9 Mar 2020

'Talking Student Engagement' Interview with Katie Dubarry and James Bamkin

In this interview, we talk to Katie Dubarry, Vice-President of Scotland’s Rural College Students’ Association (SRUCSA) and James Bamkin, Students’ Association Development Officer at SRUC. Katie is one of SRUCSA’s two sabbatical officers, and previously studied agriculture. James’s role involves supporting the work of the SRUCSA officers, which he has done for four years, having pivoted away from a career in technical support.

1. Can we start out with a broad picture – what does student engagement look like at SRUC?

James: SRUC is a geographically diverse institution, we cover all the parts of Scotland that UHI neglects! Our campuses in Dumfries, Edinburgh, Ayr, West Lothian, Aberdeen, and Fife cover a range of subjects that mainly focus on subjects that lead to careers that utilise natural resources of Scotland. We are also a small institution which leads to a strong feeling of community on our campuses. We teach a broad level of courses across further and higher education, from Intro to PhD. Our students can be in all parts of their journey and engaging them in their studies and the wider institution needs a variety of approaches.

Katie: The applied nature of the courses SRUC offers means that students aren’t just sitting in lecture theatres; they are outside caring for livestock on one of our teaching farms, inspecting growing crops in the field with one of our consultants, propagating seedlings in a glasshouse, or practicing their chainsaw technique at the Scottish Forestry Technology Centre. Our staff are skilled at helping students transition between the classroom, practical teaching, and industry. Articulation is a strong point, it’s pretty seamless to move between the levels. I experienced this first hand: I came in at NC level, never imagining that I would end up with an honours degree!

2. So what have the priorities of SRUCSA been this year?

Katie: Like with any students’ association there is a mix priorities coming from the team and individuals. As a team, we’ve been working for the last two years towards a restructuring of our representational roles. We’re going to move from having two full-time sabbatical positions and seven part-time officers, to three full time Co-Presidents, one for each of our geographical regions (North, Central and South-West). We’re well along the road now and are working on the final steps to get everything in place for our elections later in the year.

My priorities have largely been in academic affairs. Developing the class reps, providing student voice to quality enhancement activities, and I have been lucky enough to have been asked by NUS to take a role on SHEEC (the Scottish Higher Education Enhancement Committee).

3. Thinking about your work on the class rep role, we joined in some recent workshops you ran on staff perceptions of the role. It certainly felt to us like staff at SRUC had plenty to say about where they see class reps contributing to quality and the wider student experience, and what they liked about working with them. What were the headlines for you?

Katie: One of the big themes coming out of the workshops was the importance of reps having the skills to deliver effective feedback, which is accurate, balanced, constructive, and depersonalised. Staff expressed how much easier it is to implement a solution when the reps have already come up with one themselves.

James: I think the workshops showed us how important student experience is to our teachers. They use both formal and often informal methods to collect information about the way their students see their classes and are making frequent adjustments to ensure their students have the best experiences.

4. Where next for the work on the class rep role?

James: We want our class reps to feel empowered as individuals but also part of a wider, action-focused team. This will mean working with our class tutors to bring class reps into the constant enhancement and development of the course, as well as working to bring class reps together frequently to develop more complex solutions and celebrate our successes.

We are glad to be able to make use of the sparqs' Associate Trainer scheme and would certainly like to work towards having Institutional Associate Trainers.

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Thanks to Katie and James for being interviewees. 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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