The AUA Short-Life Working Group: an opportunity for everybody | AUA Blog

Jenny Wragge, MAUA 
Executive Advisor to the Chief Operating Officer | Manchester Metropolitan University

Have you ever thought you might like to contribute more to the AUA, but were put off from applying because of apprehensions about the time commitment required? Or maybe you are in a role that makes it difficult to travel to meetings off-campus?

If that sounds familiar, then an AUA Short-Life Working Group (SLWG) is a great option. As someone with a limited amount of time to offer, I was attracted to the SLWG on Values for three main reasons:

  I felt I had something to contribute (important!)
  It was a defined commitment, with a beginning and an end. There would be a definite output. I could make a constructive and useful contribution, and then step away again.
  There was no need to travel to meetings because we were going to meet ‘virtually’ – all the time I offered to the working group would be dedicated to the issue at hand.

This last aspect is the one that I want to explore, because although not having to travel to meetings removes one barrier, the suggestion of taking part in a google hangout* might immediately raise another; not everyone is accustomed to regular ‘facetime’ or ‘skype’-style activity.

Although I have a smartphone, like my apps, and occasionally post on facebook and twitter, I’m not a digital native, and no-one would describe me as an early adopter. The idea of a ‘google hangout’ was a bit daunting, and, I admit, I had a certain amount of scepticism that it would be a viable substitution for face-to-face meetings.

But I’m here to tell you that it worked. You have to be prepared to accept that the sound will sometimes not be of the highest quality, and occasionally the pictures break up, but these were minor inconveniences, not show-stoppers. You don’t need any fancy virtual conferencing technology: all I did was take my laptop (it has a camera, but that’s standard issue these days) to a quiet space (I work open plan), made sure I was connected to the internet, and clicked the link that the AUA team provided. You might need to install an app or add-on first, but that’s the only preparation needed.

So what was the meeting like, and how did it compare with a ‘real’ meeting? As each person arrives and joins the meeting their picture appears on the screen, with the person speaking at any given moment occupying full screen. We all waved ‘hello’ to each other, and exchanged the usual pleasantries.

We also got to size-up each other’s’ work spaces – a whole new opportunity for the type of nosiness usually indulged by TV shows such as ‘Location, Location, Location’ (Or was that was just me?).

There are some adjustments you find you need to make as a result of not all being in the same room. You need to avoid all talking at once, and sometimes there are longer pauses than usual between people speaking as you wait to make sure they are finished; but wouldn’t it be nice if that were the case more often in more traditional meetings? Our Chair was very good at ensuring they turned to each person to make sure they’d said all they wanted to. Everybody was able to make their points, and it was still possible to gauge reaction through body language. It felt a little artificial at first, but as we got used to the format, we were able to establish a rapport, hold constructive discussion, and make good progress.

The SLWG ran from April to October, and we ‘met’ online only four or five times. I’m convinced that everything would have taken a lot longer, and been a much less efficient use of everyone’s time, without the hangouts.

By using this approach, the AUA is enabling participation from a wider range of colleagues, removing barriers faced by those not normally able to travel to off-campus meetings, and exemplifying its values.

So, next time you see a call for participation in an AUA Short-Life Working Group, why not give it a go? It’s a great developmental opportunity: you’ll learn new skills, build your network and learn from colleagues in other universities, and make a difference to the AUA and our sector.

* other live meeting applications are available

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