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Education Officer

Blog: Sian Dickie, Education Officer

End of Term Report - 24/11/2020

End of Term Report

Hi everyone! As it is getting towards the end of term, I thought I would update you on some of the big things that have happened so far this semester, and what I hope to achieve next semester.

What have I done this term?

Campaigns and events. 

Lets start with the fun stuff! This semester I’ve had the privilege of working with Dorothy, Nadia and Charlotte on our wonderful Decolonising NCL campaign! The absolute triumph of our first few events and the Decolonising NCL webpage, is a solid start to hopefully, a revolutionary campaign here at NUSU. For the campaign, I organised the Decolonise NCL panel, which had over 70 people in attendance. The response was so positive from the University, that they have now put Decolonising NCL at the top of their agenda! I also presented at the staff briefing, which aimed to inform staff on the importance of decolonising and where to start. From a logistical perspective, I have worked with the Taught Programme Sub Committee (TPSC) to produce a paper, implementing the decolonising agenda into their Annual Monitoring Reviews of University programmes. I hope that this will lead to a complete reconsideration of pedagogy and practices. Tomorrow, there will be our last Decolonising NCL event before the end of the semester, combining two NUSU campaigns, Decolonising NCL x Supporting our Students, called "Do We Need to Decolonise Study Skills?”, you can find out more about this event here

My own campaign Supporting Our Students (SOS) has kicked off this semester! While the campaign has focused on gathering feedback this semester, myself and the rest of the Sabbs will be using this to inform our approach towards the end of the semester and into next year. I know that there has been large appetite for a Safety Net Policy, and off the back of your feedback, we will be releasing some information on how we are trying to support you in this, very soon (more information below). What I have been really grateful for, is all the time and effort that reps have put in, to put together a profile of themselves, so that there is more of a connection between the rep system and the student body. 

I have been also working alongside the TEAs (Teaching Excellence Awards) team to plan for the TEA awards for the end of the year. While I’m hoping that this will be in person, (I have big plans for a cocktail evening) this is your chance to show appreciation for the teaching staff that have supported you this semester. I have took particular joy in creating a new, one-off award the Pandemic SolidariTEA which aims to “recognise any member of staff whose response to the ongoing pandemic has exceeded your expectations. This might include: taking a creative approach to online teaching; ensuring that virtual learning is accessible; or proactively seeking your feedback on your learning experience.”

Main meetings from this term.

Senate - In Senate, which is one of the highest educational based meetings I sit on, there has been plenty of discussion around how the first term has gone for students. Particularly, I have responded on the issues to do with online learning, Newcastle’s 2020 University ranking and industrial action. At the most recent Senate, I explained my frustrations around the University focusing too much on the methodologies which decide our ranking, and called for more actionable points to demonstrate that the University is listening to your concerns. This point was reiterated by a large amount of the senators, so I hope that things will start to progress further, on the educational concerns that matter to you.

UEC - University Education Committee has been interesting to say the least! In this meeting, myself and your Postgraduate Officer, Charlotte have fought the University on everything from; timetabling, personal tutoring, study space, graduate outcomes and the dreaded NSS (National Student Survey). We have been regularly feeding back and fighting for your concerns. One of the biggest successes from UEC this term, has been the re-adjusting to the 2020/2021 academic year timetable, which was originally going to be squeezed into 9 weeks, now spread out to 10. This was off the back of feedback that we had received from students, so it was a pretty big win. 

Head of School Meetings - Charlotte and I have also met with all of the school heads to discuss some of the issues which have been affecting you. Mostly, these talks have been around facility access, communications and Decolonise NCL. These meetings were so useful to understand how different schools work and what we can be doing to make your educational experience better. I have to say, it has been amazing to hear of some of the EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) work that some of the schools have been taking part in. It has certainly gave us some inspiration for our Decolonise NCL campaign. 

Statements 

I know that this term, it may have felt like communication has been slow between the Union and students. However, it has been very important to us to communicate correct and detailed information. I have particularly, spent a lot of time researching into tuition fees, something which I know is an important topic to all of you. My tuition fee statement, was really important to me as Education Officer, as I really wanted to inform you on all the options and financial facts that are crucial to making your democratic decision on the Tuition Fee vote. The vote, which is a part of my S.O.S campaign will be used to decide how we move forward with this issue and I hope to feed back to students early in second semester with the results. 

‘Near Miss Policy’ - Myself and the Postgraduate Officer have also been working on a new policy of demands to bring to the University. We want you to know that we are acting on your call for a Safety Net policy. While this cannot be the same as last semester (for reasons that will be explained in our future statement), we are aiming to request further support via what we’ve dubbed as the ‘Near Miss Policy’. This policy will feature demands about automatic remarks, a sliding scale for assignments and uncapped resits. There will be more information to follow on this, so please understand that we are working on it! 

Other committees.

Closing the Awarding Gap - Amongst some of the above committees, I have now also joined the Closing the Awarding Gap group, alongside your Welfare and Equality Officer, Nadia. This group hopes to address some of the issues around classification biases, particularly around the BAME and LGBT+ attainment gap. 

Education Executive - It has been amazing to ‘meet' all of the School Reps on ‘Ed Exec’. This meeting has been so useful to hear of all the concerns happening in your schools. We have discussed everything from tuition fees, timetabling to assessment and feedback. On the back of some of these discussions, myself and Charlotte have been raising issues at UEC, we hope that some of this feedback will fundamentally change how semester 2 runs. 

Library - I have been working with the head(s) of the libraries to make sure the re-opening of the study spaces have been safe for you. Having discussed everything from how the booking system works, to making sure there is appropriate signage to the water facilities. I hope the study space available to you has been safe and useful. 

Canvas - I have also been on the Canvas implementation team, monitoring how the introduction of the new virtual learning environment has been viewed by the student body. While I have not always had positive reactions to feed back to the Canvas team, be reassured that they have taken on lots of your feedback with a view to fixing anything from Canvas communications to accessibility features. 

PEC - I also now sit on the PEC working group, which discusses how to improve the PEC system for you. I am so pleased to finally be on this group as PEC reform was a huge part of my original manifesto. Our first meeting, I was able to discuss what adaptations I would like to make to the system with a view to implementing some of those changes in second semester should the University accept them. One of the first things I hope to change is the fact that they do not allow zero-hour contracts / variable shift work as a valid circumstance. After the Student Council motion which I wrote on this, passed in October, this will be the main focus for me within this meeting in the future.

What has been your biggest achievement?

I was really pleased that my council motion passed, the motion entitled "Mandate NUSU Education Officer to lobby the University to expand the scope of PEC forms to include zero-hour contracts as grounds for an extenuating circumstance.” Passed with 80%. This was really important to me as I know so many students struggle with this throughout University. I hope that once this change is implemented, it will make the lives of those on these contracts easier and more manageable alongside studying. 

I was also so proud with how the Decolonising NCL panel turned out. This took me months of organising and while logistically it was a lot, I am so happy so many people turned up. It was a fab start to the work we are beginning at NUSU and the feedback from staff and students alike was such a positive beginning to Decolonising NCL.  

What could you have improved on?

Generally, I should stop saying ‘yes!’  to everything. I know that sounds slightly odd, but I am keen to direct my focus better in second semester, as this term it did feel like I was getting pulled all sorts of directions sometimes. 

What do you plan to do next term?

My main aim next term will be acting on the feedback from the S.O.S campaign and keeping that going in the new year, with informative additions on industrial action and PEC forms. I will be launching a new campaign in time for March Enrichment Week entitled Shaping Futures. This will be ran alongside, Hannah, NUSU’s very own Activities Officer. The campaign will focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and will encompass NUSU’s previous climate based campaign F.U.C.C (Future Under Climate Crisis). Further, myself and Charlotte, Postgraduate Officer, will be presenting a paper based on Assessment and Feedback. After speaking about this to many students this semester, we hope that this paper will significantly improve the state of Assessment and Feedback across the University. 

To finish, I’d just like to say a huge congratulations to the class of 2020 postgraduate  students who have finished their degrees and will be graduating in December. It is a massive achievement to finish your degree during a pandemic and I hope you are all looking forward to the Day of Celebration hosted by the University. 

As always, you can get in touch with me via my email, education.union@newcastle.ac.uk 

Sian x

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