It is customary for the the Provost & Vice-President, Academic to provide a report to each meeting of Senate outlining plans, priorities, issues and other news. As these reports are already public through the University Secretariat Office, they will also be shared regularly through this memorandum page.
Provost’s Report to Senate – November 18, 2020
Dear Senate colleagues,
As the end of the Fall term begins its approach, I want to thank all of Brock’s students, staff, faculty members and librarians for their hard work and patience over these last months.
We have begun to look forward to the Winter term, with the revised timetable released to students at the beginning of November. While we have sought to increase slightly the number of courses offered on campus in the winter, we remain limited in what we can do by public health measures, including the requirement for physical distancing in labs and classrooms. Still, we believe that this revised timetable achieves an important balance that will allow students to progress in their credentials.
Over the last few weeks, I have been consulting closely with students, staff, faculty members and librarians on a proposal that would see Brock plan for a return to campus for the Fall 2021 term. This has included meetings with the executive committees of BUSU and the GSA, as well as with several Senate committees. Plans are underway for further consultation sessions with staff and faculty union groups, as well as for an open online consultation.
During these conversations, I have heard from students in particular an enthusiastic and near-unqualified endorsement of a staged return to on-campus instruction, provided that online and hybrid options are also available for those who cannot travel, are immunocompromised, or are otherwise anxious about the effects of COVID. While a fully hybrid model would be ideal from the student point of view, mode of instruction is rightly an instructor’s decision and a matter of academic freedom. However, recognizing that not all instructors will be ready to return to campus in the fall, I believe that, working collaboratively, we can create a timetable that maximizes student choice while respecting instructor preference.
Finally, these considerations about Fall 2021 necessarily raise questions about the Spring/Summer term, which while traditionally smaller in enrolments presents us with new opportunities in this decidedly untraditional year. Having been away from campus for a year, students may find renewed appeal in taking classes during the summer months as they seek to reconnect with the university experience. As such, we will be looking to increase on-campus offerings further in the Spring/Summer term and begin the return to campus, implementing and piloting the various safety measures and logistical elements that will be required in the fall.
Beginning planning now will allow for careful and detailed discussion with faculty members, librarians, Chairs and Deans. This extended consultation will also provide new and prospective students with plenty of notice about what to expect from our university in the coming year. Much can change in the next nine months, but we will do our best to adapt to evolving circumstances and stay the course. Pandemic conditions may be with us for a while yet – certainly months, perhaps years – but we can take our lead from other sectors to adapt to evolving circumstances and continue with our mission of offerings students a transformative experience.
I will provide further updates in the weeks and months ahead.
As discussed at the last Senate meeting, I will be working with Gord Arbeau, Brock’s AVP, Advancement and External Relations, to co-chair a committee to review Brock’s perceived brand as a post-secondary institution and value proposition to students. At this same meeting, I committed to putting out a call for nominations and naming one faculty member from each Faculty as well as one professional librarian to the committee. You will have received the call for nominations, which closed this morning, on November 3. My thanks to those who engaged with the process by sharing the call or nominating themselves.
I also committed to bringing the steering committee’s terms of reference back to Senate for your information. You will find them attached to my report today.
Learning Management System review
Our temporary shift to online instruction these last months has emphasized the need to ensure that our technological infrastructure can support both our current activities and our future aspirations. As such, I have begun to consult about the process to review and replace our current learning management system (LMS). Some of you may recall that this process was initiated and then aborted a few years ago as part of a larger project to replace the student information system, and while the latter part of the project remains too costly given our current financial situation, the time is right to begin discussions about the LMS.
To this end I have already begun conversations with IT&I about how to proceed under the procedures outlined in the Faculty Handbook, including a broad consultation with members of the University community and a needs assessment involving students and faculty members. As we now have a standing item on the IT&I agenda about this topic, I will be well positioned to provide regular updates to Senate as the project begins.
I have spoken to Senate already this year about the Minister of Colleges and Universities’ interest in micro-credentials, defined as short, stackable credentials that can lead to a diploma or a degree. Many post-secondary institutions in Ontario have already been developing micro-credentials in previous years, although their form and content can differ considerably across institutions. The latest provincial budget on November 5 also announced government support for micro-credentials that meet a list of criteria, with more details to come in the following weeks. The budget also opened opportunities for working more closely with eCampus Ontario, which we will explore in the coming weeks.
Earlier this year, I began discussions with the Deans and others about the possibility of creating new micro-credential offerings at Brock. We have identified a range of promising avenues that we believe would be of interest to new and prospective students. I have also met with the Chairs of UPC and SGSC, as well as the Chair and Vice-Chair of Senate, to hear their thoughts on the topic and to discuss what kind of approval pathway might be most appropriate for micro-credentials. Today, the Registrar and I bring by way of UPC new language that would formally define a ‘certificate’ in the Brock context, as well as introduce a definition of for-credit ‘micro-certificates’.
Finally, in response to the generative discussion topic at our last Senate meeting I will be holding conversations with Senate committees concerning potential initiatives and future direction on recruitment and retention. I look forward to further conversation in the weeks ahead.
Professor Lynn Wells
Provost & Vice-President, Academic