Task force focuses on Orientation Week

Graphic by Joshua Awolade
Graphic by Joshua Awolade

With both the change to Orientation Week and the implementation of fall reading week, the first-year experience task force has much to evaluate in the coming months.

Over the past six months they have already made progress in their goal to review the first-year experience at Wilfrid Laurier University and make improvements that will ensure first-year student success.

One recent progression is their release of a report which outlines the four goals of the task force: academic achievement, accepting responsibility, health and well-being and community engagement. Each prompts discussion about how students can have a well-rounded experience. They will be analyzing the first-year experience according to these perspectives. The report was released in the late spring/early summer.

Created in December 2012, the task force is chaired by David McMurray, vice-president of student affairs, and Deborah MacLatchy, vice-president of academic and provost. McMurray emphasized the four goals in the report already have a high success rate among first-years and the task force.

“We’re really excited about the report and we recognize a lot of really great things are happening in the first-year experience already,” said McMurray.

Looking forward, one of the areas the task force will be evaluating is O-Week.

The task force has started receiving results from the National Survey on Student Engagement. In the survey, O-Week was given high regards by the students despite the change as a result of a new fall reading week being implemented.

“First-year students are rating their first-year experience very highly here, so a very good response,” McMurray explained. “Orientation was probably the most successful ever this year where classes started at the Thursday [and] where they didn’t start on the following Monday in years past, so students felt they were balanced a little bit more than in the past.”

As well, the task force will be looking at the impacts of the new fall reading week on first-year students.

According to McMurray, an ad hoc committee was created by Pat Rogers, associate vice president of teaching and learning, which will recommend qualitative and quantitative ways of evaluating the impact of the week.

Residence students will also be surveyed in terms of how the week impacted their academic success and personal wellness. Lastly, the task force will be connecting with other universities in Ontario who have recently implemented fall reading weeks to compare data.

While looking at the academic impact these changes may have had on first-year students will be important, McMurray said it is still too early to analyze the grades of students and be able to comment on this.

McMurray explained that staff involved with the first-year experience has been positive, taking in feedback on how to enhance and improve it.

“We’re able to work with our staff in continuing all of their efforts even before the Senate Committee on Student Learning … happens,” said McMurray.

The Senate Committee on Student Learning is responsible for academic regulations and policies relating to the university learning environment.

This year, McMurray is overseeing all of Laurier’s residence operations, including first-year leader programs and residence learning communities.

The first-year task force has also advanced Laurier’s Off Campus University Student residence to allow them to have a connected experience with on-campus residence students.

For now, McMurray and MacLatchy are working closely with their associate vice presidents, the deans, directors and coordinators and all their staff on programs and efforts to support the first-year experience.

“The response from our first-year students so far has a lot to do with the success of orientation,” concluded McMurray.

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