RAISE conference 2018

It’s great to finally begin work as the Student Voice Pilot Project Officer and thank you to all who have welcomed me in this new role! I’ll be posting regular blogs here exploring good practice in student engagement and student voice, sharing examples from Australia and internationally, as well as keeping you all posted with updates on the Pilot as the year progresses.

During my recent trip to the UK to kick-start my work with the Student Voice Pilot, I was lucky to attend the RAISE Annual Conference. For those of you who have yet to encounter RAISE, it stands for Researching, Advancing and Inspiring Student Engagement and is a network of academics, practitioners, advisors and student reps working in researching and promoting student engagement. Definitely my kind of people!

The 2018 conference was held at Sheffield Hallam University over three days and was jam packed with thought-provoking presentations, workshops and keynote speakers, from the UK and beyond.

There are too many to discuss in this short space, however, I will touch on a few highlights here:

It was a great pleasure to meet and spend time with Dr Cathy Bovill, whom many of you will already be familiar with, as a leading scholar on all things student engagement and partnership. Cathy presented on an initiative she began at the University of Edinburgh bringing staff and students together in conversation over coffee and cake. The aim of the initiative being to break down barriers between staff and students and assist students in developing a stronger sense of belonging and engagement with their School. These ‘coffee and cake conversations’ were quite simple in structure – 1 staff member and 3 students were grouped together and given a 25 pound voucher to spend at a café to enjoy some coffee and cake over a conversation. A number of questions were provided to each group to assist with getting the conversation flowing, but there was no limit to what could be discussed. I thought this was a simple, yet quietly powerful way, to bring students and staff together around shared interests and experiences in the classroom and as members of the University community. Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive with a number of participants showing interest in embedding a coffee and cake scheme within their own School within the University.

Perhaps this sounds like something you might like to try at your own institution? For more information about the Coffee and Cake Conversation initiative check out Cathy’s blog.

I know a lot of people, including myself, often wonder if our student representatives are broadly representative of the diversity of students who attend our institutions. Whilst we might suspect that our reps are not as diverse as we might wish (or need them to be as representatives), we often don’t have enough evidence at hand to do anything about it. It was great then, to attend a presentation from Lindsay Isaacs from sparqs and Megan Brown from the University of Edinburgh to hear about their participation in a 12 month pilot around ‘Monitoring the Diversity of Course Reps’. The pilot was coordinated by sparqs who worked with four Scottish institutions (including the University of Edinburgh) to investigate who their course reps are and how they compare with the wider student population. As Lindsay and Megan wisely pointed out ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’.

During the pilot, course rep data at each institution was gathered through a short questionnaire for reps designed by the working group, and in the case of the University of Edinburgh, handed out to reps during class rep training (resulting in an impressive response rate of 77%). The rep data was then compared with data from the University to see how diverse the rep population was in comparison with the general student population. Interestingly, at the U of E, course reps were found to more likely be a Widening Participation student than not (over 2 yrs. data collected so far). I wonder if institutions in Australia would have the same results? The discussion during the presentation also touched on how some students may not want to be a part of a rep system, but that we should always be asking if there is another way to engage these students in other opportunities to have their say and get involved. The sparqs website has more information on this worthwhile pilot here.

I have more to share but will end the blog here today and post more next week! Please get in touch in the comments below (or on the facebook page) and share your thoughts and ideas. I’d love to become an interactive space to share and learn together.

Kate Walsh – Student Voice Pilot Project Officer

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