Top Tips for Course Reps
We know that starting a new role can be tricky, so we've collated 10 top tips to remind you about important elements of your role and to help you as you research, represent, and report back.
Surveys are a great way to collect opinions from students and get their thoughts on relevant issues, ideas, and changes. Create a SurveyMonkey to gather stats and opinions from students, and sent it out to your cohort via email, SurreyLearn, or social media. Make sure you keep the feedback anonymous, so please don't take student names down as one of the questions in your survey. Once you've got some data, collate this together and present it at your next departmental meeting.
2. Communicate Successes
Share successes, big and small, with other students and Course Reps! The Course Rep programme has led to some big changes at Surrey, and it's important that students know about what you've been doing for them. Celebrate your successes and feel proud of them! Tell us too by filling in a Course Rep Update Form here.
3. Work with other Reps
Collaboration is the key to success as a Rep. Help each other, share ideas, and work together to improve the student experience across the University. If there are issues that are shared by other groups of students within your department, work together with your fellow Reps to tell the staff in your department. Showing staff that an issue is widespread will give more weight to your point.
4. Remember you're a volunteer!
You are not expected to have all the answers to the issues that students bring to you. You're a volunteer after all, and your responsibility is to represent students and report back to them, not fix individual issues that students might be facing.
As a volunteer, you should also remember to log the hours you spend as a Course Rep on Surrey Volunteering - the new Union platform for all things voluntary. This will help you translate all that effort into your future employability prospects, and also might help you link up with other opportunities you didn't know about. You can find out more about the benefits of volunteering as a Course Rep here.
Athough you aren't expected to fix individual student issues, we still want to make sure those students feel supported and know where they can get advice. For that, it's helpful if you know where to signpost the student. There are many services on campus that can support students, including Student Services, the Students' Union Support Zone, or the services provided by the Library. If you're unsure where to signpost a student, get in touch with Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org
6. Ask for help from the Union
The Union is here to provide support and guidance for Course Reps. Don't hesitate to contact the Union and let us know how we can help you in your role. If you have any questions or concerns, or if you'd like to get our advice on something, get in touch with your VP Voice at email@example.com or the Course Rep Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're here to help.
7. Close the feedback loop
It's important that students feel their voice is heard at Surrey. As Course Reps, your responsibility is to report back to students once you've represented them to staff. This will help students feel that they have been listened to and that their feedback has been taken seriously. It'll also hopefully mean that the students you represent will understand why it's worth sharing feedback with you as their Rep, and be more likely to do so in the future.
8. Link up with Departmental Societies
Working together makes the student experience better for everyone! If your department also has a student society, you might be able to work together on certain issues or to get in touch with more students via the society. To find out if your department also has a society, click here.
9. Be visible
Students need to know who represents them and how they can get in touch with you. From the start of the year, be visible in your lectures, wear your Course Rep t-shirt, and stick around after lectures to chat to other students about the course.
Getting to know the other Reps and students, and working with them in person, is a great way to build relationships and have open channels of communication. When we asked students how they wanted their Reps to get in touch with them, "in person" was one of the most selected options. Students want to hear from you face-to-face, so chat to them! Having those conversations will make it easier and more natural for you to gather feedback.
The Student Voice Platform
New for 2020, the University of Surrey now has a new student voice platform. It's an online space where students, Reps and staff can collectively raise, discuss and resolve feedback and issues.
The Student Voice platform is structured as a discussion board, broken down into two areas. In the first area, you can privately ask questions, post ideas and raise issues between you and your classmates. If a topic attracts enough comments and likes, you will move the discussion into the public area. The second area is broken down into three sections (open, in progress and closed), where staff can interact with the discussion and work with you to resolve issues and develop ideas further.
Everyone on your course has access to see your Department board. This now means you have an easy and convenient way of reaching every single student in your department in one go. In the public area staff can view the posts. These will be key staff in your Department. As issues, questions and ideas are raised and discussed, staff and Reps can respond and provide updates on progress.
Both staff and students can report any inappropriate or defamatory comments on the Student Voice platform. The content will be removed and disciplinary action will be taken against the individual who made the post.
You can access the Student Voice platform via the MySurrey App and SurreyLearn. Get posting!
Gathering, prioritising, and communicating feedback
In order to effectively represent what other students think, you need to do your research and gather feedback. You'll then need to ensure you prioritse that feedback so you are an efficient Rep, and communicate any issues or general feedback to staff in an effective way.
By talking to students, giving them the opportunity to talk to you, and by doing quality research, you will have a more relevant understanding of what students think, and what is important to them. This will ensure the feedback you communicate to staff is an accurate picture of what students really think and feel about their experience at Surrey.
So, what might you want to do to get started?
Make sure students know you’re there to represent them, and how to get in contact with you easily
Talking to other students in person is one of the best ways to gather feedback, but make use of your new MySurrey Voice platform powered by Unitu, emails, social media, and surveys
Suggest topics and questions to get students thinking about what they feel about their course
Explain in your emails or messages why you need student feedback, and what you will do with it
Make sure that students know that their feedback will be kept anonymous
When you gather feedback, you may end up with a lot of different opinions or issues that students want you to raise. You will need to prioritise which feedback to raise to staff if you are going to be efficient. One easy method to check feedback is to check whether it is:
1) Is the feedback widely felt? Are you confident that the majority of your cohort feel the same way about the issue or idea? If a large number of students agree, then you can have confidence that this is an important issue that you should focus on raising to staff.
If you only have agreement from one or two students, then it may be the case that the issue is a personal one which you will need to signpost to the right University support, or encourage the students to speak to staff members themselves about their own concerns.
However, if you do hear about an issue from only a few students that is not a personal one, it might be worth you doing your research by asking the other students you represent as to whether they have similar concerns, in order to double check in case it is widely felt.
2) Is the feedback deeply felt? You'll need to establish how strongly students feel about the issue, in order to help you prioritise which feedback needs to be acted on quickly in order to resolve the issue and improve student satisfaction.
You can ask students to rate issues, or vote on how strongly they feel about something, in order to get a sense of how concerned they are. You can also look out for strong language in the feedback that students send to you, in order to understand how important the matter is to them.
3) Is the feedback achievable? In order to be an effective Rep, you'll need to think about whether the feedback you bring to staff is going to be able to be achieved. You'll need to think about whether it can be done in the timeframe students want to see, or whether you need to be pragmatic about how long it'll take. If you honestly do not feel staff are able to take any action on the feedback, you might want to prioritise something that is more doable that will benefit students.
When you get feedback from your fellow students, you will then need to think about how you communicate it assertively and effectively to staff. Sometimes you will receive negative feedback that you'll then have to communicate to your department, so you'll need to be professional at all times.
It's essential that you are professional and polite when you present feedback, but it's also vitally important that student opinions are still heard even if the topic means you need to strongly consider how you present the feedback to the University. In remembering these four words: ACCURATE, BALANCED, CONSTRUCTIVE, DEPERSONALISED, you can ensure your feedback is professional at all times.
ACCURATE - Ensure you can back up your feedback with facts and that you're presenting the things your cohort wants you to present. A great way to ensure your feedback is accurate is to make use of your MySurrey Voice discussion boards where you can ask questions, start discussions, and get a broad, factual sense of what your fellow students think.
BALANCED - If you receive positive feedback from your cohort, you can also provide that when you present your negative feedback to help balance it out. Balanced feedback will have the benefit of showing your department what the cohort wants to see more of.
CONSTRUCTIVE - Be considerate and think about how you're presenting feedback, and try and identify solutions or think about what the cohort would like to see in place of the things they don't like.
DEPERSONALISED - The three golden rules: depersonalise your feedback from yourself, from the student who raised it, and from individual members of staff. You should represent the majority view of the cohort, even if you individually don't agree with the majority opinion. Keep student feedback anonymous, and if the cohort has an issue with an individual lecturer, see if you can generalise the feedback first, and if you can't, speak to a trusted member of staff in the department or speak to the Students' Union if you're not sure what to do.
Finally, when you communicate feedback about an issue to staff, follow these steps:
Describe - Outline in a good level of detail what the actual issue is and the practical elements of what the problem might be.
Express - Explain the impact this is having on students and their satisfaction, and indicate how students feel about the issue, in a professional way.
Specify - Set out some specific solutions or actions you and the cohort would like to see in resolving this issue.
Outcome - Tell staff what you think the positive outcome would be if a solution is found, or what the impact would be if no solution is found to the problem.
Test your knowledge!
Here are a few quick questions to test your knowledge on the topic of Gathering, Prioritising, and Communicating feedback.
1) Which of the following is the most important reason why an effective representative gathers feedback from a wide sample of students on a range of topics?
It helps them make friends and connections with other students
It gives them something to do with their time
It ensures the feedback they communicate to staff is an accurate picture of what students honestly think and feel about their experiences at Surrey
2) Which of these statements about gathering feedback is true?
It is important to tell students why you need their feedback and what you will do with it, and that their feedback will be kept anonymous when presented to University staff
It is not important to anonymise student feedback when you present it to University staff
It's only important to tell students that their feedback will be anonymised, not why you need it
3) What are the three checks you can do to see what feedback should be prioritised?
Is it personal? Is it individual? Is it sensible?
Is it widely felt? Is it deeply felt? Is it achievable?
Is it rude? Is it urgent? Is it unique?
4) How can you make sure feedback is depersonalised when you communicate it?
Never mention any names when you speak and be very vague
Don't share your own thoughts or feelings when you present feedback
Share the majority view, not just your own personal view, don't mention which specific students have raised issues, and don't personally target individual members of staff with negative feedback.
5) Why is it important to think about the impact of an issue you are communicating to staff?
- It helps staff realise the benefits of resolving the issue, or the difficulties caused by not resolving the issue.
- It isn't important to think about the impact of the issue
- It is a fun thought experiment
1) - 3
2) - 1
3) - 2
4) - 3
5) - 1