standard Chapter 4 – COGS moves forward

[ … back to chapter 3]

COGS moves forward

During the late 1980”s and early 1990’s, COGS continued to adapt existing courses in response to changes in the industry and the turn over in staff. Computing technology, both hardware and software, migrated from the mini-computers to personal computers and the Internet. The fields of surveying, cartography and planning all adopted the new technology and made changes in their curricula.
The day-to-day life of students in the village changed as they became more mobile; more students had cars therefore allowing them to live off campus, and to shop and live in nearby towns.

The NSCC era

In February 1988, the province of Nova Scotia released a report called: Foundation for the Future – A White Paper on a Community College System for Nova Scotians. This report was to assist the provincial government in defining a new Community College. It was acknowledged that the College of Geographic Sciences (COGS) provided technical and technology training, along with Nova Scotia Institute of Technology (NSIT), the Nova Scotia Nautical Institute (NSNI), the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) and the University College of Cape Breton (UCCB). In the report, it was also recognized that ‘given that technical and technological education are at an advanced post-secondary level, that technical and technological students have academic qualifications equivalent or superior to university students’ and that “COGS offers courses requiring mathematical and computer knowledge of an extremely high order. Indeed, some of the programs are best suited to university graduates.” Later in the paragraph the following recommendations are made. “In order to increase awareness of the College’s university-level programs, affiliation of the College with one or more universities, such as the Technical University of Nova Scotia (TUNS) or Acadia seems advisable. The College itself will remain within the Community College system.”

At the time, there were discussions on the use of COGS as a model of technical education in the province. Meanwhile, there was a competing interest to have COGS affiliated with an existing university, e.g. Acadia and Dalhousie. After a number of years, the decision was made to make COGS part of the Annapolis Valley Campus of the NSCC. The transition from “independent technical school” to part of a developing “Nova Scotia Community College “was implemented by Paul Lafleche between 1994 and 1998. This transition was not without some bumps in the road brought on by the people of Lawrencetown community, fearing a loss of “the survey school” to the community that had a long history with this school. In addition, past and present students were not too happy with this transition. During that period the diploma offered, went from one bearing the COGS logo and name to one with the NSCC logo and name.

In the past, having the NSLSI name on a graduates’ diploma had guaranteed a job and was a brand recognition for survey employers. Phil Milo recounts a story where a student was hired because he was wearing a NSLSI jacket on coming into the interview. With the name change to COGS, there was worry about this brand recognition for surveyors being “watered down” because many employers had associated the name NSLSI as one of quality.

The second name change, Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS)

With the first name change to COGS as the College of Geographic Sciences (1986 To 1998) and then the subtle redefinition of COGS acronym as the Centre of Geographic Sciences (1999), a sub campus of the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) again caused concern, that the original COGS brand would be lost. There is a wonderful article, at the time, in the local Middleton paper, showing Edward Wedler dressed as ‘the grim reaper’ protesting the redefinition of the COGS acronym, as it was absorbed into the NSCC system.

Changes in the administrative structure

Under the College of Geographic Sciences, the administration was divided between the Principal and Vice-Principal. The Principal looked after the day-to-day running of the college, i.e. financial management, relationships with Halifax. The Vice-Principal had responsibility for program development and interaction with instructors and students. This was the arrangement between 1975-1986, with James Doig as Principal, and John Wightman as Vice-Principal. On James’s retirement and with the official naming of College, John became the first dedicated College of Geographic Sciences (COGS) Principal until his retirement in 1994. Charles Williams became Vice-Principal.

Paul Lafleche replaced John as Principal of the college, and later became Principal of the Annapolis Valley campus (AVC) of the NSCC in 1998. AVC includes the Digby, Lawrencetown and Middleton sites. After Paul’s promotion to Vice-President, Academic of the NSCC for the province in 1998, David Woolnough assumed the responsibility for AVC as Principal (1999-2005), followed by Jim Stanley (2005-2012).

Today Isabel Madeira-Voss is the regional Principal, for both Kingstec Campus and the Annapolis Valley Campus of NSCC; the administration for the Centre of Geographic Sciences in Lawrencetown remains with Dennis Kingston (Chair, Geomatics and Information Technology). He reports through the Dean to the Vice-President Academic in Halifax, as well as to Isabel in Kentville.

Moving Information Technology (IT) programs to Middleton

A second important event, coincident with the transition from COGS to NSCC was the move of all IT programs from the Lawrencetown campus to Middleton campus in 1997. It was part of a larger rationalization of IT education across the NSCC system. Although the move was only eleven kilometers, the physical separation of computer programming away from the application programs had significant implications for both instructors and students. It removed the concept that application systems are simply programming tools that can be customized by the end user. It should be noted that many students did not have cars and there was no bus services so if they had wanted to pick up some of the GIS application courses, they could not easily do so. This appears to be an administration decision made in Halifax without regard to rural conditions for students. Later, there were attempts to reconnect the tools and the application e.g. Geomatics programming and Applied Geomatics Research. However, these were both offered in Middleton, again separated in a rural environment with few bus services

A new curriculum framework

At Lawrencetown, the challenges of offering highly specialized technical courses were numerous and included facing low enrollment in some of the programs. In the absence of sophisticated marketing, there was the need for recruitment of specialist instructors and to keep up with the changing technologies. Some universities in Ontario, recognizing the need for these technical skills in the market place, were successfully competing for students ( e.g. Sir Sandford Fleming College). Faced with these challenges, in addition to the course changes in mid-1990’s, NSCC gave Ed Symonds the mandate to develop a new curriculum. These changes reflected the different entry levels i.e. high school and post-university and the need to gain staffing efficiencies, with the flexibility to move instructors between programs. For example, a Cartography instructor could teach Map Projections to a class of Land Surveyors. Or a Survey instructor might teach Geodesy to a group of GIS students.

These omnibus programs in Geographic Sciences impacted Cartography, Planning, Remote Sensing and GIS. However, there was no significant change to the Geomatics Engineering technology and the Geomatics Engineering technician programs, or to the Marine Geomatics program. Marine Geomatics was introduced as a new program in 1999.

Applied Research

In 1999, COGS faculty submitted a proposal to the federal Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), a program designed to fund applied research and technology. The proposal was successful and led to the creation of the Applied Geomatics Research Group (AGRG) in Middleton on January 2000. Applied Geomatics was defined around the three technologies: GIS, Remote Sensing and Global Positioning System (GPS) within a broad context of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Once again both campuses were considered as a possible location, but the Lawrencetown building was becoming too small for labs, courses, and cafeteria and so AGRG was located in Middleton, whereas the feeder technical programs remained in Lawrencetown. This remained a discussion point for several years. This split separated students learning the technical skills from the research into the new technologies available at Middleton. It also separated faculty from this research. In the old days of one building, there was constant interchange between instructors in the classroom and staff room.

The NSCC Corporate model

Over the last fifteen years, the NSCC has established its own brand, as a province wide network of campuses serving Nova Scotia. Operating this system is a very different job from the management of a single specialized institute in a rural setting. John Wightman would talk about the ‘one hundred and eight miles from Halifax’ factor, which gave the college its autonomy and emphasized decision making at the local level. At the time of the initial conversations about a provincial Community College, the type of technical education offered at COGS was often cited as an appropriate model. Its specialist focus, with an emphasis on ‘learning by doing’, and its impact on the rural economy, were viewed very positively.

The challenges included student retention, the competition for students as other institutions came onside, the need for marketing these unique programs, keeping instructors current with technology, and the costs of technology change and upgrades. The administration at COGS met these challenges through flexibility, rapid decision-making and innovation.
Indeed, these qualities are the hallmark of the COGS era.

Going forward in the NSCC era, maintaining this flexibility has proved difficult. The NSCC has endeavored to standardize services between campuses and to make student services uniform across all campuses.