What skills should a Western student have when they graduate?

That was the question at a town hall on Friday held by the Western degree outcomes working group.

The purpose of the town hall was to gain feedback from the campus community on what students should be learning before leaving Western on an individual program and institutional level. Approximately 50 people were in attendance at the public meeting.

The working group consists of various faculty members, Western staff, and two students, one undergraduate and one graduate.

"It's really important for us to understand broadly, across campus, what are the unique and distinctive elements in the various disciplines and groups of disciplines," said John Doerksen, chair of the working group and vice-provost of academic programs and students.

"Western degree outcomes [and] the undergraduate degree-level expectations are really kind of generic terms and they get meaning in a disciplinary context. And so it's really important for us as a working group to be able to hear from all parts of campus about what's unique about that collection of disciplines." 

The town hall featured a presentation by Doerksen and Nanda Dimitrov, associate director at the teaching support centre. The presentation highlighted what the working group had accomplished so far and allowed attendants to weigh in on what they believed the attributes of a Western graduate should be.

The responses were posted on an online forum that allowed those present to be anonymous. Suggestions from the audience on the online forum included, "Expectations for students are wonderful, but expectations for faculty in delivering on outcomes are sorely needed” and "Their learning connected to their world, and their world connected to their learning.”

Other common themes from audience responses included wanting students to be engaged, critical, empathetic, curious and globally-minded.

The town hall was a part of the consultation process the working group undertook to reach out to various groups on campus such as students-at-large through the University Students' Council, faculty councils, undergraduate instructors and affiliate university colleges.

According to Doerkson, every university in the province is being asked by the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance to hold similar conversations on campuses.

“If you look at Western's Strategic Plan for Teaching and Learning, one of the items says that we're going to work to identify Western's institutional-level learning outcomes,” he said. “But the other part is also a desire to have a conversation on campus about our teaching mission and to dig right down to our learning outcomes, to curriculum development, where we're thinking about 'what is it that the students need to know at the end of their program?' "

After the campus-wide consultations wrap up this month, the Doerksen and his team will draft the Western Degree Outcomes between December and January before presenting them to Senate in March 2016.

"If Senate approves Western degree outcomes, then it's binding in the sense that that will be the institutional framework for thinking about our programs," Doerksen said. "When they're in place then as programs go through review or bring new ideas and new programs forward, then we're going to work to align these program learning outcomes with the Western degree outcomes.

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