What I did on my (not) summer vacation

image of Venice Beach

Believe it or not, the beach was not the main reason I chose to attend the annual AICAD Student Affairs Conference in LA

A couple weeks ago, I was privileged to be able to participate in my first conference of the Association of Independent College of Art and Design (AICAD), of which OCAD U is a member. It was AICAD’s annual Student Affairs conference and it happened to be in California, hosted by Otis College of Art and Design, and Art Center College of Design, both in the LA area. And even though LA has never been on my bucket list, I do feel a little spoiled and therefore compelled to report on what I learned, and what I think OCAD U contributed to the conference.

The theme of the conference was “reimagining student learning” with a focus on creating integrated experiences for our students through student affairs-academic affairs collaboration. We were busy (believe me!) from morning to evening attending sessions and speakers, touring the host campuses and networking but I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of everything I attended, but rather just highlight a few themes.

Student Motivation: There’s a strange thing that happens to some students — apparently not just at OCAD U but elsewhere — where they just lose the will to really succeed. The idea and the intention is there, but the action is not. It’s a very difficult place to be — and to dig yourself out of. But there are things we can do to help.

My colleagues at Otis have been doing some fascinating work around the idea of “locus of control”, and working with students, within their first year classes, to identify where they have control, and what they can do to ensure their own success. Turns out a big factor is whether you believe there are external factors (other people, luck, fate) affecting your success, or that your success is mostly in your own hands — that is, it is internal, and largely a result of things like how hard you work. Students with a stronger orientation toward an internal locus of control, so the research tells us, are more likely to be successful academically.

I am so not doing this research, or the Otis program, justice here — and there are, for me, a few problematic aspects as well — but what I admired about the work they were doing is that they were addressing a really big issue and investing resources in it, rather than just writing off some students as unmotivated. And they were not waiting for these students to seek help on their own, but they were bringing the help right into the classroom. I definitely think this is an idea worth pursuing at OCAD U.

Advances in Career Development: I was happy to discover that the many changes and improvements we’ve made in this area recently are actually in line with what’s happening throughout art and design education: aligning career supports to academic programs, building in experiential learning, supporting entrepreneurialism and business skills. The folks at the Maryland Institute College of Art shared some fantastic new programs, many of which would be transferable to the OCAD U environment. And the Rhode Island School of Design has opened a new storefront in the town of Providence that houses both a student gallery (which we, of course, already have with Xspace) but also an art materials recycling/reselling venture called RISD Second Life that, in addition to having an environmental benefit, gives students experience running a business.

Online learning is taking off at many institutions – mostly in hybrid or blended learning form (part in-person, part online.) The Otis staff shared with us some of their plans and successes, as well as a number of simple techniques and applications to take some of our services and programs into the online space relatively easily. Otis just launched its first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) — independently, through Canvas, not through one of the big MOOC providers.

My colleague Jennifer Robinson, Clinical Director of OCAD U’s Health & Wellness Centre, and I made our own contribution to the conference by presenting our approach to campus mental health. In case you have not heard, OCAD U, in partnership with Ryerson, is launching a two-year project to implement a campus-wide, evidence-based mental health strategy, funded by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. (More on that in another post.) Though student mental health is, of course, a big topic of discussion in the US as well, I think our uniquely Canadian approach to the issue caught the interest of our American colleagues.

Of course, there was lots of networking in between sessions — it was great to put faces to the names I see so often on my AICAD listserv — and tours of our two host institutions (each with a unique personality). And, yes, I did make it to the beach for a few hours ūüėČ

I made a very cheesy video of my adventure to Otis and Art Center (with a surprise at the end. Keep your expectations low.)

— @deannefisher