This ‘SPOTLIGHT ON’ features Dundee and Angus College’s Support Learning Class Rep System, including how they recruit and train their reps to ensure that there is effective student representation across all classes and levels.
We spoke to Sarah Rennie, Students' Association Development Officer at the college to find out more….
A short summary of how the system works
The Students’ Association holds a ‘Stop & Review’ process annually to analyse and evaluate its yearly performance to improve and mould the association by, and for, the students at Dundee and Angus College. As part of this process we gauge Class Representative levels across each of the departments within the College to ensure that we have fair and equal representation of our student voice. It was through this process that we discovered that our students from our Supported Education Department were not being fairly represented and their voices were largely unheard. As a result, we consulted with staff from the department to ascertain what barriers the students faced in participating with the existing Class Representative structure. We found that the whole process was intimidating for the students concerned and that they did not feel confident taking on the role of Class Representative through the prescribed model. In addition, some of our students felt that they were unable to communicate effectively with the Students’ Association and therefore couldn’t fully participate.
Moving forward at the start of the academic year, when our Class Representatives are voted into position, we decided to scrap the prescribed model and build the role around each of the students elected from our Supported Education Department. Each student had individual meetings with either myself or one of our Vice Presidents to allow them to design the role to suit their needs, focusing on how they would be able to communicate information from their class to the Students’ Association and vice versa. In collaboration with staff from the department and student support plans, we ensured that each student was able to utilise their preferred method of communication. Simple solutions were applied, including support from Vice Presidents when talking to their class; emails and support from lecturers to lessen the sense of responsibility, which previously made some of our students feel overwhelmed; communication and Makaton cards to allow students to answer feedback questions through pointing at cards which explained the thoughts and feelings of the class group; and weekly visits to the Students’ Association. These changes have allowed for our students to feel more confident and better able to communicate and participate with the Students’ Association.
Working with our reps
The complete overhaul of the Class Representative system for our Supported Education students has allowed them to participate in feedback regarding their course, the wider college agenda and the college experience as a whole.
Their request and implementation of lunchtime clubs and quiet classrooms over lunchtimes has had the biggest impact on the students. Lively Glee Club sing-alongs to quiet colouring therapy has allowed our students to interact and feel part of the wider college community. Our students are also starting to participate more in some of our wider college events, such as “Pizza with the Principals” where they came and spoke directly with the College Principal and Vice Principals about their learning experience. They are also organising their very own End of Year Ball with support from both the Students’ Association and our Learner Engagement Team.
Changing the Class Representative role for our students also highlighted a CPD opportunity and our Vice Presidents have started learning Makaton to communicate better with our student body. They are attending classes with our students to learn from the students themselves as well as their lecturers, which has proved a hit with both staff and students alike. The students take great pride in teaching our Vice Presidents and are often in asking if they have completed their homework!
Our students are now more confident and are better able to interact with the Students’ Association. They are now frequent visitors to all of our offices and communicate with us on everything from learning and teaching issues, to requesting games, to popping in just for a wee chat! We are delighted to have had such a huge impact on our students’ confidence to participate outwith the classroom and, of course, with all of us at the Students’ Association.
We have gained huge benefits from ensuring that we represent our Supported Education department and have gained so much insight into tailoring the role of the Class Representative to individual students. We are planning to evaluate this process and investigate how other departments with low engagement in the Students’ Association would benefit in the up and coming academic year. Our hope is that we will be able to reduce potential barriers to students participating with the Students’ Association and facilitate and develop means for all students to become active and engaged partners in Dundee and Angus College.
For more information, please contact Sarah Rennie, Students' Association Development Officer - firstname.lastname@example.org