Student voice initiatives underway in institutions – Topic reps at Flinders

This is the first in a series which will highlight initiatives developed in institutions which are part of the Student Voice Pilot Project.  Many thanks to Kate Walsh for this blog.

Topic Reps at Flinders University

In Semester 2, 2017, Flinders University piloted topic level representation in 14 Biological Science topics within the College of Science and Engineering (one of six Colleges within the University). The pilot was a collaboration between the Flinders University Student Association (FUSA) and the College and is modelled on the Class Representative system at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. Class reps are common in New Zealand and in the UK, although rare in Australia (at least across a University as a whole). I recently attended a presentation by Conrad Hogg, Education Council President from the University of Western Australia Student Guild, who spoke about their own successful Class Rep pilot in approximately 20 Units (topics in Flinders language) during Semester 1, 2018. It was fantastic to hear that another University was pursuing a class rep model, led by the Student Guild.

Following a positive evaluation, FUSA will be working with the College of Science and Engineering to expand the Topic Rep model across the whole College (approximately 107 reps across 77 topics), and to run a smaller pilot within the College of Business, Government and Law during semester 2, 2018.

Topic Rep model

As current students, Topic Representatives are ideally placed to provide insight into the student experience of learning and teaching, both what is working well and where improvements can be made. By working in collaboration with academic staff, topic reps are not only able to represent the views of their fellow classmates, but also to work in partnership with staff to enhance learning and teaching for all involved. The opportunity to be involved in continuous, low level dialogue with Topic Coordinators as the topic is rolling out means that the student perspective can be taken into consideration immediately, allowing for small adjustments to be made in real time.

Topic Representatives from the 2017 pilot also reported feeling more engaged with their topic as a result of their role:

“I enjoyed the topic a lot more by being actively involved in it as representing students for issues they had. It has made me more aware of our ability to change things and enjoy the learning experience more, rather than accept and struggle through leaving a less pleasant and rewarding experience. Also being able to get to know and communicate with the topic coordinator and other students brought a sense of community into it” (2017 Topic Representative).

Training

An important element of a Topic Rep system is comprehensive training. All Topic Reps are expected to attend a 2hr training session to ensure that they understand their role and how to be as effective as possible. FUSA has recently recruited and trained a pool of five ‘Associate Trainers’ to deliver training to incoming Topic Reps during Semester 2. These Associate Trainers are former Topic Reps (students) who participated in the 2017 pilot.

Recognition  

All Topic Reps receive formal recognition for their role through the Flinders University Horizon Award program and a certificate of acknowledgement at the end of the Semester signed by the DVC (Students). Being a Topic Rep also develops skills in in decision-making, leadership, communication, negotiation, organisation, delegation and advocacy. Students are also motivated to get involved by the opportunity to make a positive difference within their course of study.

Please feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss the Topic/Class Rep Model in more detail or share your ideas/thoughts in the comments below.

 Kate Walsh  Kate.walsh@flinders.edu.au

Student Representation and Development Officer, Flinders University Student Association

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