An unexpected path sparks UBC’s online learning era

Natasha Boskic is the Senior Manager of Learning Design with UBC’s Faculty of Education

On her first visit to Vancouver from Serbia in 1997, Dr. Natasha Boskic, then a translator, arrived at UBC to take a Continuing Studies course in order to improve her English language, communication and negotiation skills.

Today, nearly twenty years later, she’s immigrated to Canada, completed a PhD and works as the Senior Manager of Learning Design with UBC’s Faculty of Education, where she has worked on the development of 120 fully online courses – the highest number produced by a Faculty at UBC.

It’s a path that was initially unexpected, but it soon became apparent to Natasha that her background in language and literature, combined with her pursuit of a technology-based distributed learning certificate in the 1990s, was a good match for a career in the then-emerging field of online learning design.

“I was always leaning toward teaching and creative writing, and I never thought I would get into technology,” Natasha recalls. “But when I realized there was a connection between learning and enabling that learning through technology, I got really interested.”

In 2001, Natasha’s path led her to UBC’s Faculty of Arts where she began working in technical support. The following year, she joined the Faculty of Education to begin converting traditional Distance Education courses into fully functioning online courses, and says she feels proud to have been a part of the evolution of online learning at UBC since its inception.

“It’s opened so many doors in different ways, and it’s just fascinating,” she explains.

Natasha adds: “Technology changes quickly, and it’s never boring. I like the challenges and the problem-solving parts. There is always something new that you need to think about, and it’s very stimulating.”

For example, in 2010 Natasha and her team started to explore online conferencing as a tool for teaching. The technology hadn’t yet been reliably used in this format, but Natasha’s team was able to refine it to improve online learning capabilities for students and teachers alike. As a result of offering new courses that used this technology, the Faculty was able to attract more students from other parts of B.C. and elsewhere in Canada.

Natasha’s passion for lifelong learning has continued to carry her through a number of exciting initiatives as the field of online course delivery has evolved. Recently, she was involved in developing an extremely popular and well-received MOOC (massive open online course) about reconciliation through Indigenous education. The first offering of this MOOC had over five-thousand enrollments and more than two-thousand active students from 120 countries.

Ultimately, Natasha feels that the success of the work is the result of a collective effort.

“I have a really great team,” she notes.  “We all bring our own set of skills, and so instead of competing with one another, we are more complementary to each other.”

Looking ahead, Natasha is excited about working with her team to discover new opportunities for building rich, online learning environments.

“That’s what I’m actually proud of – that we built that capacity to provide support, both for the faculty and the students,” she says. “Whenever we build a course, we think about students. That’s why we create the environment, so students can learn.”