In this interview, we talk to Jodie McNair, Development Officer at Glasgow Clyde College Students’ Association (GCCSA), where she has worked for almost five years. Her first role in the sector was Sports and Societies Intern for Glasgow Caledonian Students’ Association, and she has also worked as a People and Organisational Development Coordinator for Scottish Water. In her current role, she feels a huge connection with GCCSA and Glasgow Clyde College as an institution and takes a real pride in seeing the association and college develop.
1. What does your role involve? What might a typical day look like? If indeed there can be a typical day!
I am responsible for supporting the elected student officer team during their time in post to ensure that the students’ association is representing and engaging with the student body at Glasgow Clyde College as effectively as possible. If it is of interest to students, then it is of interest to me!
There is no such thing as a typical day for a support member of staff within a students’ association, one day I can be sat at my laptop on calls and answering emails and the next day I can be out and about supporting officers with their campaigns or activities. My key goal, is to ensure that student officers can achieve what they want to within their year in post by aiming to support the college in providing the best experience for our students, as well as thinking about the overall students’ association and how we can also develop and grow.
2. And how much has student engagement and your role changed during the pandemic?
My role is pretty much the same in the sense that what I and GCCSA want to achieve remains the same. However, the methods of how we do things have had to adapt and change regularly as we have worked around home working, blended learning, as well as navigating a slow and safe return to campus. Not only in my role, but as a full team, we have had to think of new ways of engaging with students. Some which have been for the better and we will learn from going forward and some which have been more difficult.
Many students have coped well with the challenges they have faced and some have even enjoyed learning from home, but it has also been clear for many that they have missed being on campus and face-to-face teaching. As a students’ association we have done, and continue to do, our best to ensure that the student voice is heard on this topic.
3. And how do you ensure that the student voice is heard on these issues? What sort of things do you and the officers do to engage with college staff on learning and teaching?
GCCSA support the annual surveys run by the college with a key aim of ensuring that the response rate is high, so that the feedback received is useful and reflective of the whole student body. In addition to our standard surveys, we also have our class representative process and we encourage reps to engage with teaching staff throughout the year, as well as taking part in class rep meetings with teaching staff and/or GCCSA. We are also aware that students have things to say all the time and not just when a meeting is arranged, so every Friday from 12noon–1pm, the officer team host a ‘Chat with Us’ session online, which is a drop-in for any student to pop on to where they can provide feedback, ask a question, or simply come on to have a chat about how their week has been, or anything else. GCCSA also have an online feedback link, where students can add their comments at any time and this is then passed on by GCCSA to the college.
The officers and staff sit on various groups and committees around the college and regionally, which allows GCCSA to pass on any feedback that we get from students to the relevant areas and work together to encourage positive change.
Recently, GCCSA have connected with development staff in the college in order to run focus groups within classes to find out about how their year has gone and drill down on some key issues that we wanted to find out more about from students. These have been a great success and a great opportunity for GCCSA to engage.
4. GCCSA was runner up in our awards last year, due to the work you did to rethink course rep meetings during the pandemic. Tell us a bit about how you used those meetings to build partnerships with staff.
Going into lockdown, our old way of doing campus-based class rep meetings became void. We had to rethink how this could work online and for GCCSA this was actually a real light bulb moment, as it became clear pretty fast that this is actually how we should continue to hold meetings going forward. Our new format focused more on departments rather than campus sites and allowed us to link in better with the Curriculum Managers. This is not yet a perfect format, but it has certainly improved the process for GCCSA and we aim to continue to develop this further now that we are out of the lockdown, rather than returning to our old ways of doing things. A silver lining during a tough time, but we still have a way to go.
5. It’s interesting that you’ve improved your links with Curriculum Managers in doing this. What do they tell you they’ve got out of those meetings being departmental rather than campus, that they didn’t before?
In the areas where it has worked well, those involved have felt closer to the students within their department. It allows the key themes coming from students to go direct to them as decision makers for that area and they can work with their teaching staff teams to make quick improvements and also to consider and work on long-term changes to benefit the students and improve their experience.
Previously, these staff would have received the feedback from GCCSA. However, it wouldn’t have allowed for an opportunity to ask the students questions about their comments or find out more to really understand how they are feeling.
6. Another recent initiative has been your approach to course rep training for students with additional support needs. How have you approached this, and what conversations and themes have emerged?
Again, going into lockdown and online learning highlighted a gap. We noticed that there was an online version of training for mainstream students, and this worked as an alternative to the face-to-face training that used to take place. However, we didn’t have anything that catered specifically to our additional supported learning students. GCCSA have worked closely with sparqs to provide thoughts and feedback so that new content could be created that will assist us in supporting all class reps in the future, online and on campus. Hopefully, this is something we can roll out more next academic year and see how it goes.
7. And why is this important? What have been the specific issues facing students in supported learning, and how will the training help them?
Our supported learning students were definitely one of the groups of students who really missed being on campus and having that face-to-face engagement with their peers and teaching staff. The class representative experience should provide the same opportunity across the board for all our students to learn, engage and have their voice heard and I believe the developments from sparqs will help us to make positive changes to provide a better experience for our supported learning students going forward. Especially with students now being back on campus.
Thanks to Jodie for being an interviewee. To suggest a future subject for interview, please contact us.
This interview is part of a series of occasional interviews on our website with student engagement practitioners – both staff and students, and from within Scotland’s university and college sector and beyond. The interviews aim to capture the different perspectives that people have on student engagement in the quality of learning.