16 February 2021
Stephanie Koonar: reassurance in an unsettling time

As a Canadian post-secondary educator and a mother of two college-bound young adults, 2020 posed new and different challenges… it’s been an unsettling time. 

The pandemic response began to affect us in March when increased travel restrictions and social distancing rules swept Canada. The fate of students was very much up in the air. 

Soon enough, post-secondary institutions had initiated full online learning, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google classroom as a means to finish up the school term.

All questions, no answers

For those students in Grade 12 like my son, who were planning on entering university in September 2020, there was much discussion on what options were available.

One of the most common topics amongst my friends and colleagues was course structure or method of teaching. Would there be any face-to-face classes offered, or would classes be fully online? Perhaps a hybrid combination could suffice?

There was also considerable discussion in my household, and with other parents, about whether students should leave their home city to attend their university of choice, given the possibility of an all-virtual approach. 

Would this diminished “university” experience be worth it? Or would students feel better supported if they could stay at home and login to their classes that were being offered from another city? We were all searching for answers no one seemed to have yet.

Making the connection

The pandemic came at a time when I was conducting research for my new book Backpack to Briefcase, A Student’s Guide to a Meaningful Career. It was during this process that I came across Unibuddy. 

Unibuddy provides a digital platform that allows universities to connect prospective students with their current students. This gives prospects the opportunity to ask student ambassadors their questions and get the information they need to decide whether the university would be a fit or not. 

There are more than 30 Canadian universities using the Unibuddy platform, allowing both domestic and international students to chat with student ambassadors and staff. I realized that this was the ideal way to build these connections in the COVID-era.

Reassurance through research

Additionally, Unibuddy is a great recruiting tool for post-secondary institutions. As an added-value to administrators, they use machine learning to monitor and collect information on topics of conversation amongst the students at an aggregate level. This information is provided to institutions to inform decision-making. 

As part of my research, Unibuddy shared with me the data that was collected over the past two years on the subjects of interest to Canadian prospective students.

These subject categories include costs, careers, social life, visas, and financial aid. It was fascinating for me to recognize patterns of increased chatter during the summer of 2020 on the same topics that I was chatting about with my colleagues and kids about.

As you can see, topics regarding living accommodations spiked from spring into early summer, and location in late summer.

Just as well, while I was busy discussing with my fellow parents if classes would be face-to-face, online or hybrid, you can also see that reflected in the students’ conversations. The bump in the course/teaching topic was especially prominent in August, just before students returned to class.

In summary, while it has been a struggle for many of us during this uncertain time, tools like the Unibuddy platform provide students access to information that can help them with their decisions. In addition, the platform provides university administrators with key information that can identify student concerns, informing their planning and response.

As an educator and a mother, that is reassuring.

About the author

Stephanie Koonar MBA, BA Psych is a Certified Gallup Strengths Coach with over 20 years of experience as a post-secondary instructor in Canada. A Certified Career Educator, she has taught over 4,000 students, unlocking their potential to be their best. She’s the author of the upcoming book, “Backpack to Briefcase, A Student’s Guide to a Meaningful Career,” Teaching Excellence award winner, and Mentor of the Year with the Vancouver Board of Trade. She is also the co-founder of PeerSpectives Consulting.

Purchase Backpack to Briefcase: A Student’s Guide to a Meaningful Career Journey now on Amazon.

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