Tom Sork


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


Tom is an expert in his field of international studies and shares his knowledge freely. I enjoy working with him!

Linda Pickthall (2018)


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Promoting transformative learning in nursing international field schools (2023)

International field schools in nursing provide unique and varied learning opportunities for students. There is limited research on how faculty promote student learning before, during and after an international field school. The purpose of this study was to understand the processes British Columbian (BC) nursing faculty use when promoting student learning in an international field school. Also, the study investigated what student learning outcomes are achieved and what outcomes are important after an international field school. A constructivist grounded theory approach was used to interview nine BC nursing faculty who represented Baccalaureate nursing programs from five universities and four community colleges in BC. Course documents submitted by the faculty and post-secondary institutions’ websites were also reviewed. Results revealed a process that I describe as ‘Promoting Transformative Learning in Nursing International Field Schools.’ Six core themes emerged including: (1) faculty critical reflection; (2) international field school; (3) pedagogical approaches; (4) transformational learning; (5) influencing factors; and (6) social action. Findings support students’ transformational learning when faculty use transformational and experiential learning pedagogies combined with the specific context of the international field school experience. Another important finding is that the first step in the process is the faculty member’s critical reflection where they address their own ethnocentrism as part of developing cultural humility and modelling cultural safety. The process of promoting transformative learning described in this dissertation could be used as a professional development guide for faculty who are new to facilitating international field schools.

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Reaching wide and deep: public pedagogy of death and dying in Canada (2022)

Learning about death and dying is important because they are aspects of life we will all have to face. This learning is increasingly important as we are dying longer, mostly isolated and hidden behind the walls of medical or care facilities. To prevent breakdowns following a terminal diagnosis or a loved one’s death, and also to live a fuller life, keeping a sense of mortality close is crucial, which is what death education primarily aims to achieve.I studied established “public death educators” in Canada—those educating the general public in the public domain—to understand precisely what messages they are disseminating about death and dying, how they educate the public, and why they educate the way they do. I conducted a critical realist multi-case study through observing the educators’ practices and conducting in-depth interviews. I used theories of public pedagogy and thanatological cultural niches as my theoretical framework. The three cases of death education I studied focused on distinctively different aspects of death and dying, namely, the groundwork for end-of-life planning, the practical matters of doing a home funeral, and the sophisticated construction of why the culture of death and dying is the way it is. I found that public death educators use a variety of pedagogic tools to disorient people from widespread misconceptions around death and dying; to help them contemplate death; and to prompt them to live and love fully. These educators also differ in the ways they interact with the public. Importantly, these differences are rooted in their relational and ethical principles. Despite these differences, the educators share the belief that all of us are bound to one another by our mortality and that we share social responsibilities around death and dying. Based on these tenets, I consider how having a keen sense of mortality might contribute to the field of adult education and also to having solidarity with all beings, human and nonhuman.

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Impact of a regulatory quality assurance program: perceptions of dental hygienists in British Columbia (2020)

Dental hygienists in British Columbia must participate in a Quality Assurance Program (QAP) to support their professional competence. The College of Dental Hygienists of British Columbia launched a new quality assurance program in 2013 and has now enrolled all practicing registrants into the program. This study explored dental hygienists’ perceptions of the QAP from the perspective of its impact on practice. Based on a critical realism framework, this mixed methods study used a quantitative component nested within a predominantly qualitative design. The study employed an exploratory sequential design in which participants completed an online survey with some participating in telephone interviews. The online survey (n=451; 12.7% response rate) collected data regarding perceptions of practitioners and the impact of the program related to safe and competent care. It included quantitative data about potential barriers to implementing regulatory standards, conditions of work, and professional identity along with qualitative data from open-ended questions. Phase 2 involved 11 respondent interviews to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of the program on care. Analysis of the data sets revealed several themes. Respondents discussed how the regulatory practice standards, a key component of the QAP quality assurance program, related to patient safety, competence, professional agency, autonomy, and professional confidence within the current workplace culture. Respondents viewed themselves as healthcare professionals. They generally felt valued for their abilities and enjoyed maintaining currency through continuing education activities. They revealed that the QAP generally had little influence on the delivery of care. The business culture within dental offices appeared to negatively affect participants’ professional agency thus affecting their ability to implement their regulatory practice standards. Failure to implement these standards may negatively affect client safety and result in reduced health outcomes. This study will be of interest to healthcare regulatory bodies and others in the profession.

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Developing a learning model for teaching film production online (2018)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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Educational leaders' understandings of internationalization: a case study (2018)

Internationalization has become an important focus and activity in higher education and merits an answer to the questions of how it is understood by educational leaders making decisions about its implementation and for what purposes it is being undertaken. This qualitative case study used semi-structured interviews to explore educational leaders’ understandings of internationalization and the impact of those understandings on their decisions about internationalization.Big Prairie College’s longstanding and complex context of international engagement has set the stage for current ways of ‘doing’ and understanding internationalization. Leaders’ life experiences with diversity, difference, and discomfort have also helped to shape their views of internationalization as a comprehensive phenomenon that influences all areas of the College and the world. However, they are also influenced by the pragmatic realities of running and sustaining a college, the mandate to contribute to the local and national economies and workforces and a responsibility to help make the world a better place. In reality, international student recruitment seems to be not only the focus, but also the most visible manifestation of internationalization.Implementing comprehensive internationalization (CI) requires leaders to expand their understanding of internationalization from being an end in itself. It also requires clearer communication of their goals and meaningful engagement of the internal community in decision-making processes. There are also the challenges of faculty development and support, collective accountability for achieving clearly defined goals, acting ethically and allocating sufficient resources across competing initiatives. CI is possible if leaders begin to act on stated values, create a more inclusive decision-making environment, and pursue financial and non-financial goals with equal vigour, perhaps relying on Social Innovation programming to provide an appropriate environment.

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Being Division Chairs: A Hermeneutic Phenomenological Investigation into the Experiences of Academic Middle Managers in a Canadian College (2015)

This hermeneutic phenomenological study investigates the experiences of a group of academic managers (the division chairs) at South City College (SCC), a primarily university-transfer post-secondary institution in Vancouver, Canada. Written from the perspective of a participant-observer, this case study research reveals the myriad ways in which the division chairs’ leadership and management aspirations were confounded by institutional systems and attitudes that had not evolved in response to changes in the post-secondary climate in British Columbia and elsewhere. The experiences of both the division chairs and contextual participants were gathered in a series of one-on-one interviews transcribed by the author. Interpretative phenomenological analysis of the data revealed that both a commitment to the collegial model and responsibility for repetitive clerical duties act as primary obstacles to leadership success for the division chairs. The author’s role as a division chair during the time of data collection and analysis provides particular and specific insight into the division chairs’ experiences during a time of institutional transition. Recommendations include that the institution should invest in administrative and systems support for the division chairs. Doing so would reinforce that the division chair role is a valued component of the institution’s collegial culture; would relieve the division chairs of any clerical tasks identified as not essential to their role; would free the time necessary for the division chairs to lead and manage collegially; and would potentially resolve the problem of the division chairs having enormous responsibility but no authority by allowing for the consultative processes that characterize a well-functioning collegial institution.

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A study of students' perceptions of the use of web 2.0 applications in higher education (2014)

The study documented in this dissertation explores the views of adult learners in online university programs with respect to their relationships with interactive, web-based technologies in their learning, personal and work environments. These tools are more interactive than previous incarnations of web-based tools and, as a result, have become known collectively as Web 2.0. Simultaneously, students are using Web 2.0 in all aspects of their lives while pundits claim these same students are demanding the use of Web 2.0 in their learning environments. This confluence of trends is placing pressure on universities to include more Web 2.0 applications in learning environments. The challenge is that there is little evidence to support the notion that learners are demanding these tools. Moreover, it is increasingly clear that faculty and learners are not always prepared for the pedagogical and policy implications associated with the use of Web 2.0 in higher education. To address these apparent contradictions, this study was designed to better understand the use of Web 2.0 in the learning process from the learners’ perspective. A mixed methods approach was used with stage one employing an online questionnaire consisting of 30 questions and stage two consisting of a 30-minute follow-up interview. The results of the study revealed that the adult learners studied are not demanding the use of Web 2.0 in their learning environments. Moreover, they show a distinct preference for the use of Web 2.0 in only one aspect of their lives. In other words, if learners use Web 2.0 in their personal lives they will then not be as likely to embrace it in their working or learning lives. Similarly, learners who use Web 2.0 in their learning environments will not be as likely to embrace it in their personal and professional lives. However, learners also recognise the value of Web 2.0 and feel the same pressures as faculty. As a result there is a marked fear of being left behind if the learners do not embrace Web 2.0. And so adult learners come to Web 2.0 often reluctantly.

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Sustainability in Higher Education: A Case Study of Policy and Practice at Vancouver Island University (2014)

This work focuses on implementation of sustainability policy and practice within a post-secondary environment at Vancouver Island University in British Columbia, Canada. It adopts a case study approach that is qualitative and exploratory in nature, and relies on data collected from policy documents, declarations and reports, and interviews with different groups on campus, including administrators, faculty and students. Research findings indicate sustainability initiatives are developed within a context of environmental, educational and leadership concerns on campus. Dominant and collaborative leadership strategies are apparent in transformation of policy into practice through an exercise of power “over” and power “with and to” relationships among members of the university community. Environmental and educational concerns lie at the heart of policy initiatives like the Energy Management Policy and Recycling Policy, and practices like composting, green building design, and instruction in marine based ecosystems and global studies programs.A number of factors have influenced sustainability initiatives on campus. These include the effect of international declarations and reports, government funding and policy decisions including carbon neutral legislation, the influence of community partners and the media, volunteer activities on campus, internal budget decisions, and research pursuits of faculty. The interplay of such factors has led to positive outcomes like creation of a formal Sustainability Policy, adoption of an energy management plan, and inclusion of sustainability curricula in academic and technology programs. Research indicates, however, that challenges remain in attracting support for sustainability across campus, and adopting important initiatives like alternative transportation strategies and disposal of e-waste. To address this, the work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is examined, including the concepts of habitus, field and capital. Bourdieu’s work helps explain why certain policies and practices are more successful than others, and why some initiatives remain unrealized on campus. Recommendations for dealing with this are put forward including enhancing communication strategies, encouraging greater involvement with community partners, increasing interdisciplinary activity, and creating incentives for sustainability behavior. Implementing these can help achieve what Bourdieu has referred to as a “transformation” of habitus to strengthen the social, cultural and symbolic capital of sustainability at Vancouver Island University.

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The Influence of Ubiquitous Computing on Teacher-Student Relationships (2013)

The purpose of this study was to develop an understanding of independent school teachers’ perceptions of how a one-to-one computing program influenced various dimensions of the teacher-student relationship and the roles of teachers and students within that relationship. In particular, it examined the impact of ubiquitous computing on the pedagogical role of the teacher and the balance of power and control within the teacher-student relationship. It also investigated how the use of laptops influenced communication patterns between teachers and students and affected the closeness of their relationships. This qualitative study employed a single-site, descriptive case study design. Interviews were conducted with 15 teachers with varying ICT experience across a range of subjects in a suburban, K-12 independent school. The school provided all students in grades 5 – 12 with a personal laptop computer and networked wireless access to the Internet. A variety of theoretical perspectives drawn from the literature on relationship variables and learning theories shaped the context for analysis. Three major findings emerged from the data analysis. Teachers perceived that: 1) the integration of technology altered their pedagogical roles and relationships with respect to the focus and approach of instruction, the subsequent motivation and engagement of students, and the overall classroom dynamics, 2) open access to knowledge enabled by ubiquitous computing served as a catalyst in shifting the balance of power within the teacher-student relationship, 3) online communication helped them to build and maintain closer bonds and stronger relationships with students. Overall, teachers perceived that the use of technology in this setting enhanced teacher-student relationships. This is significant because high quality teacher-student relationships correlate positively with a variety of academic outcomes (Davis, 2006). The findings from this study have implications for teacher education, instructional design, and policy development with respect to technology integration and its potential to support 21st Century learning. Further research in a broader range of educational settings and inclusive of student perspectives would complement this research and assist in further shaping and informing teaching practice in technology-rich learning environments.

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Faculty Members' Professional Growth in Teaching Through the Summative Peer Review of Teaching and Other Departmental Practices (2012)

This study investigated the ways that summative peer review of teaching contributes to tenure-track faculty members’ professional growth in teaching. It also explored other practices that support or hinder a departmental culture that values teaching. Using the lens of academic culture, I drew on literature about the peer review of teaching, department culture, and professional growth in academic careers to inform this research. Thirty tenure-track faculty members from six departments and two faculties participated in semi-structured qualitative interviews. Participants were asked about their experiences of summative peer review, how they understood the relationship between peer review and their growth as instructors, and departmental practices that contribute to a culture that values teaching.Participants had varied and inconsistent experiences of summative peer review of teaching. They reported multiple purposes (evaluative, formative, supplement to the student evaluations of teaching) that frequently conflicted. With few known guidelines that direct peer reviews and insufficient clarity as to their purpose, faculty members conducted summative reviews based on a personal sense of “what was best.” Given the demanding nature of academic careers and an institutional reward system that favours research over teaching, peer reviews were primarily limited to classroom observations and engaged few faculty members in dialogue. Such summative peer reviews appeared to make minimal contribution to professional growth in teaching. The study did find numerous other departmental practices conducive to a culture that values teaching, e.g., informal collegial conversations about teaching and team teaching. Faculty members who partook in these grew as instructors. Results demonstrated that academic values and norms (i.e., collegiality and autonomy), disciplinary traditions pertaining to collaboration, and institutional rewards influenced how faculty members pursued professional growth as teachers.

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A case study of a networked learning community : the "third space" (2009)

The purpose of this research was to develop a deeper understanding of the formation, operation, and impacts of a networked learning community within a geographically and culturally diverse school district in British Columbia, Canada. The general approach used for this research was case study methodology. As such, the work must be appreciated as a whole and as a narrative of how something came to be the way it is; in other words, to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the group under study: Who are its members? What are their stable and recurring modes of activity and interaction? How are they related to one another and how is the group related to the rest of the world? The primary data sources for the study were network participant interviews and documents related to the network. The main findings of the study include a deeper understanding of the impact Ministry and School District level policies and practice had on the network’s inception and evolution; the operational details and structure that supported the network in order to create the conditions for learning; and how the perceived success was based upon focused “teacher talk”. Implications for practice include an understanding of how seemingly simple system actions are influenced by a broad array of macro and micro socio-political actions, as well as the historical context of an organization. The research also suggests that networks are not an end in themselves or fit into a prescribed typology but constitute a shifting terrain with impacts beyond the life of the network.

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Off the Sides of Their Desks: Devolving Evaluation to Nonprofit and Grassroots Organizations (2008)

No abstract available.

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Evaluating the effects of an online community of practice: the case of Openpediatrics (2019)

Many factors contribute to preventable child and infant mortality globally including a shortage of well-educated health care professionals, heavy workloads in pediatric departments, and lack of time for professional development. These factors are particularly acute in developing countries.Online Communities of Practice (OCoPs) create opportunities for those with limited access to high quality learning experiences, to join virtual communities that encourage the creation and exchange of knowledge and experiences. OPENPediatrics (OP), an OCoP, was created to connect clinicians worldwide involved in the care of children to enable them to share their knowledge and experiences, to improve their professional competencies, to help ill children and save lives. The purpose of this study was to evaluate OP as an online community of practice, to determine its effects from the perspective of its users and to recommend ways that OP and other OCoPs can be made more effective as platforms for professional development. An outcomes-logic-model was created using the theory of Communities of Practice as a conceptual framework. Drawing on elements of Utilization-focused Evaluation (UFE), six research questions were developed to examine the significance and outcomes of OP. Findings showed that OP, as an OCoP, helps pediatric clinicians learn, increase their competencies and deliver better care. Results of this study also identified some limitations of OP such as lack of awareness of its many features among users, contextual problems in using OP in developing countries, and low levels of interaction among members. OPENPediatrics plays a significant positive role in users’ learning, professional development and quality of care although there is room to improve how it functions as an OCoP. Recommendations are offered to the leadership of OP and to those who may wish to conduct research on the effectiveness of online communities of practice.

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Witnessing the Extraordinary: Investigating the Accomplishments of the ALGC Program (2016)

This study investigates the reasons behind the achievements of the Adult Learning and Global Change (ALGC) program, an international online master’s program developed and managed by four universities in Canada, Sweden, South Africa and Australia: The University of BritishColumbia (Canada), Linköping University (Sweden), The University of the Western Cape (South Africa) and three different universities in Australia (where the original partner, University of Technology Sydney, was replaced by Monash University, which is now being replaced by Australian Catholic University). The twelve individuals who have had leadership roles in the program since it began in 2001 were interviewed, and their answers to the same open ended questions provided the data for analysis. Based on their responses, it was possible to identify the six stages in the development of the program, the many accomplishments of the program from avariety of viewpoints (historical, educational, collaborative, administrative and personal), the different threats and weaknesses that endangered the program (and the way they were addressed), and, finally, the explanations for the accomplishments of the program. The conclusion is that thanks to its competent and committed leaders, a creative and innovative program, and constructive and caring relationships, the ALGC program has not only survived but thrived.

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