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Durham College trains students on how to use emerging and evolving automotive technology at its new Electric Vehicle Lab.Provided

When generative artificial intelligence – programs like ChatGPT that facilitate content creation – hit the market, many educational institutions scrambled to push back against the new technology. Durham College of Applied Arts and Technology, on the other hand, seized the opportunity to become a leader in integrating technology on campus.

“We identified that there was a gap and saw this as something for us to embrace and get excited about,” says Jonathan Carrigan, professor and program co-ordinator in the marketing program. “We like to think of it as an educational revolution.”

The college, which has one campus in Whitby and another in Oshawa teaching a combined 13,000 full-time postsecondary students, now has a framework for integrating AI into the classroom, including how and where faculty may consider applying it as well as resources for students and faculty to become more proficient with the tools.

“AI can produce poor work if you don’t have the foundational domain knowledge,” Carrigan acknowledges.

The way the college sees it, by teaching students how to best use generative AI rather than prohibiting it, the school is setting them up for success upon entering a competitive work force, he says.

“We’re having more and more conversations around what the future of work looks like. When everyone has access to these tools, having them produce generic work is not going to give you the competitive advantage, both in terms of the organization as well as individuals competing for jobs,” says Carrigan.

Generative AI is just one of the ways the college leads the way when it comes to new technology.

Its newest facility, the Ontario Power Generation Centre for Skilled Trades and Technology, opened its doors in April 2022. The 60,000-square-foot building is equipped with specialized labs and shops to provide cutting-edge training to students in electrical, mechanical and plumbing trade streams.

The facility was designed to respond to labour market demand for skilled trade workers in the province.

“This collaboration was made a success by how we worked as a community to invest in this vision,” says Rebecca Milburn, principal at Whitby Campus and executive dean, faculty of skilled trades and apprenticeship. “We are connected to our community and leverage this strength to maximize our impact to support its needs.”

The newly opened PROTO and Electric Vehicle Lab (EV) are further examples of directly addressing those needs.

In the PROTO space, clients, industry partners, students and skilled trades faculty members have an opportunity to collaborate and develop creative solutions and prototypes to address industry challenges.

“It provides the ability to take an actual problem and allow our students across many disciplines to think about solutions which are directly applicable to our community,” explains Milburn.

The EV Lab equips students with specialized skills required in the evolving automotive industry. Working with donated EVs, students gain the hands-on experience and knowledge required in today’s work force. Durham College is one of only a few Ontario colleges with a dedicated EV learning space. Through this lab, it has facilitated a new micro-credential in EV safety for first responders to learn how to handle the new technology safely in an emergency.

What Milburn calls the “cyclical collaboration” between community partners and real-world application of technologies is a big key to the college’s success and how it stays ahead of the curve.

“Local industry and businesses are our community, and our community provides us guidance on the curriculum, technologies and equipment that we need,” says Milburn. “It’s a listening piece – we’re at the table with the industries hearing where they see the gaps and thinking how to address them.”

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Advertising feature produced by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a division of Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

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