Senate meeting June 9, 2017

Sheila Macfie, chair of the Senate Committee on Academic Policy and Awards, presents at Western University's Senate meeting on June 9, 2017.

Western University administrators didn't see the OWL dump coming, according to the university's provost at the first Senate meeting of the 2017-18 academic year.

During the meeting's discussion and question period, senators asked Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Janice Deakin about this summer's OWL course wipe. The wipe happened in August when students lost access to all previous course content on OWL, Western's online learning management system, without warning.

Deakin began the Senate meeting with an apology:

“I take responsibility on behalf of all my colleagues who were involved in this,” she said. “This was a pear-shaped affair — it went sideways.”  

The provost said she was unaware the OWL content removal was to take place Aug. 8, and that she had no communication strategy prepared. 

Deakin said OWL, which replaced the previous online system WebCT in 2012, didn't have an automatized process for removing course content from students. However, with WebCT, the content was removed 60 days after final grades were submitted.

Deakin said considering how labour-intensive an annual course material removal would have been, Western Technology Services began working on an automatic removal system similar to WebCT’s. After it was done, she said WTS activated the new system without realizing many students used OWL to archive course material.

Sergio Rodriguez, the new director of client services at WTS who directs the OWL platform, said WTS is in the process of organizing an internal review which will consult the associate deans of each academic faculty at Western.

The provost also faced criticism for how the administration handled the situation. Arzie Chant, a staff senator, questioned the provost if she would talk to the Gazette directly, citing the paper's frequent, denied attempts to speak to the administration about the OWL changes. Deakin said she always tries to get back to the Gazette, but sometimes is unavailable. She added perhaps the Gazette should have been copied on the internal memo that was eventually sent out.

Deakin said that OWL will continue to remove old course content in the future but that details are still being worked out. She said no course material would be removed without a mechanism to reinstate it; something that was not in place for the August OWL course content removal. 


Martin is the Senior News Editor at the Gazette. You can contact him at, or @mtrallen on Twitter.

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