Dr. Chris Clark, associate dean academic, WCVM. Photo: Christina Weese.

Making virtual connections

When the University of Saskatchewan (USask) transitioned most of its teaching and learning activities to remote delivery this past spring, many university systems and processes needed to quickly adapt in order to support the vital academic and administrative activities.

By Jody Gress

“A critical aspect of the student application process within the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) required an immediate alternative solution in order to continue the student selection process,” says Chris Clark, associate dean academic at the WCVM.

“Our traditional admissions process runs almost 10 months a year beginning with student applications being submitted between September and December, leading to in-person interviews with candidates in May,” says Clark.

Since in-person meetings wouldn’t be an option this year due to travel restrictions and social distancing protocols, Clark reached out to his colleagues in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to find a safe and efficient platform for the selection panel to virtually host the interviews.

“Our applicants come from a diverse area of Western Canada and we would typically have our interview panel, consisting of two WCVM faculty members and one representative from the veterinary profession in the host province, travel to regions in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to conduct more than 150 interviews with the short-listed candidates.”

“We looked at a number of different online platforms and elected to try WebEx. At that point I had no experience using WebEx at all. I’d seen it used within the college, but it always seemed to require IT support to set it up and administer the sessions,” says Clark.

To get started, Clark along with members of the interview panel, met with members of ICT Training Services and completed the online WebEx training.

“Not only did ICT Training Services get us trained in using WebEx, but ICT also moved up the WebEx upgrade date so we would benefit from the improved stability and enhanced WebEx features introduced with the update,” says Clark.

For Clark, the relationship with ICT was much more than providing a technical solution.

“Where ICT really went above and beyond was their continued support during the entire process,” he says. “Prior to conducting the interviews, they took the time to contact each individual interviewee to do a test call on WebEx and troubleshoot any issues they may have had and ensure the interviewees were comfortable using the software.”

Using the personal room feature proved to be one of the greatest advantages of using WebEx for Clark.

“By being able to invite the interviewees into our personal rooms, we were able to conduct the interviews in almost the identical format as we would if they were in-person,” says Clark. “With the personal rooms the panel was able to meet in advance of the interview and conduct debriefs immediately afterwards, much like would in a physical meeting space.”

Clark credits the dedication of the professional staff in ICT Training Services and IT Support for the college being able to seamlessly transition to a new way of conducting interviews.

Training for USask technologies such as WebEx and Microsoft Teams is available for all faculty and staff at training.usask.ca. The university is currently launching an initiative to review web and video conferencing services to ensure all members of the university community have access to the tools and resources they need to work remotely and efficiently.

Learn more by visiting usask.ca/avp-ict/initiatives/web-and-video-conferencing-renewal.php