As a first year university student, it can be a challenge to fit in, to have a positive experience, to understand the assessment, and, particularly, to see a purpose in the information and tasks given to us. I know, personally, that I am already feeling the pressure of assignments and studies piling up… the constant urge to bury my text books under my bed and never see them again… the caffeine addiction kicking in. But, after hurdling my way to my lecture this week, I was blessed with the opportunity of attending a guest lecture that could not have been at a more appropriate time.Presented by Dr Ruth Bridgstock, this talk revolved around the ‘first year experience’ for students at QUT and explored the main issues and potential methods of improvement from the university’s perspective. Her aim was to gain an understanding, via an online survey, of the areas that we, as students, feel QUT is succeeding in, as well as the areas that we believe need work. Ruth explained that high attrition and drop-outs rates, a lack of sense of community and belonging, and a problematic, inconsistent student support system are currently the focus of her studies. The Kelvin Grove campus, in particular, has had substantial reports of being “disconnected”, “empty”, “hard to get to” and “far too spread out”, as a result of its location and overall layout. In discussion, students mentioned that the Urban Village, the immense amount of walking up and down hills, and the fact that, for many us, the campus is essentially in the middle of nowhere, have been significant reasons encouraging them to stay at home and watch their lectures online.
Responses from the survey further expressed student’s dislikes about their initial weeks at QUT, including:
- Transportation time makes coming in not worthwhile
- Complicated timetable – many with clashes
- Expensive pricing
- Lack of food options
- Overwhelming workload from day one
- Unclear, messy and inconsistent layout of QUT website and Blackboard
- No responses from emails to tutors/staff
- Loss of social life
- Difficulty finding important online resources and information
While the experience of doing a subject you enjoy, meeting new people through orientation week, being involved in interactive tutorials, having friendly and interesting lectures, regular shuttle buses and a greater sense of independence have been positive so far, students collaboratively agreed that the stress from the disorganised website structures alone would be enough reason to drop out. Despite QUT’s attempts to provide extra help and counsel, particularly through Students Services, Ruth’s studies also discovered a major gap in the consistency of information provided by each individual staff member/service. As a result, students have often been left even more confused after reaching out.
Based on the suggestions given by students through the online survey, QUT should focus on:
- A makeover for Blackboard to reduce confusion – simple, organised, consistent structure across all areas of the website (e.g. the layout for different subjects should be formatted the same)
- Consider ways to alter the Kelvin Grove campus to improve the community environment outside of tutorials and lectures and encourage a sense of belonging
- Ensure constant timely support that is easy to access and concurs with information provided by any service or staff member
- Attempt to create a straightforward way to ensure timetables are convenient and do not have clashing subjects, in order to reduce unnecessary stress and to encourage students to attend their lectures and tutorials in person
Now, before beginning this presentation, Dr Bridgstock noted that there was a secret relevance of the lecture to our upcoming assessment – the design charrette. It wasn’t until I investigated the assignment itself that I really determined the connection. A charrette is defined as “an intensive planning session where citizens, designers and others collaborate on a vision for development. It provides a forum for ideas and offers the unique advantage of giving immediate feedback to the designers. More importantly, it allows everyone who participates to be a mutual author of the plan,”(Dorney, D., 2016). To me, this sounded exactly like what Ruth had just performed.
I created the mind map above to visualise the relationship and connections between the lecture and the future assessment, finding that the main aspects of Ruth’s talk aligned with the steps of a design charrette – gathering opinions, searching for suggestions, considering feedback, etc. While the topics may be different, I think this lecture had to the preview for what we’ll soon have to do ourselves. We can only wait and see.
Diane Dorney. (2016). What is a Charrette? Accessed April 10, 2016, from The Town Paper: http://www.tndtownpaper.com/what_is_charrette.htm
Tamkang Times. (2016). Dr Ruth Bridgstock. Accessed March 22, 2016, from Tamkang Times: http://tkutimes.tku.edu.tw/pic.aspx?no=18108