The University of Waterloo is leveraging more than 300 co-op students to support faculties in the development and delivery of new online academic courses.

“Everyone’s ‘new normal’ requires a new approach, a fresh perspective,” says Norah McRae, associate provost of co-operative and experiential education. “Our university, like others, has been transitioning to increased online course delivery. Now, more than ever, we can leverage the strength and talent of our co-op students to move forward together as an institution.”

The majority of the roles are funded in part by the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP), which provides up to $7,000 of a student’s salary. SWPP was recently extended to include post-secondary educational institutions, and Waterloo received pre-approval for 300 SWPP positions. To qualify, students must be Canadian citizens, permanent residents or have refugee status. The University has provided additional funding for 20 positions that will be made available to international students. 

This is an unprecedented time for federal funding to support students in the workplace. The funding provides a remarkable boost for the University and for all employers who leverage it. The message is clear: young talent is a critical part of the workforce.

Norah McRae, associate provost of co-operative and experiential education

McRae notes that many employers have already hired Waterloo students for the Spring 2020 work term. But, she adds, some organizations and industries are looking for creative ways to bring in fresh hires.

“Even here at the University, we are employing our students to help us with real-time innovation and adaptation,” says McRae. “We secured the funding, and then tapped into our expertise on campus to ensure the students are well-prepared for the work. Like any employer, we want them to contribute and be successful.”

McRae says the success of this initiative has relied on the collaborative community across campus and the desire to tackle large new projects in the face of adversity. “It might be even be considered a virtual ‘barn-raising,’” says McRae.

The onboarding and training for all of these roles will be facilitated by the Waterloo Professional Development Program (WatPD). They’ll run a week-long intensive digital training course that draws on cross-campus expertise — including resources from the Centre for Teaching Excellence, the Centre for Extended Learning, and the Student Success Office — in online learning and peer mentorship. Anne Fannon, director of WatPD, says the existing infrastructure to deliver online courses is a critical ‘win’ for Waterloo.

Waterloo has facilitated online learning for students for many years through different campus units, including the WatPD program. With this existing infrastructure and support from the faculties and other campus partners, we can ensure our students have the skills they need to adapt to this unique work term.

Anne Fannon, director of WatPD

Two different job descriptions were created and posted – 262 postings for Online Learning Assistants and 58 postings for Senior Online Learning Assistants.

All students will be trained on what it’s like to work at Waterloo, policies affecting the delivery of academic programming, how to use relevant technology like LEARN, and best practices for supporting students online. They will then be matched with an academic department or faculty member(s) to adapt academic courses for online delivery, including course mechanics, course content and student support.

The senior roles will also provide ongoing training, support, and guidance to other co-op students throughout the term to ensure consistency, quality, and a positive experience. They will work directly with a faculty or an academic support unit to assist with meeting strategic priorities.

“We’re rewriting the book on co-op hiring, here,” says McRae. “This isn’t the first time our students have been hired in bulk to transition work digitally, but it’s the first time we’ve developed this level of internal training for this specific kind of project. We’re very excited to see what other opportunities this could bring to our students – and to our employers.”