As we head into the holiday break, academic pressures are front of mind for many of our students. But when exams are over, and students reconnect with family and friends, we will start to field questions about our university lives: “What are you doing at school?” Often, our replies have very little to do with mitosis or John Locke, and everything to do with what we do with our out-of-classroom activities. When students talk about “school”, we talk about the clubs we’ve joined, the intramural tournament we almost won, the guest speaker who came and shook our hand after the speech. That is to say, the university experience outside of earning credits (in what we at OUSA call “the Broader Learning Environment”) is not auxiliary or separate from our conception of “school”, but rather a foundational component. With this in mind, building up the Broader Learning Environment (or BLE) for students is an important part of our advocacy: we want experiential learning for students that is accessible, affordable, accountable, and high-quality. This requires a holistic view of developing extra-curricular/experiential opportunities as a provincial mandate, rather than overseeing a collection of separate, satellite programs.

Our Promoting Success in the Broader Learning Environment policy is an “old” OUSA policy by a new name. This policy was originally rolled up with students’ recommendations for improved teaching and learning in the Student Success and the Future of Quality Education policy paper.

As the economy changes and post-secondary outcomes become more unpredictable, we are recognizing the increasing value that extracurricular involvement adds to the undergraduate experience. Students learn the most about themselves through this involvement– they meet like-minded peers, they explore and develop their identities, and learn what drives them to succeed.

It’s no longer enough to let these experiences develop haphazardly. While student associations strive to maintain impactful club networks and institutions invite employers and community-groups on campus, not all experiences in the broader learning environment have the institutional oversight, investment or consistency needed for students’ success. More attention needs to be paid to facilitating students’ development-and reflection on this development-outside of the classroom, rather than being content to let growth and learning happen as a happy accident.

Students’ involvement should be recognized and given convenient ways to keep track of their extracurricular experiences. Extracurricular involvement offers great professional and personal development opportunities to students, but this development is optimized (and easiest to obtain) when students engage throughout their educational careers. The skills students learn and strengthen outside of the classroom have the potential to smooth their transitions into the workforce or inform their graduate work. Institutions should actively encourage all students to take advantage of these opportunities, and provide resources for students to innovate and create opportunities of their own.

This year’s authors also explore mechanisms that help facilitate academic success with programming outside the classroom. Special attention was paid to discussing the ways that institutions could effectively support students who are struggling. At G.A, students debated the efficacy of early warning systems- ways that institutions could proactively engage students who seemed at risk of dropping courses or failing. Some expressed concerns that these systems are too invasive, others described them as an annoyance- however, the importance of proactively advising at-risk students could not be denied. The delegation recognized the need to provide assistance to students who enter probationary status in order to give them the opportunity to overcome the challenges keeping them from reaching their full academic potential.

This year’s policy offers solutions for the lack of professional development opportunities and insufficient support services for undergraduate students. It also delves into the forgotten state of many student spaces: support facilities, student life spaces, and library facilities are too often neglected when attempting to keep pace with increasing infrastructural demand.

There is much more to higher education than simply attending class–we’re excited to add policy to our library that allows us to discuss the learning environment in all its forms, as we have come to understand its fuller meaning. 

The BLE paper brief can be found here. The policy paper in full can be found here.