School Action Days
Dan Bishop – Principal Lecturer – School of Sport and Exercise Science – College of Social Science – Staff Profile
I’ve long been a proponent of student voice and trying to find ways and mechanisms to get students involved in the development of teaching and learning. I’ve quickly realised that this is no easy task and often engaging students in this type of work can be very challenging. The main mechanisms we rely on are module evaluations and subject committees, which both have their strengths and weaknesses. The biggest challenge we face is ensuring that all students have appropriate opportunities to have a voice and all students, no matter what their opinion, should be afforded the opportunity to share this opinion.
In the academic year 17-18 the Students’ Union launched School Action Days, an idea that works on this very premise to try to get as many students from the School to engage and work with their fellow peers and staff to discuss their programmes and learning and teaching environments in their school.
The School of Sport and Exercise were selected to be part of the initial pilot and were happy to support this new initiative. Working with the Programme Leaders, School Representative and Student Representatives from the School we set about working out how we would structure the event, what we would discuss and also how we would attract students to attend. Through Subject Committees and informal meetings with students we identified a number of key areas to be discussed, which were: Curriculum design/electives; personal tutoring; developing a community through social activities; communication strategy between staff and students; and staff and student perspectives of student engagement in lectures/seminars.
One of our biggest challenges was working out how to structure the event with no clear indication of how many students would attend. It was therefore, decided that we would set-up the five areas identified to get students to provide their thoughts facilitated by Programme Leaders and Student Representatives. The event was promoted to students through the Students’ Unions communications, via School Blackboard announcements, promotion from Student Representatives and via the individual student timetable.
The event was scheduled for a Wednesday in January, on a non-BUCS fixtures week to facilitate attendance; we had nearly 200 students attend. We hadn’t expected to get such a large turnout from the student body. Whilst we classed this as a huge success the biggest challenge was engaging all students there and as a result a number of students registered, provided some input and then left which was disappointing. However, we had a core number of students who made some valuable contributions. The event was split into two parts, the first was to gather information with students rotating around all five areas and the second was to develop actions or solutions to the areas discussed. This arrangement and set-up worked well but in hindsight we would have benefited from having more tables to be able to double up the workspace for each of the areas and make it easier for students to provide their feedback. The result was that we produced some very meaningful actions that were born out of the discussions with students. The key for the School and those involved was that we managed to engage and work with students outside of the representation system. The event engaged with students on a personal level, something that is not often achieved through the formal teaching and governance mechanisms. Working with students in this manner provided opportunities to move beyond a consultative relationship to one were students were involved in the outcomes and solutions.
Time and space, inside of a busy curriculum, discuss and provide feedback on their learning is something that is difficult to achieve. School Action Days therefore, offer an opportunity to get more students involved in the development of learning and teaching. In addition, it helps contribute towards building a more cohesive School community where programmes and different year groups can learn and share information with one another in an informal manner.