As the new undergraduate semester slowly grinds into gear, the Student Guild have hit the ground running with the launch of a bold new program aimed at improving students’ learning experience at UWA.
Modelled on the success of similar programs in universities around the world, the Class Representative System (CRS) aims to provide continuous, relevant feedback to unit coordinators from students throughout the semester. Additionally, it seeks to enable students to voice their concerns about units in a formal and timely fashion, removing barriers that existed for some under the old system.
But what exactly is the CRS, and why is it necessary?
The CRS pilot sees the Guild select and train two or more student representatives to act as a conduit for the feedback of their peers and is currently being trialled in some 30 units across all faculties and at all levels.
In the past, students wishing to give feedback could either directly approach unit coordinators, the Guild, or a Faculty Society, or wait for end-of-semester SURF and SPOT surveys. Under this previous system, students who did not feel confident going through established channels did not have a visible and non-confronting avenue to voice their concerns. Instead, they often relied upon classmates to speak up on their behalf.
Put simply, this new program formalises the role of those students who came to be the de facto representatives for their cohort, communicating with the unit coordinator on the behalf of their classmates.
Education Council President Conrad Hogg, a driving force behind the CRS, suggests that formalising this process “makes it easier for students to know where to route their feedback, and gives representatives a better platform to present it from [to unit coordinators].”
He notes that “[whilst] the Guild and Faculty Societies do a (for the most part) great job of representing students, it is difficult for student reps to give effective feedback for the 3000+ units that run at UWA.”
Formalising the role of de facto class representatives, he suggests, also allows the Guild to “provide the resourcing and the most appropriate training for these representatives and help them to affect change within their units.”
He hopes that the new system will fill gaps left by the previous system, and will improve the quality of teaching at UWA across the board.
To entice prospective students, in addition to the elevated status and leadership experience the positions offer, the Guild plans to record representatives’ contribution on their alternative transcript, and hold an end-of-semester event to thank contributors.
Will the CRS be effective?
At this stage it’s impossible to know for sure. Similar systems have reportedly proven successful in universities with active student associations, admittedly by their own standards. With that said, the CRS will almost certainly deliver valuable feedback for unit coordinators throughout the semester and an avenue for more students to provide it.
The real test of success is whether the new system can noticeably improve both the approachability and the quality of feedback when compared to the de facto system of representatives under the previous order.
The Guild suggests that to measure the success of the trial, “qualitative, detailed feedback will be sought from unit coordinators and reps half way through semester, and at the end of the semester,” yet such an imprecise metric affords ample opportunity for the Guild to pat themselves on the back for bringing an already-existing system under their umbrella, with no real benefit to students’ education.
Similarly, such visible leadership positions within the student body are liable to experience significant brigading by those with ambitions towards Guild politics. Opportunities for malfeasance and collusion are rife: positions are selected unilaterally by the Guild Education Council based on a web form application alone and without input from unit coordinators.
Perhaps I’m just jaded, but I can’t imagine either major party passing over the opportunity to place candidates in—or recruit them from—such visible roles in the student community. Controlling the selection of representatives via the Ed Council has significant potential to alter future Guild elections outcomes.
I predict that both class representative and Ed Council positions become more partisan, but despite this the system provides improvements in terms of feedback given to unit coordinators over the next few years. As improvements are made, I can see the system becoming a valuable resource for unit coordinators and students alike.
Regardless of the potential for unintended results, both Guild President Megan Lee and Education Council President Conrad Hogg should be commended for dedication to implementing a bold system that promises to improve both teaching quality and communication between unit coordinators and the student body at large.
Michael Smith | Education Editor