13th of November, 2017. 14:00. Queens Building. Room 1.12.
Walking into the big lecture hall where the very first session of the newly installed student Feedback Forums was taking place I immediately noticed a variety of surprising things:
One, a pleasant surprise, Demon FM was playing in the background while they were waiting for the start, which in my opinion, was a nice little nod to our student media group from the DSU.
Two, the whole atmosphere was incredibly friendly and welcoming. This was only accentuated by Deputy President of Education, Mollie Footitt personally meeting each and every newcomer with a smile and a couple of kind words.
And three, in spite of the fact that I was only three minutes early there were significantly fewer people than I expected to see there. Which made me wonder, why? Was it because people don’t care? Or perhaps were they thinking that they would be too afraid to speak up anyway? Well, to the shy ones out there, next time do come along because they had a wonderful system on the projector where you could text in your answer to the question, giving you the opportunity to stay completely anonymous with your opinion.
However, as always, there was a silver lining to the small number of people attending. The forum became very personal, might I say cosy, with everyone comfortable to speak up while discussing topics. It really did feel like a safe space, just like Mollie originally imagined. Still, the more people, the more voices heard…
Even though I noticed there were huge differences in experiences between faculties in certain aspects, it seemed like there were recurring issues that came up one way or another for most of us.
Teamwork proved to be a problem for many people. For one, it is rather hard to work with a group of people you barely know, especially if one feels like there are too many people or if there are language barriers for international students. There is also the question of contribution to the task as for a group assignment, one usually gets a group mark but no individual feedback. So that means if one person in your group has the wrong attitude it will affect your grade as well. Nobody likes that… But there were some rather handy suggestions brought up at the forum, that might be worth considering. For example, if you have separate feedback sheets within the group and you all give each other feedback, which then the lecturer will see, it is easy to spot if somebody hasn’t been pulling their weight. Another idea was having a group mark and an individual mark as well and blending those, that way the tutor has the chance to appreciate those who are contributing more. And also, if somebody is making the work impossible, just email the lecturer and let them know of the problem so that it can get sorted.
The next issue that came up was lack of contact hours and accessibility of lecturers and personal tutors. Many students, especially for more content heavy courses, felt like information is just being thrown at them really fast and when they try to contact their lecturer with questions they get answers really late, if at all. In case people don’t know, lecturers are supposed to answer emails at the very latest in 5 days’ time.
Some of the people present were also still waiting for their first one-on-one meeting with their personal tutors, which was supposed to happen in Week 5 for everyone. While others felt like time with their tutor either was not enough or not well structured.
The third subject was the question of student participation and the issue of the DSU getting through to us, students.
And here I am, coming to a full circle because the reason why attendance on the Feedback Forum was low could have also been because people simply did not know of the event. Though most people check their university email daily, we get so many messages, some of them just get lost in the midst. So sadly it was easy to miss the invite to the Feedback Forum.
One of the solutions to this problem was DSU switching communication platforms, so in future, they might try to advertise an event like this more on social media and maybe with posters around campus.
So keep an eye out for them and do come and take part because it is important that our opinion is voiced and our feedback gets to lecturers and university staff so changes can be made to improve our education.
To prove my point, I reached out to Mollie a day after the forum, to ask her how she felt about the first Feedback Forum and how effective she thought it was. She told me she was very happy with it, “the quality of conversation was so rich” and “everyone was engaged”, which she really loved. In a way it was “like a pilot”, she said, but she felt it had been beneficial already. She had already had meetings about the feedback they got, so it “already fed through” or at least started a process.
If you missed the Forum but have an issue, you can go to the DSU website and ‘Report a problem’ or reach out to the Voice Team either by email or drop by the Student Union office in Campus Centre.
Also the next similar event, an Educations Council. will take place on the 5th of December where you can discuss matters about your course and academic interests and raise awareness of any problems that you might have noticed so the DP Education with the help of the freshly trained course reps can attempt to solve them to make our experience at university even better.