30 Sep 2019

Interview with Rob McDermott, Forth Valley College

In this interview, we talk to Rob McDermott, Quality Manager at Forth Valley College. Initially graduating from Bell College of Technology with an HND in Biological Sciences, he later returned to study as a mature student, graduating from Stirling University with a BA (Hons) Media Studies and a Dip Ed. He started teaching at Falkirk College of Technology before moving to West Lothian where he eventually led a range of teams across the Media and Core Skills disciplines. On returning to Forth Valley College he taught on a range of Media programmes before moving into a Learning and Quality role. In his role as Quality Manager he has worked closely with the Student Association encouraging engagement with a range of quality related issues.

1. May we start with our favourite opening question: what does the phrase student engagement mean to you?

I suppose it means collaboration, working with the student body as partners in attempting to make their experience at college as good as it can get, attempting to ensure that we as an organisation are ‘making learning work’

2. You kindly joined a panel at our recent Associate Trainer residential that presented institutional perspectives on course rep training. You made a number of points about the need for course rep training to respond to the diverse student profile, not least regarding apprentices. Can you tell us a bit more about the student profile at Forth Valley College, and what that means for how you do engagement?

As a college that sits at the heart of its community, working closely with three local authorities across three campuses and being proud of the fact that we respond quickly to the ever changing requirements of local, regional and national stakeholders and drivers, the make-up of the student body is diverse. This ranges from senior phase school children doing Foundation Apprenticeships to apprentices of large multinational corporations completing HNDs, from adult returners doing Highers in the evening to leisure classes in floristry.

This presents a challenge to fully gather how students feel about the college and their time with us. The increased use of digital communication is allowing us to be more effective in gathering this. Whilst the class rep system for our full-time and part-time students is something that we have used effectively over the last few years, block release apprentices is one of the groups that traditionally we have found hard to engage with, though through focussed engagement and the help of sparqs we are making small inroads in to this and are hoping to expand the scale of engagement over the next few years.

3. And what are the needs of apprentice students? How might the mechanisms of engagement differ for them?

The needs of apprentice students are no different than that of any of the students that attend college, basically they are entitled to a high quality learning experience which on completion allows them to progress further in their employment through further study, job opportunities or both. The issue may be that their attendance patterns are so varied; from block to day release, from simulation to on-site assessment. The fact that college is part of their employment also results in perhaps a change of attitude to their learning with more tangible outcomes as they study. The challenge is to think of ways to engage with such a flexible model and make the experience worthwhile for all partners. This is a nut that we’ve yet to crack but an initial recognition of this and working with sparqs to engage with this group of learners will hopefully pay dividends in the future.

4. Student engagement is of course a big feature of the college quality arrangements. What does that mean for your job, day to day, as Quality Manager?

To be honest this feature has allowed me to further build my relationship with the Student Association, working closely with the college staff member and the elected officers. Class rep training allows me to meet with a lot of students and build relationships that keep me in touch with the day to day reality of student life in a busy college. The building of this relationship has helped me in my job as we work together to gather the student voice, whether it be through completion of Listening to Learners (our college devised student feedback activity) or the Student Satisfaction and Self Evaluation Survey.

Both these activities allow managers within the college to get a snapshot of what is and isn’t working and allows them to put actions in place, where appropriate, to maintain or improve the quality of the provision within the college.

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Thanks to Rob 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.

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