Student Experience and Engagement vidcon

Thank you to all the AUA members who attended our short video conference for the Student Experience and Engagement network on 30th July 2020. It was our first online event for the network, as we wanted to bring together colleagues to discuss what we’re all planning for the upcoming academic year.

The event was focused around three topics:

  • Online student representation systems
  • Platforms to enhance the student voice
  • Building a sense of community online

Participants were then able to split into breakout rooms on these topics to share what they were planning and ask questions to each other. We hope that all attendees found the discussions useful. As a network, we plan to organise another round-table event later this year, once term has started.

Below is a summary of notes from the event.

Online student representation systems

Maintaining representation systems towards the end of the last academic year

  • Some institutions ran some sort of exceptional summertime meeting with reps to gather feedback on students’ experiences of online learning
  • Some universities had planned student / staff representation meetings already planned for May, June, etc. which still went ahead. They reported how useful it was to have reps to feedback on online teaching as it came into place so quickly
  • Some academics were inviting their reps to additional meetings because they wanted more feedback
  • Some reps have wanted to contribute more (later into the year than would be usual)
  • One SU held an online meeting at the end of last year for student reps to provide feedback. Attendance was good, but engagement / in meeting discussion was lower. Another uni reported better attendance at these online meetings.

Differences between online meetings / in-person meetings

  • Online methods can be faster than physical – we won’t necessarily go back to physical meetings (these used to be especially a challenge for institutions with timetabling pressures)
  • Some online meetings can be challenging if you don’t know who is engaging (videos off, etc.) – polls and other interactive activities can help with that
  • Online meetings / representation can make it easier for student reps to collate evidence / student opinions and then evidence it to staff, compared to when they would just have had in person chats with their peers
  • One institution mentioned how it used to be harder for final year reps to perform their role, as they would often be off campus (either due to having lower contact hours or due to placements). An online system / set of meetings will now make it easier for them to engage
  • Chair training is very important – how to chair an online meeting
  • Not everyone will be able to attend live online meetings (e.g. international students in different time zones / those with poor internet connections / those with other commitments e.g. part-time jobs). One way to remedy this is to ensure some level asynchronous way to gather feedback from student reps. One SU talked about their plans to create a Teams space for student reps in each school – no staff members involved (except maybe Sabbatical Officers)
  • We had an outstanding question around whether online student / staff meetings should be recorded? Or whether minutes should still be taken? Or both?

Recruiting representatives

  • Some places are going to ask existing reps to stay on. For recruiting new reps, one uni is creating an SU intro video that can be played in induction talks and one of the calls to action will be asking for new reps
  • Engagement is important from Deputy Deans / other academic staff to ensure that student reps are being recruited. Buy-in from both institutions and SUs is crucial
  • One SU attendee mentioned how they have a system of senior student reps. These senior reps attend senior university meetings and support other course reps, often chairing student / staff rep meetings. They are aiming to increase the numbers of these senior reps (to roughly 1 senior rep for 10 other reps)
  • A couple of institutions ran surveys of their reps towards the end of the last academic year; asking whether they would want to stay on for the next year. For those who were due to graduate, one institution asked for tips that could be given to new / returning reps. These surveys were also an opportunity to gather feedback on how reps had found their role over the last year.

Training – key things to consider:

  • Online meeting etiquette
  • How to chair meetings (online)
  • Training student reps to take minutes

Platforms to enhance the student voice

  • A number of institutions trialled software options in 2019/20, and so were progressing with full implementation of these
  • There was a huge amount of conversation in the first group focused on MS Teams and Zoom, and there wasn’t really much thought about this not being a student voice gathering platform but rather just a video conferencing solution
  • One SU is bringing in SIMON, a student voice solution from Bournemouth University
  • Programme Voice Groups were the first thing to move online through platforms like Teams, and engagement in some groups has increased as a result
  • Noted that standard terms for student representation roles (Student Voice Leads) might benefit from being extended into the next academic year
  • Also some discussion on online surveys, but generally there aren’t swathes of new surveys being planned to recognise the blended learning approach
  • Some institutions had not altered the way their VLE was used as a result of online learning, instead simply swapping out the physical time with time spent on Teams
  • One institution have piloted Unitu in some elements of business, but outcomes unknown as yet
  • Some institutions noted that students being on vidcon software was easier to grasp than the staff. So while info, advice and guidance might be done for students, it would be better placed for staff
  • One institution also mentioned a specific platform (GoToMeeting) that allows for 1-2-1 bookings between staff and students, this was being used for the more pastoral elements of student interaction with staff.

Key takeaways:

  • Most institutions are just trying to replace the physical teaching, meetings, and other engagements with students with a video conferencing solution.
  • The majority were not investigating alternative ways of actually collecting student voice other than the traditional Student Staff Liaison Committee and survey approach.
  • There were notes that alluded to institutions adopting different practices depending on department or faculty, but this is likely because of the rushed nature of implementation.

Building a sense of community online

  • Wider sense of community at Institutional and Dept level has dwindled. Much more active at Course/Prog level
  • Challenge For Student Engagement practitioners difficult to keep track of what is being done and so hard to share good practice Institutional wide and to keep track of comms to students
  • Challenge for students is that their are so many ways to communicate that it can be overwhelming
  • General sense from students is that there is an online overload of activities at the moment
  • Advice from students in the room is to allow for discrete community spaces that do not include staff
  • Overall seems that Quality Monitoring is being paired back this year – possible implications for longer term student engagement in Quality (although some thought this was a good thing)
  • Positive for one institution was that PhD students are more active in the community than usual!
  • General recommendation is that activities are better received rather than just talking to a screen e.g. cook along / exercise classes / how to videos people can do together
  • Challenges around including international communities with different timeframes.

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