In the SA Elections of 2017, Imsa Shakir was elected as the Education Officer. IGNITE conducted a post-election interview with her, during which she reiterated her plans on improving several aspects of the educational environment of UNMC.
As a follow-up, IGNITE recently interviewed Imsa again. Relevant issues include the Learning Community Forum (LCF), Education Network, Mentor-Mentee Programme, an Interschool Cup, and urgently, the mental wellbeing of students.
Hello, Imsa! How has it been? Is the work heavy?
Imsa: [Laughs] It’s a lot of running back and forth with the vice-provost of teaching and learning, policy and everything. Because everything I planned to implement has to go through her first, like the lecture-recording policy and others.
At the start of semester, I did propose to start video-recording lectures, but obviously they said that they can’t start on full-force. So, I suggested it to be practised on at least two modules per programme. The people in the meeting said that it is something we could do.
However, when I asked, some of the lecturers said they did start, but they stopped. The vice-provost was quite upset. She said that it’s the twenty-first century, and lectures should be recorded. But she actually has drafted a policy for 2018/19: a no-opt policy for lecturers to record lectures. Just to update a bit on this case.
The Learning Community Forum has been around for many semesters. Students have used it sometimes with strong expressions: abusive words, you know. Do you think the LCF has been helpful in improving our learning environment? How about the general situation this semester, having seen two rounds of feedback and discussions?
Imsa: I always ask my faculty reps to bring forward any major concerns, which I would discuss with the vice-provost. But we haven’t seen any significant concerns this semester, only things that can be solved within the school itself. Like changing the class venue, or the content of the slides.
As for the voting system. I have implemented that the concerns brought up must be voted for. As in, if you bring it up, for example, that the module content is too complicated, the class has to vote. And if a majority of the students agree that it is indeed too complicated, the issue will be discussed during the LCF meeting. The lecturers would know, with the voting statistics. The voting system can filter which issue is more important, which issue is less urgent.
Are lecturers or teachers comfortable with the abusive language though?
Imsa: During the Education Network training programme, where I separated the training for school reps and course reps, I advised them to paraphrase the language of the students into a professional and respectful version. It’s ultimately up to the school rep to help filter the student feedback.
As for the Mentor-Mentee programme, there are two versions of the programme. One from the SA, another from the School of Education as an NAA module. Have you thought of combining them for the convenience and benefit of the students?
Imsa: There are differences between these two programmes. The reason why I have a separate Mentor-Mentee programme is that all these other programmes are limited by course and a number cap. Whereas the programme under the SA is open for all students. It’s more relaxed and flexible. There is no “credit” to be fought for. Students just have to complete their ten hours of activities in one semester; then they can obtain their certificates.
As for potential collaboration, I’d prefer to keep it separately. I did consider it, but I feel it would be less intimidating for students to have a programme that has no official credit to be earned at the end. Eventually, students can have a choice.
You mentioned an interschool cup, the competition between students from different schools of the UNMC. Have you discussed this event with the vice-provost? When approximately will it happen?
Imsa: It’s actually an SA event, so I don’t have to discuss with her. [Laughs] It’s not as serious as a change to a course structure or something.
This interschool cup will happen next semester, probably in March. It will have both sporting and academic contests. So, I’ll be collaborating with the SA Sports officer; he’ll handle the sporting events, while I handle the academic ones.
Participants would not have to be afraid of the academic contests. You don’t have to be an expert in that category to be able to play. There are just general knowledge questions. Like in the Geography category, you will know what is the capital of what country, and others. I plan to have around ten categories, like Geography, History, and others. Whoever feels like joining can join in groups of two or three. If there are several teams from the same school, these teams will have to compete against each other; and the winning group will represent the school to compete with groups of other schools.
Regarding the Education Network training programme, could you tell us more about it? What activities were there for the elected representatives of every course and school?
Imsa: For my Education Network, what I did differently from previous years, is that I split them up as to ensure understanding and learning. For school reps and faculty reps, I gave them a step-by-step guide on how to run the LCF meeting and on the process of collecting feedback.
In fact, I prepared a standardised template for all of the representatives to collect feedback. Last year, being the representative for the School of Economics, I saw there were different templates for every school and the information obtained did not have mutual correspondence: some might not have action points, while some might have, for example.
I also prepared a quiz to test whether these representatives know what should and what should not be brought up during the LCF meeting. They did have fun and everybody got quite competitive in the end. I eventually explained why certain issues are not appropriate for discussion during official meetings.
What “things” are considered “inappropriate” for LCF meetings?
Imsa: Well, things that should not be discussed during the meeting are concerns, such as, lecturers are not speaking directly into the mic, or the lecturers are speaking too fast, or the slides are unclear, and others. This should not be brought up during the LCF meeting because it can actually be solved within the classroom itself. I’m actually surprised that things like these were brought up during the meetings previously, when students should just voice out during the lecture.
Is there anything that students can expect you to implement soon?
Imsa: For policy change, I’m plan to amend the voting system for representatives, to make it fairer. It’s tempting to make it compulsory for every student to vote, but again, students have the right to not vote. It’s complicated. I’m still discussing with my team and the council, to figure out the best way to improve the voting system.
Voting is not an issue only in the Education Network. Students, in general, such as during the SA Elections, do not vote; not necessarily because they choose not to vote, but also because they don’t care. I think there are different reasons.
Imsa: Yes. The situation is complex. With the Education Network, for the school reps and faculty reps, they are usually in attendance during the voting period. But for the course reps, a hundred and more of them, a lot of them either don’t want to vote for the next committee of the Education Network, or they don’t even know they have the right and responsibility to vote. Only a few out of the hundred would come and vote. I really want to make them aware that they should attend the meetings and voting activities.
So every new committee of the Education Network is elected by the previous committee, and not by all students, with or without positions?
Imsa: Yes, other students can’t vote for the Education Network. Only current elected members of the Education Network can.
Here comes probably our final issue. We know that a student passed away recently. What do you think was the impetus? There was not much information given in the Provost’s email. If the reason was a psychological or mental one, do you think your team has done enough to ensure the wellbeing of students? Do we have enough professionals in the wellbeing centre?
Imsa: I would say that, there is available help, if anyone needs it. There is the wellbeing centre, there’s the clinic, there are so many outlets that can be reached. However, I think a lot of students who have mental health issues don’t wish to speak to anyone about it. The thing is, nobody could help them, if they don’t notify people about themselves. We need to encourage their friends and family members to also help with it.
We already have tried our best to help with the many requests of students regarding mental wellbeing: whether it is due to heavy workload, or high course intensity, or others, we have brought them up to the administration. Students can request for deadline extensions and a different examination date; while there is publicity about this, lecturers and personal tutors should remind students that they have a choice, provided that they have proof of their issues. And there is the Course Programme Review, which is done every five years by the university, the faculty dean, the school, in Malaysia and in the United Kingdom.
From what I know, the wellbeing centre has professional counsellors. But I believe they’re a bit understaffed at the moment. They do have problems finding more trained professionals to come to this university, even if they’ve been looking for someone. Nonetheless, the usual members of the centre are trained and professional.
Keep up to date with the Education Officer on her Facebook page.
Written and interviewed by Teoh Sing Fei
Photographs by Malik Hisyam bin Zaihan