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"Ten with Ken" is Ken Steele's almost-weekly roundup of emerging trends, bright ideas, and promising technologies for higher education marketing, administration, teaching and learning. 

Oct 11, 2018

This week, Ken Steele talks with Paula Burns, President & CEO of Lethbridge College, about 3 notable innovations in programming, pedagogy and applied research at her institution: competency-based learning, stackable modular credentials, and the use of virtual reality technology.

Don’t let its location in small-town Alberta fool you – Lethbridge Collegeis a born innovator, and the frontier mindset seems to spark plenty of innovation. It opened in 1957 as the first publicly-funded community college in Canada, currently enrols more than 5,000 students and 1,900 online learners, and has been named one of the country’s top 50 research colleges. (For more info, visit


Police Cadet CBE:

In partnership with the police forces for Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and the Blood Tribe, Lethbridge College has introduced competency-based cadet training. Formerly, graduates of the Justice Studies programs had to repeat training on the job in order to satisfy national police board competency requirements, but the College redesigned the program to align with and test those competencies, so students are field-ready upon graduation.


Modular Agricultural Credentials:

Lethbridge College has also been thinking outside the box when it comes to delivering its programs for non-traditional students. For example, it converted the Agriculture Business Risk Management certificate program into a series of one-month modules that students can begin at any time, and take in any order – providing unprecedented flexibility to part-time working students. Moreover, the certificate is “stackable” – leading directly into the College’s own Agricultural Enterprise Management Diploma program, or even a degree program at the University of Lethbridge.


Virtual Reality for Research & Teaching:

In October 2017, Lethbridge College opened a beautiful new 170,000 sq ft Trades Technologies Renewal and Innovation building, including 7,000 sq ft of interdisciplinary multipurpose “innovation space.”  Paula describes the current uses, including an irrigation research study and a virtual reality lab being used for research and several programs on campus.  Lethbridge College uses VR for its Wind Turbine Technician program, and Interior Design students used VR for their final capstone projects, designing a house for a local industry competition. Lethbridge students also organized “Merging Realities” in April 2018, the world’s first full-day conference aboutVR conducted entirely inVR, which will now become an annual event.  (For more info see


Paula Burnsserved as Provost & VP Academic at NAIT for 5 years before joining Lethbridge College as President & CEO 5 years ago.  In addition to a decade of experience in senior administration, she holds a PhD in Education from Toronto’s OISE, and an executive MBA from Royal Roads University with a specialization in leadership.

Shot on location at Lethbridge College in May 2018, by campus videography staff – thank you again!


Next week, Ken’s conversation with Paula continues with a look forward to the challenges and opportunities that will shape the next ten years of higher ed.  To be sure you don’t miss it, subscribe today!

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