Student Success at Dawson
At its core, student success at Dawson means that students pass their courses, persist in their studies to acquire the competencies of their program, and graduate, either to go on to further studies at university or to enter the work force. In its previous Strategic Plan, Dawson placed at the heart of its planning and aspirations an enriched notion of student success that went beyond the development of program competencies. Student success was defined as the development of broad and enriching skills, knowledge and attitudes – the key learning outcomes that will prepare students for the demands of further study, work, citizenship and life. To express these key learning outcomes and guide all members of the College in fulfilling its mission, Dawson developed a Graduate Profile. The Dawson community, through various consultations, has reflected upon and confirmed that the learning outcomes articulated in the previous Graduate Profile are still important and relevant to the current strategic plan.
An extensive body of research has shown that there are specific practices that provide substantial educational benefits to students, especially students considered to be at risk. These practices, called high-impact practices, not only assist in developing the key learning outcomes of the Graduate Profile but also promote student engagement and deeper integration of learning, from making simple connections among ideas and experiences to synthesizing and transferring learning gained from curricular and extra-curricular activities to new situations within and beyond the College.
There are additional benefits to using high-impact practices. First, they require students to devote considerable time and effort, which deepens students’ commitment to and perseverance in their studies. Second, these practices place students in situations where they can interact meaningfully with faculty and peers on substantive matters, usually over an extended period of time. Third, participating in certain high-impact practices increases the likelihood that students will have positive interactions with people from different backgrounds. Fourth, students typically get frequent feedback on their performance when participating in these high-impact practices, which in turn helps them to monitor and improve their performance. Fifth, these practices help students to integrate, synthesise, and apply knowledge from what they are learning in the classroom to activities both on and off campus, which leads to deep, significant learning experiences.
One high-impact practice in particular – Learning Communities – is especially effective at achieving the major learning outcomes associated with the Graduate Profile. Learning Communities focus on integrative learning and provide a curricular infrastructure for many high-impact practices and, therefore, have a special status among high-impact practices.
High-impact practices include, but are not limited to:
- Collaborative learning assignments – Students work with others to solve problems and increase their understanding of a topic by listening to others, especially those with different background and life experiences.
- Courses that use writing intensively – These courses emphasize writing to learn at all levels and across the curriculum.
- Community-based learning opportunities – Students work with community partners both to apply their classroom learning in real-world settings and to reflect in a classroom setting on their community experience.
- Internships/stages – Students obtain direct experience in a work setting related to their field of study.
- Capstone courses and projects such as integrative courses, project fairs and comprehensive examinations – These culminating experiences require students to work on a project that integrates and applies what they have learned throughout their studies.
Most, if not all, of these high-impact practices exist already in many of the programs and profiles at Dawson. In the last several years, Dawson has also made major gains in providing enriched learning experiences such as Peace Education, Entrepreneurship Week, Model UN, SPACE, and international travel activities. By acknowledging these practices as particularly effective means for achieving institutional-level learning outcomes, we hope to promote their use throughout the curriculum.
The current Student Success Plan provides a framework for developing the Graduate Profile outcomes through an intentional and coordinated approach. During the community consultations, the notion of student success also emphasized the importance of accessibility and the quality of support the College provides for students to successfully complete their studies and to prepare them for university and careers. Therefore, the framework also includes goals that are focussed on enhancing support to students and ensuring the continued relevance of Dawson’s programs and other educational offerings. Moreover, the Strategic Plan as a whole outlines ways in which all parts of the College can contribute to creating a campus environment that is aligned with and reflective of our commitment to student success.