In the upcoming 2017/2018 academic year, Shauna Andrews will earn a university degree entirely through Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) Powell River campus. With thousands of Canadians receiving post-secondary degrees every year, Andrews’ accomplishment would not be especially notable if not for the fact that she will become the first VIU student to graduate from the local campus without leaving Powell River.
“In Powell River there is a campus that just doesn’t offer a degree,” said Andrews. “I don’t think that’s fair.”
Andrews went about changing those circumstances so she could stay here, study and receive her degree by attending virtual classes. She will complete all requirements for a bachelor of arts with a double major in creative writing and English by utilizing a combination of technologies.
Previously, university programs offered in Powell River amounted to one year of general studies. If students planned to continue pursuing a VIU degree, most of the necessary courses had to be completed at one of its campuses in Cowichan or Nanaimo, according to VIU faculty coordinator Zora Soprovich, who taught Andrews in first-year English.
“Hearing that somebody is going into the final year of completing their degree without leaving is pretty amazing,” said Soprovich. “It’s inspiring.”
Andrews said she was faced with some resistance from department heads and it was not easy to put all the pieces together so she would not have to leave her home, family and job. She said she stopped contacting deans for their approval and went directly to professors.
“A lot of these things Shauna has set up herself,” said Soprovich, “so she isn’t doing it specifically through our university program.”
Soprovich said Andrews’ success is also due to her being an excellent student.
“She’s a very good advocate for herself in terms of talking to faculty members,” said Soprovich, “but what we were able to do as a campus for her is get her started with face-to-face courses.”
Through videoconferencing into classes, direct learning through email, Skype and willingness of professors to participate, Andrews was able to take all of her classes from the campus and home. She said her virtual studies were difficult to set up and there are limitations, particularly if more than one student attends a class via Skype.
Andrews said the entire lecture hall could eventually become all Skype faces.
For her final academic year, Andrews signed up for eight classes via Skype. Each course requires her to be “in class” once per week for three hours.
Relying entirely on technology to attend university removes some of the educational experience. Opportunities to take part in discussions with classmates are limited and university resources to expand on what Andrews has set up for herself are restricted.
“We just don’t have a student population to offer upper-level courses,” said Soprovich. “We can offer a solid first year to students, basic humanities and social sciences. We have first-year English courses, psychology, sociology, anthropology, geography and philosophy courses, but as the students specialize our population is not large enough to offer any one particular program.”
Soprovich added that if a student has the will, the Powell River campus will work with, help and support them.
Andrews said she hopes VIU will look at more video conferencing so students will not have to leave Powell River to complete their degrees.
“I’ve worked really hard at this and I want this to work in the future for other students,” she said, “but for now I just want my degree.”