School of Arts and Humanities

Cafes, common rooms and dissertations re imagined: your voice is shaping Arts and Humanities

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Karen Randell, Deputy Dean

Deputy Dean Karen Randell explains how student feedback has paved the way for some innovative changes in the School of Arts and Humanities.

“Our core philosophy in Arts and Humanities is that we’re creating communicators. Even more than the courses our students are studying – whether that’s English, Global Studies, Modern Languages or Journalism – it’s about being a great, versatile communicator of ideas. And that’s one of the reasons we value student feedback so much – it’s about dialogue.

“There’s an open door policy here. There’s course committees, too, as well as the Student Conference, and the School-Student Forum – which will be co-chaired this year by one of our own students, who’ll be paid for their work. Between those different initiatives, everything’s covered: from the nitty gritty of individual modules, to the larger cultural and structural challenges within the School.

“Student feedback has contributed a whole range of ideas to the School – and there’s too many to cover here! For example, our language students asked if we could create a shared space that’d improve their opportunities for developing skills. We already had a language resource room, but the facilities and tools in there were all quite isolated. There were lots of people watching films on computers, through headphones, and no one was really talking. We held a focus group to find out how we could enhance that space, and our students told us they’d prefer a common room approach, with a more communal experience. So what we’ve got in there now is sofas, a large TV screen, a DVD player, and great WiFi for downloading and streaming films. That means a group of students can watch a foreign language film together, and then discuss it in that language. It’s a much more social environment now.

“Feedback has also helped us to make changes to our History course – and in particular, the dissertation element. Our students wanted more options in how they wrote their dissertations, with the opportunity to include practical elements – things like interviews, pieces of film, primary resources. They didn’t want to be limited by the more traditional format and conventions of a dissertation, so we gave them that opportunity, and it’s been really well received. That kind of choice is an invitation for them to be even more creative in how they work as historians, and it also accesses their transferrable skills, feeding into the employability thread that runs through our curriculum.

“Another great example of feedback leading change is the Media Café. To really encourage and hear her students’ voices, our course leader for Media Pathways – Stephanie – worked with her course reps to find out how she could meet more of her students, and on a more regular basis. As a solution, she ended up creating monthly sessions in the Students’ Union. It’s a more human, gentle way of engaging. Sometimes our interactions are too formal, and that tends to lead to formal answers – but when it’s informal, you’ll get to the bottom of smaller issues, which can be just as important. It’s a great idea that’s opened up a completely different type of conversation, and it’s no surprise Media got 100% in the National Student Survey last year.”

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