IGNITE recently interviewed Muhammad Faraz Khalid, the Student Association Education Officer for the 2015-16 term. He provided us with insights into the initiatives undertaken during his tenure, the inner workings of the Education Network as well as academic issues concerning the student body.
What were your initial expectations of holding office as SA Education Officer prior to being elected and how did it differ from the reality you faced after being elected into office?
Before I was elected, I did not have a deep insight into the responsibilities the role entails and I had different ideas then on how to improve education on campus. I had more fun with the job in the beginning as compared to now due to my duties presently clashing with my final year project and coursework. There was so much more to the position than I initially thought; as Education Officer, I had to attend academic appeals, and some ideas that I had were difficult to implement or not feasible due to the lack of practicality, financial concerns etc. My expectations of the position were definitely different from what it turned out to be, but it was a great experience nonetheless and I love it.
What were the changes or improvements that you aimed to achieve in your manifesto and to what extent were they attained?
I’ve managed to bridge the communication gap between the student representatives in the Education Network (EN) and I am very proud of the team. The EN is a major part of the Student Council and we are the voice of the students. Everyone in the EN is communicating with each other and even sent in reports on time.
Furthermore, there are new computers installed in the TCR and the postgraduate labs. There were complaints about the atmosphere in The Core, so we tried to temporarily fix the issues by placing air fresheners last semester and we are looking forward to doing it this semester as well. But it’s a temporary solution at the end of the day, so I’m hoping that changes will be made by the Campus Services department next year.
Another initiative launched this year is the Staff Oscars and several other EN awards that were never held before, the awards will be distributed during the UNMC Ball. Previously we had only one Best EN Representative award; this year we are introducing the Best School/Department Representative, Best Faculty Representative and Overall Best EN Representative awards. I believe that this is a great initiative because it’s a perk for current students to run for EN elections and to participate more actively in the EN, and when they do participate, they’d give their best.
Are there any aspects of the Education Network (EN) that you would like to increase awareness of among the student body?
A major part of the EN consists of course representatives who are the roots of the EN, however they are not given as much credit as school and faculty representatives. They are the ones who gather feedback from their fellow course-mates besides talking to them individually and contacting lecturers. They do a lot for our student community work without us knowing. I would encourage anyone who has any feedback or concerns to voice them out to the course representatives because they are the real heroes who convey our messages at the Learning Community Forum (LCF) meetings where they discuss the concerns with the Head of School and other lecturers and Deans.
We have included Foundation representatives to be a part of the EN this year. Until last year, the Foundation representatives were not technically under EN. They were in contact with the EN through emails and were part of the LCF meetings but they were not a part of the Student Council. The Constitution was amended to include Foundation representatives in the EN, directly under the Education Officer.
How have things improved for the Foundation students after Foundation representatives became officially a part of the Education Network (EN)?
Prof Stephen Doughty and I were looking at a survey of overall student experience and we found that Foundation students are the happiest and most satisfied with education on campus and with the ways in which their classes are conducted, so we thought of integrating them into the EN so that during the Learning Community Forum meetings, they can voice out what works best for them and we can integrate those aspects into the undergraduate experience.
With the Education Network (EN) comprising of student representatives from various courses, schools/departments and faculties, what were your strategies in managing such a diverse team and in maintaining effective communication among the Network?
Managing the team can be quite tough but I’ve tried not to push the student representatives to do anything that is not in their job scope such as calling them for irrelevant meetings. If there was anything I needed to discuss with the student representatives, we would communicate on our Facebook group. Otherwise I would try to contact them through emails. I made sure that my secretary issued the read receipt request in my emails to the student representatives as it gives them a sense of responsibility.
What were the most common academic concerns raised by student representatives throughout your tenure and how did you address them?
Academic concerns differ from course to course, but generally the concerns raised revolve around the lectures conducted and coursework. Therefore, we have been following up on the 21 Day Rule throughout the year and it’s a standing agenda in the Learning Community Forum (LCF) meetings now. The 21 Day Rule is a policy whereby the lecturers have to return students’ coursework or issue feedback on coursework within 21 days from the submission date. This policy is documented in the Quality Manual but it remains an issue in some schools, hence a rotation email has to be circulated every once in a while for the lecturers to be reminded of the 21 Day Rule. I would say that it is much better now than before.
Why do you think certain schools still have problems with the 21 Day Rule?
New lecturers who are still getting used to the grading procedures might need more time to grade their students’ coursework. In addition, the marking scheme is being produced for the first time in some schools so it might take some time for the 21 Day Rule to be adhered to as the lecturers have to brainstorm over the best strategies to devise the marking scheme. Implementing the 21 Day Rule takes time, but it reinforces a sense of obligation among lecturers to get coursework grading done with by the end of 21 days after the submission date. I think constant monitoring would be helpful in enforcing the 21 Day Rule to ensure that students are given regular and more proper feedback on time.
Regarding coursework submission procedures, do you strive to implement a system in all faculties in which coursework is submitted electronically?
In the Faculty of Engineering, we’re using the Orion system in which an individual barcode is attached to our coursework when we print it from Orion. By scanning the barcode, the Faculty staff can know our submission status and an email will be sent to us. There is progress in other faculties in terms of coursework submission procedures so I’m expecting the online submission system to be up and running in other faculties in the next two years.
One of the matters I’ve been focusing on this year was to implement a coursework submission box, along with a fixed stapler on top of the box, for all faculties. I’ve discussed with the Deans about it and they suggested that we should wait for all faculties to adopt the online coursework submission system before working on installing the coursework submission box. I think it’ll be a great convenience for the students if the coursework submission boxes with staplers are in place because they can still submit their coursework when the faculty office is closed after working hours. This idea has been conveyed to the faculty staff; they are following up on it and the change is coming. Once all faculties adopt the online coursework submission system we can work together to implement the coursework submission box, hopefully within next year or the year after.
Earlier in the Autumn semester, you organised the Blind Date with a Book event. How was the response from the student body and did the outcomes align with your established aims of organising this project?
Blind Date with a Book (BDWAB) was a great initiative to bring back the tradition of reading and trying to finish a book in a day or two by spending more time reading. Basically the whole concept was to make students realise that no book is a waste of time. The books were wrapped so the students would not know the author or title of the book they have chosen. The genres of the books were revealed, so if a student is interested in reading a book on say, travelling or literature, he or she could select a book accordingly. We offered 30 categories of books during the event. The students loved it and gave amazing reviews and feedback. On the first day of BDWAB, 35 people participated while 50 people participated on the second day, so all books were given out and we were out of books in the end.
What are the accomplishments or contributions throughout your tenure as Education Officer that are most significant or meaningful to you?
I have forged a close bond with my [Education Network (EN)] team; I know all of the student representatives personally, hence there is no communication gap among the EN. The student representatives maintain constant contact with me through emails and most of the time I have access to what goes on in different departments.
The accomplishment that is closest to me would be the installation of the new F4 building. It is definitely the future of UNMC. It’s energy-efficient as there is an abundance of windows to enable maximum utilisation of solar energy and for my Electrical Engineering course, we are taught the Renewable Energy Resources module there. Furthermore, there is a room in which you can write all over its surfaces and there is also a room with movable chairs that have a space underneath for bag storage so the chairs in the room can be reorganised to suit the purpose of the lesson, be it lectures, tutorials or group activities. Last year, when I was a department representative, I suggested to the lecturers to conduct more tutorial sessions, but it could not be realised due to the lack of room space. But I think we will be having more tutorial sessions now that we have 33 brand new rooms in the F4 building.
What were the challenges faced throughout your tenure as Education Officer?
One of the challenges would be time management because as the Education Officer, I had many meetings as well as hearings to attend. There were also many academic-related issues to be solved. I have to constantly seek Prof Stephen Doughty for advice and discussions, but he is a busy person as he is the Vice Provost of UNMC and is responsible for auditing academic quality, hence I had to keep up to his academic plans for the future so that the Education Network could align its vision with his because we have to work as a team.
What are your expectations of and advice to the next Education Officer?
Whoever succeeds me has to make their best judgement in academic appeals when he or she is called for meetings and hearings. I would advise him or her to be completely honest with the professors and not to lose the communication link between himself or herself and all student representatives. There should be no communication gap among the Education Network (EN) and everyone has to work together as a team because that’s what the EN is about. We start from the roots and take academic concerns from the bottom to the top of the academic hierarchy, so the EN can only achieve that when its members work as a team. Therefore, I see great changes every year and I’d ask my successor to keep up with the progress.
We don’t necessarily need to organise more events, but we have to impact the students’ learning experience.
By Jonathan Sim, Choo Suet Fun and Amashi De Mel