Discovery credit takes root at Western

Effective Sept. 1, Western’s undergraduate students will have the option of pursuing a “discovery credit” as part of their degree module.

The pass/fail credit, advocated by student Senators, has been on the horizon for some time, said John Doerksen, Vice Provost (Academic Programs and Students). The motion passed at Senate last week.

“We want students to be encouraged to explore fields other than their own and to do that in an environment where there’s no risk or concern about having an effect on the cumulative average,” he noted.

“But the devil was in the details. We’ve been trying to work out how would this look in the end. A lot of thought has gone into the details, but the key thing is this relates to elective courses, not mandatory courses that are part of the student’s program.”

This new policy will allow students in modular degree structures – of which there are more than 2,000 unique combinations – to designate what would be an elective course as a discovery credit, Doerksen explained. Their potential discovery list cannot include any core, mandatory courses. At the end of term, the student will receive a pass/fail grade instead of a percentage grade on their transcript. Students can take a maximum 1.0 discovery credit courses towards their degree.

The idea of the discovery credit is to encourage academic exploration, he added. A student can pursue something they find interesting, even if it is not related to their primary academic pursuits. Because it is a pass/fail grade, it would not affect applications to professional programs or graduate school, or award eligibility.

Students who find the discovery credit has sparked new interest, and then want to change their program or module, have the option of petitioning and requesting the pass/fail grade be converted to a percentage grade, Doerksen said.

“Faculty members won’t know who is doing it for a grade or not. The Registrar’s Office will have the grade, and if that course is needed as a mandatory course later, the grade can be shown and converted after,” he noted.

“We recognize it’s an important change. A lot of other universities are doing this and I think as we go through a cycle of this, we will sort out the details. We might have to tweak a little here and there, but our sense is the core structure will work.”

Discovery credits can be used to fulfill breadth requirements, but not essay requirements. The policy advises students to carefully consider the impact of discovery credits.

Applications to Ivey’s HBA program will not consider a discovery credit. The policy does not extend to first-year students because they don’t declare a module until the second year, Doerksen added.

Students in professional programs such as Engineering, Nursing, Music, Law, Education, Business, Medicine and Dentistry are also excluded because their degree structure is not modular.

Discovery credits also don’t count as mandatory courses needed for an honours specialization, specialization, major, minor modules or certificates and diplomas.