AU's Self-Study Design

I. Institutional Overview

Overview

Athabasca University (AU) is a public, board-governed, open and online distance university, operating as a Comprehensive Academic and Research University (CARU) under authority of the Alberta Post-secondary Learning Act. Working as a partner within Campus Alberta, AU works with key stakeholders to ensure a seamless and responsive advanced education system that provides and supports high-quality lifelong learning opportunities for residents of Alberta and beyond. With over 1,000 faculty and staff serving over 40,000 students in every province and territory of Canada and 92 foreign countries, AU offers approximately 900 courses in over 55 undergraduate and graduate programs in a range of arts, science and professional disciplines.

As a CARU, AU is home to a number of Canada Research Chairs, Campus Alberta Innovation Program Chairs, and industry-sponsored research chairs. The university also hosts a Commonwealth of Learning Chair and a UNESCO Chair in Open Educational Resources, one of only two in the world.

As Canada’s only open university, AU is devoted to the removal of barriers to post-secondary education, providing access to learners regardless of age, gender, educational background, disability, career and family obligations, culture or geographic location. AU has a long-standing practice of working collaboratively with other Canadian and international post-secondary institutions and learning industries and, in 2006, became the first Canadian public university accredited in the United States through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Through formal collaborative agreements between AU and Canadian and international post-secondary institutions, professional associations and corporate bodies, students and professionals make extensive use of AU courses and educational services to advance their education and careers.

Since its inception in 1970, Athabasca University has stood at the cutting edge of educational innovation. As an open and online distance university, it offers flexible enrolment opportunities for lifelong learners who cannot or choose not to undertake their post-secondary learning at traditional, on-site institutions. AU students have the opportunity to interact with fellow learners across Canada and around the world. AU continues to develop courses and programs in established and emerging areas to create knowledge, develop research expertise, meet the needs of career professionals, and foster academic excellence and respect for diverse world views in its graduates.

In 2018, AU introduced its new strategic plan: Imagine: Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities. In Imagine, In Imagine, AU sets out a leading-edge, best-in-class vision for a digital-first university. It lays the foundation for a university that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of its community. It recognizes that learners come to AU with personal learning goals that arise from their unique backgrounds and experiences, and pledges to provide a seamless and intuitive experience as learners pursue their unique learning journeys. Imagine reflects AU’s commitment to sustaining a culture that is oriented to innovation and growth—a culture that measures and celebrates success, superior performance, and action in support of our learners and our research mission.

Our Mission

Athabasca University, Canada's Open University, is dedicated to the removal of barriers that restrict access to and success in university-level study and to increasing equality of educational opportunity for adult learners worldwide.

We are committed to excellence in teaching, research and scholarship and to being of service to the general public.

Institutional Goals

AU’s Imagine plan builds upon the strength and spirit of our entire AU community.

As a community, we are focused on:

  • Moving Beyond Open: Bridging Open and Inclusion
  • Moving Beyond Place: Transforming Communities through Belonging and Relationships
  • Moving Beyond the Norm: Adopting Innovative Ideas and Taking Calculated Risks
  • Moving Beyond the Now: Making Change through Agility and Adaptability

These broad goals inform our strategic directions and priority outcomes for 2019 through 2023. AU’s Imagine Plan can be accessed here: http://imagine.athabascau.ca/

The Imagine Plan is AU’s roadmap to success. As part of integrated planning, the University also completed a series of Foundational Plans, which provide more focused direction to the university community on selected aspects of the broad strategic directions articulated in Imagine. The foundational planning documents can be found here: http://opvpa.athabascau.ca/integrated-planning/index.php

Brief Overview of Student Populations Served by AU

  • AU provides flexible learning opportunities to approximately 40,000 undergraduate and graduate learners annually.
  • In FY 2017-2018, AU offered learning opportunities to 35,611 undergraduate learners and 4,421 graduate learners.
  • Net enrolment from Alberta in FY 2017-18 totaled 16,345 (15,067 undergraduate and 1,278 graduate learners).
  • Average Undergraduate Student Age at admission: 27.3
  • Average Graduate Student Age at admission: 35.0
  • In FY 2017-2018, 65.2% of Undergraduate and 74.1% of Graduate learners were women.
  • Percentage of learners at AU self-identify as Indigenous: 3.4%.
  • Percentage of learners reside in rural areas: 12.2%
  • Percentage of AU graduates are the first in their family to earn a university degree: 70%
  • Percentage of learners who work while they study: 73.3%

II. Institutional Priorities to be addressed in the Self-Study

Institutional Stakeholders Consulted in Identifying the Priorities

Initial conversations about the MSCHE Accreditation process occurred in early 2019 at AU’s Academic Leadership Team meetings (January 31, 2019; February 11, 2019).

The Self-Study process was formally initiated at the Academic Planning, Policy, and Standards Committee meeting (February 26, 2019). A formal call for participation was made.

Co-chairs were identified in March 2019.

On March 29th, 2019, AU’s Provost and Vice President Academic shared a message with the university community inviting them to participate in the MSCHE Self-Study process. The Provost outlined:

  1. changes at AU since the university’s last self-study and MSCHE team visit;
  2. changes to MSCHE Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation; and
  3. the purpose of the Self-Study process.

Following the March 29th communique, individuals from across the institution volunteered to participate in the Self-Study process. This Self-Study Design was shared with the Working Groups and Steering Committee at a kick-off meeting on May 2nd.

On May 15th, 2019, Dr. Stephen J. Pugliese, Vice President, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, participated in a productive self-study preparation visit. Following the visit, the Provost and co-chairs met to draft institutional priorities to be addressed in the Self-Study. They are as follows:

  1. Strengthen ongoing institutional effectiveness.
  2. Realize a reimagined integrated student learning environment in alignment with AU’s Learning Framework.
  3. Promote Academic Excellence and Innovation through Research.
  4. Strengthen Campus Culture and Community Engagement.

These priorities were shared with the MSCHE Steering Team for review and feedback on June 26, 2019.

Lastly, a webpage was created on the Office of the Provost’s page. Here, individuals can find a number of documents, including the draft Self-Study Design and timeline, that will assist in guiding the work of the Steering Committee and its 8 Working Groups.

Alignment of Selected Priorities with AU’s Mission and Goals

Table 1. Alignment of AU Mission with Institutional Priorities

Athabasca University is a public institution that fosters: Strengthen Ongoing Institutional Effectiveness Realize a re-imagined Integrated Learning Environment Promote Academic Excellence and Innovation through Research Strengthen Campus Culture and Community Engagement
Beyond Open Teaching and Learning Success    
Beyond Now Teaching and Learning Success  
Beyond Norm Teaching and Learning Success  
Beyond Place Teaching and Learning Success      
Beyond Open AU Success    
Beyond Now AU Success    
Beyond Norm AU Success  
Beyond Place AU Success      
Beyond Open Research and Development Success    
Beyond Now Research and Development Success      
Beyond Norm Research and Development Success      
Beyond Place Research and Development Success      

Table 2. Alignment of MSCHE Standards and Institutional Priorities

  Strengthen Ongoing Institutional Effectiveness Realize a re-imagined Integrated Learning Environment Promote Academic Excellence and Innovation through Research Strengthen Campus Culture and Community Engagement
Standard I: Mission and Goals
Standard II: Ethics and Integrity    
Standard III: Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience  
Standard IV: Support of the Student Experience    
Standard V: Educational Effectiveness Assessment    
Standard VI: Planning, Resources, and Institutional Improvement    
Standard VII: Governance, Leadership, and Administration    

Selected Priorities – Rationale

1) Strengthen Ongoing Institutional Effectiveness

Through integrated planning, AU is realizing an integrated planning, assessment and accountability cycle. Integrated planning supports strategic decision-making by providing a comprehensive view of resources and commitments that ensures the alignment of financial and capital resources with AU’s priorities. We are seeing increased system-based coordination, collaboration, cooperation, and communication in our projects and activities. We recognize the need to accelerate and strengthen a culture of institutional effectiveness in several areas, including evaluation and assessment, student services, teaching and learning, integrated resource planning, and governance. The Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation of the Middles States Commission on Higher Education are rigorous and comprehensive and will contribute to overall culture of continuous improvement at AU. We believe the Self-Study process will strengthen our institution. The goal contributes to all MSCHE Standards.

2) Realize a Re-imagined Integrated Learning Environment in Alignment with AU’s Learning Framework

Following the completion of Imagine: Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities, AU completed an inclusive campus-wide development process by approving the Imagine Learning Framework. The Framework articulates AU’s vision for how we will once again transform the learner experience by disrupting traditional practices of higher education. Implementation of the Framework will contribute to the realization of Teaching and Learning Success and Research and Development Success – integral to the successful realization of AU’s Imagine Plan. The goal contributes to MSCHE Standards I, III, IV, and V as the Learning Framework provides the overall strategic direction for faculty-level and unit-level decisions about how we design, deliver, support, assess, and continuously improve all aspects of the learning experience. Implementation of the Framework requires engagement from the entire community—and indeed, there is a great deal of activity in support of the Framework already underway in the Faculties and in other academic units.

3) Promote Academic Excellence and Innovation through Research

AU’s Strategic Research Plan (2018 – 2022) follows from the Athabasca University’s Imagine: Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities Plan. The plan attests to the capacity of our researchers, be they academics, students or staff, to generate knowledge about Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities – past, present and future, as chronicled in their research outputs – and crafts a vision for our future research endeavors. AU is committed to open scholarship, which encompasses open science, open access, open data, open education, and all other forms of openness in the scholarly and research environment, is transforming how knowledge is created and shared.

AU’s Strategic Research Plan will enhance and enable a vibrant research culture that becomes visible by way of its focus on Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities as it affords myriad disciplinary and multidisciplinary opportunities to address questions of local, national, and global concern related to our four strategic directions. Realizing the plan will contribute to Standards I and III.

4) Strengthen Campus Culture and Community Engagement

At AU we respect and value the contributions of our greatest asset: our people. It is through the collective efforts of the entire AU community that we are able to transform lives and transform communities: to provide an environment in which learners can harness the power of higher education so that they and their communities can realize their highest potential. Moreover, we recognize that equipping AU to realize its vision and fulfil its mission also starts with our people and must include every member of the One AU team. Our workforce is unique, diverse and dispersed, and we must create an environment that assures individual enrichment and individual and organizational success. We are focused on talent management, human resources service delivery and governance, communication, and human resources transformation. Realizing this goal will contribute to Standards I, II, VI, and VII.

Institutional Stakeholders Consulted in Identifying the Priorities

  • Academic Leadership Team
  • Academic Planning, Policy, and Standards Committee
  • MSCHE Self-Study Steering Committee
  • MSCHE Working Groups
  • Deans’ Council
  • Executive Team

III. Intended Outcomes of the Self-Study

As noted above, AU’s three institutional priorities for the Self-Study process are:

  1. Reaffirm that we meet the Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation of the Middles States Commission on Higher Education;
  2. Strengthen the culture of evaluation of student learning in support of measures of institutional effectiveness and integrated planning; and
  3. Contribute to the expansion and generation of new learning opportunities in current and emerging academic fields.

We commit to meeting these outcomes at the end of the Self-Study Process.


IV. Self-Study Approach

AU will be adopting the Standards-Based Approach to organize the Self-Study Report. This approach will enable us to stay organized and effectively identify institutional strengths and challenges as they relate to each standard with appropriately referenced documentation found in the Evidence Inventory.


V. Organizational Structure of the Steering Committee and Working Groups

Steering Committee

The Steering Committee membership includes broad representation from the institution. The Provost appointed co-chairs, Dr. Margaret Kierylo, Associate Vice President, Integrated Planning and Assessment and Dr. Veronica Thompson, Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Dr. Veronica Thompson attended the 2018 MSCHE Self-Study Institute. In March 2019, the Provost solicited expressions of interest from the university community to serve on the working groups. The Working Groups’ Chairs and Membership is comprised of individuals who expressed interest and other appointees with requisite knowledge and skills to assure that each Working Group includes representation and expertise relating to that Working Group’s Charge. The Steering Committee includes the Steering Committee Co-Chairs, Working Group Chairs, and administrative support.

Name Position Role
Dr. Margaret Kierylo Associate Vice President, Integrated Planning and Assessment Co-Chair
Dr. Veronica Thompson Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Co-Chair
Dr. Jane Arscott Professor, Centre for Social Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Working Group 1 Chair
Standard I: Mission and Goals
Dr. Manijeh Mannani Associate Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Working Group 2 Chair
Standard II: Ethics and Integrity
Dr. Alain May Associate Vice President, Student and Academic Services Working Group 3 Chair
Standard III: Design and Delivery of Student Learning Experience
Dr. Farook Al-Shamali Academic Coordinator, Faculty of Science and Technology Working Group 4 Chair
Standard IV: Support of Student Learning Experience
Louise Bahry Director, Learning Assessment Working Group 5 Chair
Standard V: Educational Effectiveness Assessment
Dr. Margaret Kierylo Associate Vice President, Integrated Planning and Assessment Working Group 6: Chair
Standard VI: Planning, Resources, and Institutional Improvement
Carol Lund University Secretary Working Group 7 Chair
Standard VII: Governance, Leadership, Administration
Dr. Sami Houry Acting Director, Institutional Studies Working Group 8 Chair
Standard VIII: Evidence inventory and Verification of Compliance
Emily Tamm Executive Assistant, Office of the Associate Vice-President, Student and Academic Services Administrative support staff
Corinna Lewis Quality Assurance Reporting Assistant Administrative support staff

Co-Chairs Charge

The Co-Chairs, in consultation with the Provost, will:

  1. Develop and facilitate the Self-Study process by determining appropriate timelines, key issues to be examined, steering committee and working group charges, and deliverables.
  2. Develop a Self-Study Design that ensures compliance with the Middle States Standards and Requirements for Affiliation.
  3. Support the Steering Committee by providing information and guidance.
  4. Ensure that the Self-Study document is integrated across all standards.

Steering Committee Charge

The Steering Committee, in consultation with Executive Team, will:

  1. Lead and facilitate an inclusive self-study process.
  2. Contribute to the Self-Study Design.
  3. Approve the Self-Study Timeline.
  4. Support Working Groups by providing information and guidance for identifying critical issues, gathering appropriate evidence, preparing and implementing recommendations on draft Self-Study documents, and maintaining accountability for deliverables.
  5. Write the Self-Study Document. This includes gathering a robust evidence inventory, conducting a gap analysis, addressing areas marked for improvements, and developing recommendations that advance the institution.
  6. Coordinate communication with the Athabasca University community.
  7. Organize and host the Self-Study Site Visit.

Working Group Charge

Each Working Group will do the following:

  1. Develop an understanding of the Middle States Standards and Requirements of Affiliation with a specific focus on the standard related to the assigned Working Group. Working Group members are encouraged to review the MSCHE Self-Study Guide.
  2. Identify sources of information and collect relevant data as they relate to the assigned working group.
  3. Hold regular meetings, to identify, collect, and analyze evidence and to draft reports for the Steering Committee in accordance with the established timeline.
  4. Analyze all relevant evidence, including documents, processes, and procedures, assuring that all key issues are examined for the Standard and each criterion.
  5. Identify gaps in the evidence or in processes and procedures to meet the Standard. Develop strategies to address the gap, and implement where feasible. Identify the gaps and recommendations in early reports to the Steering Committee.
  6. On the basis of the evidence collected and analyzed:
    1. assess institutional strengths and weaknesses in relation to the standard;
    2. assess opportunities for improvement and institutional renewal; and
    3. link opportunities to the Self Study Priorities aligned with the Standards and assigned to the working group.
  7. Prepare draft reports deliverable to the Steering Committee on the timeline assigned.
  8. Integrate Steering Committee feedback and deliver a timely final report analyzing AU’s successes, challenges, and opportunities in meeting the assigned standard.

Working Group 1

Standard Standard I - Mission and Goals
The institution’s mission defines its purpose within the context of higher education, the students it serves, and what it intends to accomplish. The institution’s stated goals are clearly linked to its mission and specify how the institution fulfills its mission.
Requirements of Affiliation 7. Mission and Goals, 10. Institutional Planning
Institutional Priorities
  • Strengthen Institutional Effectiveness
  • Realize a Re-imagined Integrated Learning Environment in alignment with AU’s Learning Framework
  • Promote Academic Excellence and Innovation through Research
  • Strengthen Campus Culture and Community Engagement
Intended Outcomes of Self-Study Reaffirm that we meet the Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation of the Middles States Commission on Higher Education
Committee Members Dr. Jane Arscott, Working Group Chair
Dr. Nisha Nath (Assistant Professor FHSS)
Dr. Vandy Bowyer (Tutor FHSS)
Dr. Sandra Law (Learning Designer FST)
Specific Lines of Inquiry
  1. Does Athabasca University have clearly defined Mission and Goals?
  2. To what extent are the Mission and Goals developed collaboratively to address all key stakeholders and approved by an appropriate governing body?
  3. To what extent do the Mission and Goals guide decision making for planning, resource allocation, program and curricular development, and related institutional and educational outcomes?
  4. In what way(s) are the Mission and Goals communicated broadly and periodically evaluated?
  5. To what extent are the goals realistic and supported by administration, educational and student support programs?

Working Group 2

Standard Standard II: Ethics and Integrity
Ethics and integrity are central, indispensable, and defining hallmarks of effective higher education institutions. In all activities, whether internal or external, an institution must be faithful to its mission, honor its contracts and commitments, adhere to its policies, and represent itself truthfully.
Requirements of Affiliation 5. Compliance with Government Laws, 6. Compliance with Commission Policies, 12. Governance Structures, 13. Governing Body, 14. Accurate Information
Institutional Priorities
  • Strengthen Institutional Effectiveness
  • Strengthen Campus Culture and Community Engagement
Intended Outcomes of Self-Study Reaffirm that we meet the Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation of the Middles States Commission on Higher Education
Committee Members Dr. Manijeh Mannani (Chair)
Dr. Josie Auger (Assistant Professor FHSS)
Dr. Alexa DeGagne (Assistant Professor FHSS)
Dr. Archie Zariski (Professor FHSS)
Nichole Collins (LST)
+ Board member
Specific Lines of Inquiry
  1. Does the institution demonstrate a commitment to academic freedom, intellectual freedom, freedom of expression, and respect for intellectual property rights?
  2. In what way(s) does the institution establish a climate that fosters respect among students, faculty, staff, and administration from a range of diverse backgrounds, ideas, and perspectives?
  3. To what extent does the institution have policies, procedures, and practices in place to assure fair and impartial treatment of constituencies in all aspects of operations, to address complaints and grievances, to avoid conflict of interest, and to communicate with honesty and integrity?
  4. Does the institution comply with all applicable federal, provincial, and Commission reporting policies, regulations, and requirements including those items in the Verification of Compliance?
  5. In what way(s) does the institution periodically assess ethics and integrity as evidenced in institutional policies, processes, practices, and the manner in which these are implemented?

Working Group 3

Standard Standard III: Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience
An institution provides students with learning experiences that are characterized by rigor and coherence at all program, certificate, and degree levels, regardless of instructional modality. All learning experiences, regardless of modality, program pace/schedule, level, and setting are consistent with higher education expectations.
Requirements of Affiliation 8. Systematic Evaluation of Programs, 9. Student Learning Programs, 10. Institutional Planning, 15. Faculty
Institutional Priorities
  • Strengthen Ongoing Institutional Effectiveness
  • Realize a Re-imagined Integrated Learning Environment in alignment with AU’s Learning Framework
  • Promote Academic Excellence and Innovation through Research
Intended Outcomes of Self-Study
  1. Strengthen the culture of evaluation of student learning,
  2. Better integrate effectiveness measures in the integrated planning process, and
  3. Contribute to the expansion and generation of new learning opportunities in current and emerging academic fields.
Committee Members Dr. Alain May
Hongxin Yan (Learning Designer FST)
Stephen Addison (Learning Designer FHSS)
Margot McKenna (Office of the Registrar)
Helen Mayes (OPVPA)
Natasha Donahue (VPEX, AUSU)
Specific Lines of Inquiry
  1. To what extent are the institution’s academic programs designed to foster a coherent student learning experience and promote synthesis of learning?
  2. To what extent are student learning experiences designed, delivered, and assed by faculty and/ or other appropriate professionals who demonstrate effectiveness or professional responsibilities, hold requisite qualifications, are sufficient in number, engage in professional growth and are evaluated regularly?
  3. To what extent are academic programs of study clearly and accurately described in official publications of the institution in a way that students are able to understand and follow degree and program requirements and expected time to completion?
  4. To what extent does the institution provide learning opportunities and resources to support both the institution’s program of study and students’ academic progress?
  5. To what extent does the general education program offer new areas of intellectual experience, expand their cultural and global awareness and cultural sensitivity, prepare students to make well-reasoned judgments and develop general skills?
  6. To what extent do graduate programs offer opportunities for the scholarly activity under the supervision of qualified faculty?
  7. What are the assessment outcomes of any student learning opportunities provided by third-party providers, if any?
  8. In what way(s) does the institution periodically assess the effectiveness of programs?

Working Group 4

Standard Standard IV: Support of the Student Experience
Across all educational experiences, settings, levels, and instructional modalities, the institution recruits and admits students whose interests, abilities, experiences, and goals are congruent with its mission and educational offerings. The institution commits to student retention, persistence, completion, and success through a coherent and effective support system sustained by qualified professionals, which enhances the quality of the learning environment, contributes to the educational experience, and fosters student success.
Requirements of Affiliation 8. Systematic Evaluation of Program, 9. Student Learning Programs, 10. Institutional Planning, 15. Faculty
Institutional Priorities
  • Strengthen Ongoing Institutional Effectiveness
  • Realize a Re-imagined Integrated Learning Environment in alignment with AU’s Learning Framework
Intended Outcomes of Self-Study
  1. Strengthen the culture of evaluation of student learning,
  2. Better integrate effectiveness measures in the integrated planning process, and
  3. Contribute to the expansion and generation of new learning opportunities in current and emerging academic fields.
Committee Members Dr. Farook Al-Shamali (Chair)
Corinne Bosse (Learning Designer FGS)
Dr. Esam Mustafa (Academic Expert FB)
Dr. Cindy Ives (Professor FHSS)
Dr. Andrew Han (Learning Designer FHSS)
Dr. Nina Paulovicova (Assistant Professor FHSS)
David Thomson, (VPA, AUGSA)
Specific Lines of Inquiry
  1. Does the institution have clearly stated, ethical polices and processes for admissions, financial aid, retention, supporting underprepared learners, and student achievement?
  2. Does the institution have policies and procedures regarding evaluation and acceptance of transfer credits, and credits awarded through various learning approaches?
  3. Does the institution have policies and procedures for the safe and secure maintenance and appropriate release of student information and records?
  4. What academic, fiscal, and administrative principles and procedures govern student affairs?
  5. What are the assessment outcomes of any student support services produced by third-party providers?
  6. In what way(s) does the institution periodically assess the effectiveness of programs supporting the student experience?

Working Group 5

Standard Standard V - Educational Effectiveness Assessment
The institution’s planning processes, resources, and structures are aligned with each other and are sufficient to fulfill its mission and goals, to continuously assess and improve its programs and services, and to respond effectively to opportunities and challenges.
Requirements of Affiliation 8. Systematic evaluation of programs, 9. Student Learning Programs, 10. Institutional Planning
Institutional Priorities
  • Strengthen Institutional Effectiveness
  • Realize a Re-imagined Integrated Learning Environment in alignment with AU’s Learning Framework
Intended Outcomes of Self-Study
  1. Strengthen the culture of evaluation of student learning, and
  2. Better integrate effectiveness measures in the integrated planning process.
Committee Members Louise Bahry (Chair)
Dr. Mary Pringle (Learning Designer FB)
Luis Guadarrama (Learning Designer FHSS)
Dr. Ali Dewan (Assistant Professor FST)
Dr. Connie Blomgren (Assistant Professor FHSS)
Dr. David Annand (Professor FB)
+ Student/s
Specific Lines of Inquiry
  1. To what extent are educational goals at the program and institution level interrelated and linked to the mission?
  2. Does the institution have a comprehensive plan for the evaluation of student learning?
  3. To what extent does the institution use the evaluation of student learning results for improvement of educational effectiveness consistent with the mission?
  4. What are the outcomes of any assessment services provided by third-party providers?
  5. In what way(s) does the institution periodically assess the effectiveness of assessment and evaluation processes?

Working Group 6

Standard Standard VI - Planning, Resources, and Institutional Improvement
The institution’s planning processes, resources, and structures are aligned with each other and are sufficient to fulfill its mission and goals, to continuously assess and improve its programs and services, and to respond effectively to opportunities and challenges.
Requirements of Affiliation 8. Systematic Evaluation of Programs, 10. Institutional Planning, 11. Financial Resources
Institutional Priorities
  • Strengthen Institutional Effectiveness
  • Strengthen Campus Culture and Community Engagement
Intended Outcomes of Self-Study
  1. Strengthen the culture of evaluation of student learning, and
  2. Better integrate effectiveness measures in the integrated planning process.
Committee Members Dr. Margaret Kierylo (Chair)
Dr. Pamela Walsh (Associate Professor FHSS)
Dr. Terry Beckman (Associate Professor, FB)
Dr. Jason Ponto (Coordinator, Office of the Associate Vice President, Student and Academic Services)
Janet Bauer (Financial Analyst)
Dave Liddell (Manager Finance and Administration)
Specific Lines of Inquiry
  1. Are institutional objectives clearly stated, assessed appropriately, linked to the mission and goal achievement?
  2. Are conclusions drawn from assessment results used for planning and resource allocation?
  3. To what extent do planning and improvement processes include broad constituent participation and incorporate the use of assessment results?
  4. To what extent is the financial planning and budgeting process aligned with the institution’s mission, goals, and strategic objectives?
  5. To what extent do the institution’s financial, human, physical, and technological resources adequately support its operations?
  6. To what extent are decision-making processes well-defined with clear assignment of responsibility and accountability?
  7. To what extent does the institution engage in comprehensive planning linked to the intuition’s strategic and financial planning processes?
  8. Is an annual independent audit confirming financial viability with evidence of follow-up on any concerns cited in the audit’s accompanying management letter completed?
  9. What strategies exist to measure and assess the adequacy and efficient utilization of institutional resources required to support the institution’s mission and goals?
  10. In what way(s) does the institution periodically assess the effectiveness of planning, resource allocation, institutional renewal processes, and availability of resources?

Working Group 7

Standard Standard VII - Governance, Leadership, and Administration
The institution is governed and administered in a manner that allows it to realize its stated mission and goals in a way that effectively benefits the institution, its students, and the other constituencies it serves. Even when supported by or affiliated with governmental, corporate, religious, educational system, or other unaccredited organizations, the institution has education as its primary purpose, and it operates as an academic institution with appropriate autonomy.
Requirements of Affiliation 12. Governance Structure, 13. Governing Body
Institutional Priorities
  • Strengthen Institutional Effectiveness
  • Strengthen Campus Culture and Community Engagement
Intended Outcomes of Self-Study Reaffirm that we meet the Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation of the Middles States Commission on Higher Education.
Committee Members Carol Lund (Chair)
Melissa Sadownik FOIP/Policy Coordinator
Dr. Mark Dimirsky (Tutor FHSS)
+ Board member
Specific Lines of Inquiry
  1. To what extent does the institution have a clearly articulated and transparent governance structure?
  2. Does the institution have a legally constituted body with clearly defined roles and responsibilities for oversight?
  3. To what extent does the institution have a Chief Executive Officer and Administration who have appropriate experience, skills and credentials; clearly defined roles and reporting relationship; appropriate resources and working relationships; and processes for evaluation?
  4. In what way(s) does the institution periodically assess the effectiveness of governance, leadership, and administration?

Working Group 8

Standard All Standards
Requirements of Affiliation 1. Institution Authorized to Operate, 2. Institution Operational, 4. Communicates with Commission, 6. Complies with Commission policies, 14. Governing Body
Institutional Priorities All
Intended Outcomes of Self-Study
  1. Reaffirm that AU meets the Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation of the Middles States Commission on Higher Education;
  2. Strengthen the culture of evaluation of student learning;
  3. Better integrate effectiveness measures in the integrated planning process; and
  4. Contribute to the expansion and generation of new learning opportunities in current and emerging academic fields.
Committee Members Dr. Sami Houry (Chair)
Louise Bahry (Director, Learning Assessment)
Helen Mayes (OPVPA)
Specific Lines of Inquiry
  1. What information, documents, procedures, and policies show compliance with the Standards and Requirements for Affiliation?
  2. What technologies can be used to design an evidence inventory to demonstrate compliance and to collect, organize, present, and make accessible the evidence?

VI. Guidelines for Reporting

Working Groups will be expected to prepare a final report that analyses the data compiled and relevant to the assigned Standard. Each Working Group report will function as the foundation for a chapter in the full Self Study Report. A preliminary draft report will be received by the Steering Group. Preliminary drafts will be completed by September 30, 2019, and final drafts by November 30, 2019.

Working group reports will include an introduction identifying the assigned Standard and the approaches taken in the analysis. The body of the report will analyze the evidence of the degree to which Athabasca University demonstrates that it meets the assigned Standard’s criteria, attributes and activities, and can show its commitment to continuous improvement in fulfilling its mission, goals and objectives. Contextual descriptions should be minimal with the primary focus on analyzing strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement.

Opportunities for improvement and innovation resulting from the evidence presented should be specific, achievable and in alignment with Athabasca University’s mission, mandate and strategic plans and priorities. Supporting documentation should be hotlinked to the Evidence Inventory. The conclusion should summarize the Working Group’s recommendations for institutional improvement. The Working Groups’ final reports should not exceed 15 pages, and should adhere to the sample outline below:

Introduction

  • Standards and Approach
  • Athabasca University Context

Criteria 1

  • Background
  • Analysis (Strengths/Weaknesses)
  • Recommendations (Opportunities)

Criteria 2

  • Background
  • Analysis (Strengths/Weaknesses)
  • Recommendations (Opportunities)

Criteria 3

  • Background
  • Analysis (Strengths/Weaknesses)
  • Recommendations (Opportunities)

Criteria 4

  • Background
  • Analysis (Strengths/Weaknesses)
  • Recommendations (Opportunities)

Conclusion

  • Summary of Recommendations

The Steering Committee will meet monthly to monitor and guide the Working Groups’ activities; each Working Group chair will report verbally on their progress to the Steering Committee. In addition to reviewing the preliminary draft, the Steering Committee is available to review and offer advice on drafts at any time during their development.

The Co-Chairs will also provide updates to internal AU governance committees throughout the Self-Study process.


VII. Organization of the Final Self-Study Report

Executive Summary

  • Purpose
  • Highlights of the Analysis and Recommendations

Introduction

  • Athabasca University Overview and Context
  • Self-Study Objectives

Standard I

  • Identification of and analysis of data
  • Opportunities for Improvement and Innovation

Standard II

  • Identification of and analysis of data
  • Opportunities for Improvement and Innovation

Standard III

  • Identification of and analysis of data
  • Opportunities for Improvement and Innovation

Standard IV

  • Identification of and analysis of data
  • Opportunities for Improvement and Innovation

Standard V

  • Identification of and analysis of data
  • Opportunities for Improvement and Innovation

Standard VI

  • Identification of and analysis of data
  • Opportunities for Improvement and Innovation

Standard VII

  • Identification of and analysis of data
  • Opportunities for Improvement and Innovation

Conclusion

  • Opportunities for Improvement and Innovation

Evidence Inventory

Appendices


VIII. Verification of Compliance Strategy

Verification of Compliance will be nested in Standard II (C8) and in our Evidence Inventory.


IX. Self-Study Timetable

Dates Activity/Task
November 2018 MSCHE Self-Study Institute
January 2019 – April 2019 Skype meeting with Commission staff liaison
Identify Co-Chairs
Establish Steering Committee and Working Groups
Draft Self-Study Design
May 2019 Self-Study Design to Commission staff liaison
Visit from Commission staff liaison (May 15, 2019)
May 2019 – June 2019 Revise Self-Study Design
Submit Self-Study Design to MSCHE for approval
July 2019 – November 2019 Working Groups gather and analyze data and compile and refine Evidence Inventory
Working Groups draft reports for Steering Committee
December 2019 – April 2020 Team Chair selected
Team Visit dates selected
Approved Self-Study Design to Team Chair
First Draft of Self-Study Report consolidated and shared with Athabasca University for feedback
May 2020 – August 2020 Revise Self-Study Report
Share with Athabasca Community for review
September 2020 Complete draft of Self-Study Report to Team Chair
October 2020 Team Chair’s Preliminary Visit to Athabasca University
November 2020 – December 2020 Revise and finalize Self-Study Report based on Team Chair feedback
Completed version of Self-Study available for Athabasca University community
January 2021 Final Self-Study Report and Evidence Inventory uploaded to MSCHE portal
March 2021 Evaluation Team Visit to Athabasca University
Team Report to Athabasca University
Institutional Response
June 2021 Commission meets to determine action

X. Communication Plan

There are multiple channels for communication with AU stakeholders: faculty, tutors and academic experts, professional and support staff, management, Executive Team, Board members, students and alumni, including formal governance councils and committees.

The Co-Chairs will provide regular, formal updates to the following committees and councils throughout the Self-Study process; meetings of these councils and committees are currently scheduled through to June 2020:

  • Academic Leadership Team
  • Administrative Council
  • Academic Planning, Policy and Standards Committee
  • Board of Governors
  • Deans’ Council
  • Executive Team
  • General Faculties Council

In addition, the Co-Chairs will provide regular communiques to the Athabasca University community to advise of input sessions and of project milestones. The Co-Chairs will also schedule input sessions with the Athabasca University Students Union (AUSU) and the Athabasca University Graduate Students Association (AUGSA); with the assistance of University Relations, alumni input sessions will also be planned.

As previously noted, a webpage has been created on the Office of the Provost’s page and continuous updates will be posted there as the self-study progress.


XI. Evaluation Team Profile

We recommend that the external peer evaluation group be comprised of reviewers from public comprehensive universities, with representation from faculty, staff, and/or administration in the following areas:

  • Online and distance education expertise;
  • Knowledge and expertise in new learning technologies/ pedagogical disruption.
  • Experience in rapid growth and transformational change;
  • Familiarity with Canadian Post-Secondary Education, Adult Learning, and/or various regulatory environments;
  • Familiarity with theory and practice behind educational technology, such as those employed in the Western Council for Educational Technology;
  • Familiarity with the principles and practice of adult education and learning;
  • Familiarity with principles of open admissions and open learning;
  • Familiarity with Student Affairs/ Services and online learning;
  • Familiarity with Universal Design for Learning;
  • Familiarity with Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

Comparable peer institutions:

  • SUNY Empire State College
  • University of Maryland University College
  • Thomas Edison State University
  • Open University - UK

XII. Evidence Inventory

In addition to the Working Group assigned to each Standard, an additional Working Group will be formed to populate and manage the Evidence Inventory. As Working Groups identify the institutional evidence that demonstrates compliance with their assigned Standards, Working Group 8 will be responsible for compiling and maintaining the Evidence Inventory. All Working Groups and the Steering Committee will contribute to refining the Evidence Inventory throughout the Self-Study process.