I should be I should be writing about Appadurai’s theory of globalisation, but I wanted to write about the student staff forum meeting I attended today more…

Reflections on staff student forum aka The Alternative Minutes

The program monitoring program at goldsmiths has recently changed to a new model. This arrangement uses online tools to compliment the traditional Course Rep role to set an agenda for a number of meetings over the course of the college year between the academic staff and the students. As a Program Monitoring Rep I was at the first of the meetings today.

There was an agenda. These are my reflections on that meeting. Disclaimer. I would probably say all of the following again. But that doesn’t make it anything more than my opinion. The official minutes may more accurately reflect actual events. Mileage may vary. Terms and Conditions Apply. Offers not available to those outside the EU.

Reflections on staff student forum aka The Alternative Minutes

How many people does it take to find the chairs for the Stephen Laurence Committee rooms? Several. Myself included. They were in the cupboard all along. SFG.

Do I perceive a student/staff disconnection? No, not personally not from anything more than the usual anecdotal murmur, reflecting nothing more than the normal difference in our interpersonal experiences.

From the questions raised at the meeting I can see two distinct aspects, the pastoral and the academic. Just what are personal/academic tutors for? What are the meetings with them for? And should there be a more formal structure for meetings between students and personal/academic tutors? Perhaps the distinction between personal and academic tutors has been eroded with increasing student numbers and with the loss of tutor discretion. Increasing student numbers place a pressure on resources, a point to which I will return. The loss of tutor discretion coupled with the provision of welfare and pastoral services by other parts of the college have also contributed to the decline of the personal tutor.

The relationship created by the personal tutor allocation could do with some more introduction. Perhaps complimented with a page in the handbook or as a link from the VLE. But I would not support a mandatory meeting model. Why make meetings mandatory? Students do not make the time to complete even the most fundamental of tasks, e.g. the signing of examination forms, displaying apparent disregard for this crucial requirement. And when the opportunity is made available, a clear majority of students (two thirds in our unscientific poll) do not take it up. With the present system those that do go benefit. Hopefully they will tell their peers about the experience – it was OK, they were a real person, etc…

Is the personal tutor to be understood in the sense of a personal trainer, coaching a student onward? I’m sure that a number of relationships do have this dynamic. But perhaps the Personal Tutor – I am assured that there ever was such a thing – is now more of a personal Academic Tutor. Those students that take the opportunities to meet with staff benefit from doing so. Those who make the most of the opportunities, more so. And drawing from personal experience of pastoral support from the Department, I have found support and compassion and structure and process. All helpful, at the right time and the right place.

  1. Lecture Protocols

4.1 Policy for late attendees

Have compassion. Lateness happens. People do have a tough time some of the time.

Yet…

Don’t do it. It really pisses off students and staff alike. More so when it is persistant.

Students and staff should feel that they can speak out – hopefully peer pressure will sort out anything after the compassion has run out.

4.2 Q+As within lectures

This is delicate. It is up to the preference and the direction of a tutor to accept points and questions from the floor. A lot of tutors actively invite contributions during lectures, not just as a rhetorical device! But there can be occasions where a point from the floor becomes an interruption to the flow of the lecture. Something to take to a seminar perhaps…

Lectures bring us nicely to budgetary matters, sorry, seminars.

  1. Seminar Arrangements

Picking up the theme of more contact time that is behind the thrust for meetings with tutors….. Can we have more seminars please? No, there isn’t the money. Can PhD/Master students teach us? No, there isn’t the money. This years visiting tutor budget is gone. Its the first week of December. So folks, just remember how the money does _not_ go round next time someone invites you to protest and petition against cuts in higher education.

  1. Virtual Learning Environment

Overall we think that the VLE is a good thing. It is surprising that a number of students are still not signed up! What can we do to reach those people? I don’t know… I’m not even sure why these people are disconnected (and we didn’t go into it). The stark discrepancy between courses with regard to use of VLE, with a number of courses not fulfilling the minimum presence requirements of the module outlines, module deadlines and bibliographies, will be addressed by the Department. It shouldn’t take too long, given the electronic nature of all the materials concerned….

  1. Bibliographies & Library Resources

The VLE and the library databases can be made to talk to each other! The process of maintaining an often sizable reading list for a course could be supported by electronic tools… I’m not proposing too radical here… course reading and extended bibliographies are already typed by academic staff. An interface to the library database and some electronic tools may make the creation and management of bibliographies less time consuming for academic staff and at the same time create new ways of receiving and manipulating that information for students and staff alike.

Do I think that the Staff Student Forum is a box ticking exercise? No. This structure creates the space for communication between us. Participation from the Richard our Head of Department demonstrates how committed the department is to the process. But to some degree, all these structures are a box ticking exercise… the proof of the pudding is in the washing up. I hope that we’ll see action on the points that realistically achievable by the next meeting (the VLE) and that by next term the experience of returning students will be improved, with accurate information being made available online by the end of term.

Richard isn’t going to find that £100k slipped off the edge of his desk and can now fund more seminars and a flashing logo for the Politics Department VLE virtual office, so I think that we need to refocus our dissatisfaction with the constraints of budgets at those that can actually make a difference. That the department have responded to requests for more contact time by creating weekly seminars for first years is a Good Thing (TM). But at the collapse of courses into each other, reducing the breadth of choice and the depth of material covered. Is that the trade-off we want the department to make?

Anyway, like I said… I should be writing about Appadurai’s theory of globalisation…