures programs are always meeting the needs of learners and industry.”

Additional photo captions: 1: Professor Laurence Smith 2: Dr. Steven Way

How new programs are developed
The development starts with an idea from faculty, deans, industry including analyses of labour market trends, a statement of interest that broadly lays out the scope and rationale of the proposed program, highlighting how it aligns with the college’s strategic mandate agreement with the province.

The statement of interest is presented to the Dean’s Council for review and opportunity to explore whether an interdisciplinary aspect could be pursued.

From there, it goes through a comprehensive process that includes the subject matter experts within the college, including departments that oversee academic and program quality, and the Centre for Teaching & Learning.

This stage gathers data and input from across the college for academic delivery. Consultations are also held with members of industry, professional associations and accreditation agencies.

A feasibility study is conducted that includes enrolment data in similar programs, student migration, labour trend statistics, and revenue projections. After consultations with the industry sector, the data is incorporated into a report that is presented to the Strategic Enrolment Management Committee and then to the Board of Governors.

Approved programs are then validated by the Credential Validation Service and submitted to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

Once approved, detailed course outlines, learning outcomes and curriculum are built and the recruitment teams kick into action to create awareness and attract enrolment.

Photo caption: Sylvia Lowndes, Dean of the McKeil School of Business, School of Creative Industries and Liberal Studies and Communication, Alison Horton, Vice-President Academic and Janet Shuh, Dean of Continuing Education and Academic Development