Taking advantage of SALS

Durham College nursing student, Bushra Khan. Photograph by Laura Metcalfe

Bushra Khan sits on the second floor of the Student Services Building illuminated by the morning sun streaming in the windows surrounding her.  Khan, a nursing student at Durham College, is taking advantage of the help offered by the Student Academic Learning Services (SALS) at Durham College.

SALS is often used by students who need help with studying, reading class material, or writing notes in lectures.  Khan was not struggling with her academics.  As a nursing student she needs to understand complex systems of the human body.    The nursing program is a flex program, which can lead to a lot of material being taught in a short time span.  Classes are done on the weekend, which means Khan has different resources available to her than students who attend lectures during the week. She relies on SALS online resources to help her study, test her knowledge, and talk to advisors when she needs to ask questions.

SALS can make the difference between passing and failing a course. “Eighty-three per cent of students who have come for help earn their credit,” says Nicky Patel, the director of SALS.

Even though links to SALS online are available on the right-hand side of every student’s DC Connect homepage, like many students, Khan was not aware of the online SALS services until her teacher mentioned it in class.

“(SALS) came and did a presentation for our class on the first day [of school] because (SALS) knew that we were long distance students and we were fast tracking this program so we should take advantage of it,” says Khan. One of Khan’s courses was offered purely online, and there were no hybrid options either. Because the course was online, Khan couldn’t ask her instructor questions in person so she turned to SALS for extra help.

“I went for Anatomy and Physiology and it was really helpful because it had online practice test, quizzes, Skype sessions if you couldn’t make it there,” says Khan. “There was just such a wealth of options.”  These options meant Khan did not need to be physically on campus in order to access the benefits of SALS services.


SALS used to be called the Learner Support Centre. It was located above the Computer Commons.  Just ten years ago there was a small staff of a few advisors and one writing specialist.   Now, there are 2 writing specialists, 2 math advisors, 2 science advisors, a peer tutoring coordinator, 2 success coaches, an accounting advisor, and 75 peer tutors. As demand for services and staff grew, SALS needed more space so they moved to the new Student Services building.  And as the college attracted an increasing number of international students, SALS hired Nicky Patel as an English as a Second Language (ESL) specialist.


Nicky Patel has been with SALS since 2007. Now she is the Director. Patel says SALS can help with understanding diverse course material.  She thinks the online services are essential for students.

“It’s available to everyone regardless of location,” says Khan, who points out the benefit of being able to do tests and quizzes through SALS online services.

Patel knows having faculty and classmates reach out to struggling students can make a huge difference. “They get so discouraged that they won’t come back and we never want that,” says Patel.  It is important for students to understand there are people out there to help and they are well trained. “Every one of our staff members are university graduates,” says Patel.  “They have at least 3 to 5 years of experience and most of them have a Masters degree.”

Patel also wants students to know teachers at SALS are trained to work with students who have various learning disabilities. Advisors work in collaboration with the Access and Support Centre (ASC).  “All learning skills and all supports for all students across the college are done at SALS,’ says Patel

There are many pilot projects being run through SALS, such as Math Boot Camp.  Patel says students were coming to SALS asking for help with understanding math problems.  Math advisors created a boot camp so students could better understand math in a matter of a weekend.

After using SALS services, students are given a student satisfaction survey so Patel and her team know if the students coming to them for help are benefitting from the service.

Khan feels the online SALS resources were beneficial to her final mark. Her overall grade went up 10 per cent. “(That’s) just from going for a couple of weeks,” says Khan.