Teams Channels for Virtual Help Centers at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit
Cégep Édouard-Montpetit offers several help centers to its students. With the pandemic, we had to find a way to offer these services online. In the fall of 2020, I was asked by the Direction des systèmes et technologies de l’information [information technology services] of my college to accompany the teachers in charge of the 3 main help centers in transposing these services online.
At Cégep Édouard-Montpetit, some teachers have release time from part of their duties to take care of the help centers in mathematics, French and languages. It is with these teachers that I worked.
One single platform to help students
In order to avoid students having to familiarize themselves with multiple platforms and navigate too many tools, in fall 2020, the college strongly encouraged teachers to use the Microsoft Teams platform for their distance courses. As a result, when time came to design the virtual help centers, it made sense that the college also wanted the teachers involved to use Teams.
With the exception of the choice of platform, which was imposed on the teachers in charge, all other elements were at their discretion. My role was to accompany them in order to understand their needs and to propose adequate technological solutions.
My role as a consultant
The first meetings I had with each team of teachers were very exploratory. I began by listening to them explaining their needs. Then, by discussing different possible solutions with them, I was able to direct them to those that best met their needs and the needs of the students.
I worked for several years as a training consultant in large companies and I felt like I found back part of the consulting role I had in that former life.
We had a great exchange of ideas.
All the teachers were very collaborative. Everyone wanted the help centers to work well and to be as simple as possible for the students.
The French and languages teams have similar solutions, the mathematics help center is completely different… and that’s just fine!
The solution chosen for the mathematics help center
One of the teachers in the mathematics help center created a Team for his help center. Then, he created a channel for each of the courses offered by his department. Finally, the teacher in charge of the mathematics help center enrolled all the students in the courses in the right groups himself. It’s a lot of work up front, but this way, you can ensure that every student has easy access to the resource!
Students can ask their questions in the conversations in each channel. The teachers in charge of the help center answer questions with the help of several of their colleagues. The policy is to first direct students to their teacher and then to answer them.
The solution retained in French and languages
In French and in languages, the teachers created a Team for each of the help centers on the two campuses (Longueuil campus and École nationale d’aérotechnique).
It was not possible for the teachers in charge to enrol all the students in the help center since there are too many of them. We chose to replicate the in-person practice that was in place when teachers directed their students to the help centers.
Thus, we shared the Teams links with the teachers and promoted the help centers within the student community [in French]. It is then up to the students to ask to join the help center team. They are welcomed by the teachers in charge and their needs are analyzed.
At the French help center on the Longueuil campus, a laboratory technician is available full-time to answer students’ questions. It is the equivalent of an office whose door is always open. Students can contact this person through a channel called “Posez vos questions” (“Ask your questions”). In this channel, students can also answer questions from their peers.
The full-time staff member also feeds a channel with theoretical tutorials explaining useful concepts (e.g., past participle agreement).
There is also a channel dedicated to resources for preparing for the Épreuve uniforme de français (Ministerial Examination of College French).
The “Prendre un rendez-vous” (“Make an Appointment”) channel is linked to a Microsoft Bookings page. This application is very useful: before, only teachers could invite their students to an appointment. Bookings allows doing the opposite. (Not surprisingly, students don’t always book in advance and use the spontaneous questions channel more than the appointment channel! Our end-of-session review revealed that this app was not used much, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting!)
Finally, the teachers in charge of the French and languages help centers manage the peer tutoring service and pair tutors and tutees. There is a dedicated channel for tutoring registration, where students have access to a registration and placement form created with Microsoft Forms.
The French study center at the École nationale d’aérotechnique, the languages help center at the Longueil campus and the languages study center at the École nationale d’aérotechnique have structured their channels in slightly different ways, but in the same spirit.
The languages help centers also run a private Facebook group for their students.
Promotion to students
With the teachers in charge, I produced promotional materials for each of the help centers. These materials were sent to all teachers concerned and to all student counsellors, so they could relay the information to students.
The student guide and information on the college website [in French] as well as the information about the help centers in the application the college has created for students [in French] has been updated. We also shared postings to students on Omnivox.
We also posted information on the doors of the help center locations. We did not want students to hit a “dead end” at these closed doors!
Teams for the management of the centers
The teachers in charge of the help centers and I share Teams for our discussions on the management of the centers. This is where I can check in with them and they can ask me questions when needed.
Addressing a need
At the mathematics help center, the start of the session was a bit “slow” in terms of the number of student registrations, but there is now a lot of activity in the different channels.
The French and language teachers have recently told me that the number of students in their help centers is lower than in normal sessions in the past. Despite this, we are confident that we are meeting needs and we are very pleased with our virtual help centers! We look forward to seeing if there is greater use of the service next session, once the new format becomes more familiar to the students.