As part of a welcome to SUSU series, Wessex Scene are interviewing the 2015/16 Sabbatical Officers. Here, Rebecca Lake interviews Shruti Verma, Vice President Education.
What are you hoping to achieve as a sabbatical officer this year?
If you look at my sabb plan, I have 28 individual things in three main categories; Improving the Learning and Assessment of Students, Improving the Academic Rep System and Making the Education Zone accessible to everyone. I am working with the university on improving the way we use space so that there is less pressure on the library and there are more spaces. I am also working with the university on an assessment reform, and changing the way students assessed so that it is more relevant and that we’re not over assessed. There are a lot of assignments, but do we really need all of them? In terms of the learning experience, getting recorded lectures and online submission are big things. We are tailoring the rep system in different places including Winchester School of Art, Post Graduate Research (PGR) students and individual academic units so that it is not ‘one size fits all’. We’re working on a PGR mental health campaign and working to support Education Zone societies more so that students and staff want to engage in the student representation system.
What are you most proud of in your first 3 months in the job?
I think it’s that I am well under way on pretty much everything, even ones that don’t have a 1 next to them on progress on my plan. I’ve made a start on all of them, whether that’s meeting with the right people, making sure they’re on board or physically getting to the end of them. I have made a really quick start because a quarter of our time has gone already. I’m making sure as I go along that anything I’ve started, no matter what the next VP Education wants to do, this stuff will keep going. Everyone comes into the job with their own priorities, so it’s just making sure that by the time I’m gone these things don’t stop.
Online submission is something you wanted to make universal to all students. Is this going to be achievable?
Yes, I can’t give an exact date, but yes it will be achievable. The things I wanted implemented this year, as seen on my blog, the university has said that’s not going to happen. So it’s a logistical thing as to why it’s not happening at the moment, so I’m working with the relevant people at the university to make sure that it does happen because it’s something that a lot of students want. We are doing some research on it, and we’re going to get students to make sure that they give us the feedback so that we have everything we need to push it ahead. It will happen, but it’s more of a case of when.
Access to personal exam scripts is currently extremely limited, how are you planning to make exam scripts more accessible, particularly for students who struggle?
The reason this was on my manifesto was because it’s mainly a feedback thing. If the exam is the main bit of feedback, or the main or only form of assessment, then students only ever get a number for the majority of their assessments, and that’s not good enough because you cannot learn from that. I addressed this in my first blog of the year, and I’ve changed that point. It was in my manifesto, but having spoken to different people in the university, the reason students can’t keep their exam scripts is because they are needed for quality assurance and external examiners, but every Faculty Office should make exam scripts available. Unfortunately you can’t take it away but you can look at it there and take notes from it in order to learn from it. There are lecturers out there who are happy to go through it with you, so if you go through it and don’t understand why you got a certain mark, email your lecturer and they would be happy to go through it, depending on time. This is now more about making students aware that they can do this rather than making the faculties change it. To change this would be incredibly difficult, but to make sure feedback is not a problem, I’ve taken my paper to university meetings and is going to be discussed next month so that each module has to have a minimum level of feedback. My paper says that students should get feedback from one piece of formative work before submitting their summative piece of work. That way students can learn without being penalised and encourages learning rather than “I need to answer the exam question”. I will let people know how that goes.
Can you tell us more about your plans for Academic Reps and Course Reps, and do you think the current Course Rep system works?
The academic representation system is complicated, it is not as simple as we try and make it. The thing that I am working on this year is to make sure it works for everyone. I am leading on the project to make sure that PGR students have adequate representation, because previously we had a “one size fits all” academic rep system on everyone and hoped it would work, but in some areas it didn’t. I’m working with different academic and Faculty Officers as well as members of university staff to make sure that it’s tailored for each academic unit. Last year we introduced Academic Vice Presidents in social sciences because they are huge, and it’s one academic unit with so many different courses. Education is one of the few academic units that have more post graduate students than undergraduate students, in particular health sciences and medicine, so I am working to better represent these students. The system we have is really good, we are one of the most student led student unions in the country. When I visited other student unions over the summer, one of the things I asked was “What is your rep system? Does it work?”, and engagement, getting people to run is a problem everywhere because there is a lot of positions that have to be filled. But we are getting there and are doing very well, and would say that I think our system is better as it is more student led. It certainly needs tweaking, but that is what we are doing constantly because it is a constant review process.
Having said all of this, how can students get involved with the Education Zone?
I have so many projects, if students want to get involved and know exactly what they want to get involved in, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to get involved but are not really sure how or what with, send me an email anyway – we can meet, have a chat, and see what you want to do and what you are interested in. The good thing is, a lot of the things I want to change are going to need substantial support from students. We are going to be conducting research, but to get statistics we can use we need students to answer questions or survey. There will be one going out about e-submission, things specific to postgrads and other areas, and we need as much feedback as we can because I cannot make the change without evidence that says students want the changes. I can’t make the university do anything, but I will have a better position to do so if I have evidence and statistics behind what I am saying. If you have any questions, or want to do something, get in touch with me and I’m happy to answer any questions, meet with you or get you involved in projects.