New co-op website provides online learning community

November 18, 2004, vol. 31, no. 6
By Diane Luckow

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Imagine a student-centred, online community where students can learn on demand, chat together in discussion groups, access experts and employers, participate in polls and surveys, post their own electronic job portfolios, share their job experiences, link to valuable resources and even rant in a student-only rant zone.

On Nov. 22, SFU co-op students will have it all as SFU co-op launches its own online co-op learning community, believed to be the first for a Canadian university.

“We've learned from our bridging online program, which all co-op students must take, that students are mainly online from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. when our offices are closed,” says co-op education director Nancy Johnston. “A lot of the information flow may be inhibited by timing and geographic access.”

But not anymore. The co-op online learning community, developed in partnership with e-LINC at the SFU Surrey campus, is a place where co-op students can learn and discuss what they want, when they want. Unlike a static website, the students' online participation will largely fuel the community's future growth and development.

The community has been established with learning modules on career development and job search strategies; a chat forum where students can share experiences and advice; an interview question database and a random interview generator so that students can practice their interview techniques; a community profile space where co-op students will file their work term profiles so that others may research the companies and the students' experiences by name, discipline, industry, job title and more.

The site also features a calendar of events, articles, a news feed with daily career news pulled from trustworthy sources and an online gallery where students can post their electronic job portfolios. In the coming months, Johnston plans to add areas where co-op employers and alumni can access each other and a survey tool where faculty, staff or employers can pose a question and receive an immediate response from community participants.

The massive undertaking has taken one-and-a-half years to plan and build and has involved 60 staff and volunteers, including co-op students. “We were learning about online communities just slightly faster than we were building it,” confesses Johnston.

“It's not just an interactive site,” notes Johnston. “It also includes an educational purpose. We needed to cut across every faculty and department at SFU, so there were hundreds of stakeholders with many opinions.”

Quentin Beck, the community's project manager, explains that because the community is dynamic the co-op department can't control the site but only support it. “A lot of the community is created by the people who come to visit,” she says.

“As community members contribute to discussion groups, post their profiles and portfolios and submit articles, the site will constantly change.” She says the community is open for criticism as well as kudos. Submitted information will not be screened except for offensiveness, or for information that is blatantly incorrect. “We don't know how it will look in a year from now - that will be driven by the users,” says Beck. “Who knows where it will lead?”

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