Keeping in Touch: Managing Student and Staff Expectations in Times of Change

Karen SHEPPARD
The University of Queensland, Australia
k.sheppard@uq.edu.au

Deanne GANNAWAY
The University of Queensland, Australia
d.gannaway@uq.edu.au

Ellen DEARDEN
The University of Queensland, Australia
e.dearden@uq.edu.au

Abstract

In seeking to improve student experience, curriculum developers adopt innovative modes of delivery, new curriculum approaches and interesting and challenging assessment processes in the attempt to engage students in their learning. Students, comfortable in their understandings of what their learning experiences should be, can often respond quite negatively to these changes, and can be particularly punishing in unit of study and teaching evaluations.

Considering how to manage these expectations and encourage students to accept, if not wholeheartedly agree with, these changes is a dilemma faced by schools and faculties at all levels. Qualters (2003) suggests a number of strategies to overcome student resistance: assessing climate for change through early feedback, clear learning expectations expressed in course objectives, appreciating and understand how changes will affect students and the classroom and preparing students for change by acknowledging and validating their concerns. These strategies have at least one thing in common: clear and transparent communication at all levels.

This presentation showcases the communication approaches developed by faculty staff from an Australian research intensive university in response to negative student feedback. These strategies were designed to engage with student concerns about transition and change in several courses. It also foregrounds the evaluation tools utilised by external evaluators to understand the efficacy and value of "keeping in touch" with students. These tools provided a practical understanding of what strategies are successful and why. The presentation also highlights the value of collecting evaluation data over time, producing a tangible evidence base to support both students and staff through the different stages of change.

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