Dismantling the AUSU Forum

I remember my first lonely months as an AU student. Although I work well on my own, I know from experience that my learning process is enhanced by contact with fellow students. In my classroom of one, there is no enlightening discussion, no variety in points of view, no camaraderie.

When I discovered the AUSU Discussion Forums, it was like discovering archaeological treasure. It took a lot of digging to find?I didn’t know of their existence until I found them?but unearthing the forums was a revelation. Here were riches indeed: a place to ask questions, learn about courses, and navigate the labyrinth of university procedures and policies.

Now it appears AUSU council is quietly planning to eliminate this benefit to students. Without notification to, or consultation with, students, AUSU is moving forward with plans to dismantle the AUSU Forums. Council has talked about website improvements at recent council meetings without revealing much detail. A document provided by AUSU last week revealed that, while some changes are progressive and long overdue (online scholarship applications, anyone?), others, like eliminating the discussion forums, seem to be a step backward. Since students indicate they want more engagement with other students, why reduce their opportunities?

If you haven’t visited the AUSU Forums in a long time?or ever?You’re not alone. Usage has been diminishing noticeably month by month. The lure of Facebook presents strong competition for students? online attention. But, while connecting with other students on the AthaU Facebook page is convenient, the AUSU Forums have distinct advantages that mainstream social media can’t match. Here are two big ones:

Searchability. Every comment posted on the AUSU Forums is searchable. If you want to know if anyone has discussed, for example, course extensions, how to claim invigilation fees on your income tax, or a particular course, you can search for it. It doesn’t matter if the discussion happened last week or last year, the information is readily available. On Facebook, search results are limited to what is loaded on your screen; if you want to find threads older than a few hours, you’ll have to scroll, scroll, scroll. The same questions end up getting asked week after week, with varying quality of answers.

Privacy. The AUSU Forums are restricted to AU undergraduate students. If you want to air a beef about your tutor, chances are you don’t want your tutor to see it (at least until you’ve got all your marks back.) While It’s possible for a tutor to also be an undergrad and therefore a member of AUSU, the AUSU Forums allow users to create their own user names, and restrict information displayed about themselves. With Facebook, students are letting it all hang out. Not only are they using, in most cases, their full name, they are posting for all of AU to see. The Facebook page is an informal?and unofficial?AU community, which includes students, alumni, staff, and faculty members. If the AUSU Forum is like asking a question in a student café, Facebook is like shouting it out in the middle of campus. (This is of particular concern to those who live in Alberta; do you really want to announce to a potential employer, “OMG, I totally flunked my EASY 101 exam. Can I withdraw from the course so it doesn’t show on my transcript?”)

Since the AUSU Forums are superior, why aren’t all AU undergraduate students using them? For the most part, they’re not using the forums because not many other students are using them. A discussion forum is useful only to the extent that it is used. In order to have vibrant and informative discussions, in order to get timely and accurate responses to questions, more students have to use the forums more often.

How do you convince more students to use AUSU Forums? The same way you market any product or service: promote it. Despite the value of the discussion forums to its members, AUSU hasn’t been particularly good at promoting this service. If students don’t happen to see the brief mention of the forums that occasionally shows up in AUSU e-mail newsletters, they’ll only find the forums if they happen, as I did, to dig in the right place. The Voice Magazine has done more than AUSU to promote the forums lately, with weekly highlights in the Student Sizzle column, and a feature article in 2014.

To avoid losing the AUSU Forums, you can start by using them. The more students who use them, the more students who will use them. Of course, usage is no guarantee of survival. Since AUSU council has stopped responding to posts in the “Ask AUSU” forum, their willingness to preserving this service for students appears doubtful.

If You’re concerned about the loss of this or any other AUSU service, contact AUSU. E-mail ausu@ausu.org and request that your e-mail be forwarded to the remaining six AUSU student councillors. AUSU councillors won’t know what you want unless you tell them.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario

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