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Chris Eichbaum is the Acting Vice-Provost (Academic and Equity) at Victoria University. Salient sat down with him to discuss student representation, accountability, and what to do when your lecturer is a bit shit.
We are interested in the idea of co-creation of learning, which — in our understanding — is the partnership and collaboration between students and governance. Practically, what does it mean for students? Words like ‘collaboration’ seem great, but at a basic level what does that mean in terms of consultation or the decision making processes within our university?
The ideals and labels, like co-creation and co-production, are all very well, but what do they mean? I think the answer to that is in a number of parts. One part is to acknowledge that students are a partners in the governance of the institution, and that means [they are] a member of the Council. […]
We’ve got academic reviews in programs that have been completed. These always include consultations with students who are, without using the business model, the consumers of what’s coming through from these programs. So they’re part of it. Once you get to the point where the review team has provided its final report and recommendations there, you also get, at the level of the academic board, the student reps asking questions. […]
In some respects the system encourages [course coordinators] to make decisions, about assessments for a course, well in advance of starting so the students know that coming into the course there’s this [assessment]. […] But another option that I’ve tried, is to say, “how would you like to be assessed? How do you feel you learn best? What modes of assessment, lets say its a second or third year class, have been really useful in terms of your learning?” Sometimes you get statements like, “I know what we don’t want. We don’t want any group work.” […] The area is referred to as “reflective learning.” And that’s not so much co-production as the student owning the process of learning in a first person kind of way. […]
We’ve recently finalised our Learning and Teaching Strategy for this university. The VUWSA president last year was a member of our Learning and Teaching committee. […] The strategy that we’ve arrived at [has] generally been received as an interesting, provocative, creative, and positive document. It is that way, in no small part, because of the student voice, through the VUWSA president.
One of the main experiences students have for their own input is tutor and lecturer feedback. But for a lot of students, it’s unclear to them how that is taken on board. It seems very discretionary in terms of who’s going to be taking this advice on board, or who’s introducing this reflective type of learning.
Another way you get co-production is obviously through a system of student feedback on courses and teaching, and that is vital. As you know, we’ve moved from a paper-based to an online system. There have been challenges in that but we’ve ironing out the wrinkles, and we’ll end up with a very robust system. […]
Part of this goes to the professionalism of the teachers, the kind of commitment they make to this institution, and part of it goes to having quality assurance in place that has a feedback loop built into it. One of the positive things of the course outline system now is that you are required, year to year, to say, “this is the feedback the last time this was evaluated, and this is what I’ve done about it.” And in doing that you’re honoring the course. We’re now nearing the end of a long overdue review of tutoring. There was whole bunch of issues in that, including recruitment, training, tutors and assessment, moderation. The review tells us that while we’re doing some things really well, there’s room for improvement in some areas. […] I’ve talked about reflective learning in terms of assessment, but we need good, reflective professional practice by those who are responsible in course design and delivery as well.
Do you think Victoria could or should incorporate more of a decision based role for students, in terms of collaboration with lecturers and course coordinators?
I think the architecture’s pretty good. […] This place has put its hand up and said “we want this institution to be run properly,” so we have systems in place that are as robust in terms of financial management and human resource management as any other organisation, but, what makes this institution different and special is that students and staff are active participants in the governance. I think the challenge is to say, “we’ve put that flag in the ground. But if we look at it in terms of cascading down through the other things that we are doing, how do we make that a reality as well?”
You talked a lot about student reps. From a practical perspective, when a class rep goes to a course coordinator or a lecturer and says “the class is having this problem,” in most situations we would hope that two parties can figure something out. But if that doesn’t work, then what happens? Is there a system in place in which the student rep can go further, or for the course coordinator to be held accountable?
One would hope that the nature of the relationship between the class rep and the course coordinator would be such that if an issue came up it can be disposed of. […] Obviously the class rep has recourse to VUWSA and VUWSA could make representations on behalf of students on a particular course. Or it may be that the advice that VUWSA would give is “okay, take it to the next level up.” So you’ve tried the course coordinator, is there a program director of that course? After that, you’ve got the Head of School.
As a former Head of School myself, I would say it would be absolutely appropriate for a class rep, if issues were not properly resolved to the satisfaction of the rep or the students that he or she was representing, to raise that with a Head of School. […] We need to ensure through our systems that when an issue is raised, we are responsive to that, and we are partners — and we go to back to co-production I guess — in resolving that. And you go as far as you need to go. […] If there’s a problem there, it’s not as if the students (plural) or the class rep needs to provide the solution. I think alerting the teacher or the course coordinator to the fact that there’s a problem is an appropriate thing to do. […] For me, as teacher, the feedback that I needed to hear was, “You’re talking too fast — can you slow down”. […] I needed to have that feedback, and I needed to tell myself, make the change. This isn’t major stuff, but it is for the students in the class.
What is your favourite colour?
My favourite colour is blue.