Our Impact: School Reps leading with Virtual Activities

Written by: Smruthi Venkat

This academic year has been extremely difficult for all of us, especially for students who have begun their education in the Year 2020. I am an international student myself and this is my first time abroad, alone in a very new environment where I knew no one. During this time, I decided to take on some responsibility as the School Rep of The School of Education, communication and language sciences (ECLS) and I wanted to try and smoothen out this process for myself and the students of my school. Our school has UG, PGT, PGR and PhD courses and it was important to understand that the requirements/expectations from these cohorts would be very different, although the sense of having a ‘community that connects you to the wider university, remains the same.   

I realized that one key way I could work was to try and understand what was happening in each of the courses, by receiving updates from the course reps. I set up a teams channel for the chairs and secretaries of the PGT Courses– as the school forum of PGT ECLS. Interactions on this teams channel has been instrumental in amplifying student voice, escalating and resolving important issues. These meetings brought to few pressing issues that needed to be addressed at the level of the school, which were later discussed with the head of school or at various other meetings depending on the issue. However, as I attended other pre-meets with other school reps and faculty education committee meetings, I realized that a lot of feedback can be lost when we information flows from a student to the course rep, then reported to the Student staff committee and then eventually reach the school forum to be heard and addressed by the School Rep. 

We mediate who we are through our conversations with people in this world. COVID 19 has placed so many barriers for interactions that have not been removed and cannot be removed for quite some while now. In these situations, we struggle with establishing and portraying our identity and our personality. Hence, I decided that it would be useful to set up an online channel that would serve as an open access portal for feedback such that it directly reaches the school rep, obtain suggestions from students and also instil a sense of community at the school level. It also could serve as a channel to receive updates regarding the activities of the university that would be relevant to ECLS. The administrative team of the school was able to set up the channel quickly for our use and now, any student who wishes to contact the school rep can directly do so, post on the channel regarding the queries that they may have and conduct a school wide-open discussion on topics of interest on the dedicated teams' channel.   

Posts on the channel are categorized into University updates, funding and work opportunities, socials and volunteering opportunities. I have been conducting regular drop ins on the school rep channel for students to give their feedback on significant faculty-wide issues like student engagement or assignment feedback issues or just to chat over a cup of hot chocolate. While a few students have dropped in to have discussions regarding their concerns, others have directly emailed me regarding their issues/queries which I try and sort out as soon as I can. In order to improve community learning amongst students, along with the DEALT of the school, I have conducted student-led synchronous activities like Kahoot Quizzes and game of Pictionary for common modules between cohorts of my school. There was good PGT participation on these activities and students spent time socializing and learning together as a community.