Once each year, AU students are invited to come and hear what’s happening with AUSU. It is also an opportunity for AUSU members to bring up topics and give some feedback and direction about what AUSU should focus on. The topics raised at the meeting have been discussed and approved by council but it’s an opportunity to open discussion to the whole. The following points were raised at this year’s meeting and was a mixture of discussion between what has already been discussed by council as well as what participants raised during the meeting.
Auditors very happy with AUSU’s process of “cleaning up” the records and are eager to see how that will play out in the coming year. The previous unrestricted funds have now been restricted for specific purposes. Council’s income statement has more revenue than it budgeted for, but still had a small loss. The year’s budget reporting revealed this, but the fee increase has enabled AUSU to have a balanced budget moving forward.
This was an exciting year for AUSU and big changes are coming up. The demographic of AU’s students showed that Alberta had the most students with Ontario close behind, and the number of Alberta students is growing. AUSU hosted its new councillor retreat; this was the second annual retreat, and the first time it was held on the AU campus during convocation. Councillors said that it was a neat experience being on campus. The councillors finalized the strategic plan and made some changes to how council does things, developing executive work plans rather than a strategic goal list and the work plan for this year was approved. There is a link to AUSU’s annual report on the website that contains all the details.
Lots of bylaws changed and were revised according with Government of Alberta Post Secondary Learning Act. A big change is that council cannot delegate some responsibilities and the existing bylaws needed to be updated to reflect this. Also, non-governing members can propose changes, but council has the ultimate authority about whether to vote on and adopt any changes. In light of AU’s growing enrollment, the council size was increased from nine to thirteen councillors. One side-effect of this change was an increased engagement with council elections by students.
Council also agreed to significant changes to its annual members meeting. In the past, the meeting was more formal but the new meetings have adopted a less formal format that will hopefully invite more open discussion both at the member’s meeting and in the future, where students can understand how council’s bylaws work and the process involved. There remain many small changes to be done to AUSU’s bylaws, such as correcting grammar and wording and more minor provisions to bylaws and these will also happen in the near future.
Along with the actual revision of the bylaws, council caught a discrepancy between the collection of membership fees of current students and refunds for students who dropped out of courses and/or programs. AU was refunding membership fees in all cases of students dropping out, even though the bylaws stipulated no refunds. This led to drop in revenue for AUSU, and Council needing to evaluate under what situations refunds should be given. A solution was put in place that if an AU student withdrew after the course start date, or if a student participated in any course work, then student union fees won’t be refunded, however fees will be refunded if a student withdraws before ever starting the course, or when AU refunds fees based on compassionate grounds, such as the fires in Fort McMurray or the large flood in Calgary. This past year saw a major overhaul of AUSU policies and procedures, so it is unlikely that there will be any large overhauls in future.
You may not have heard about the new Learning Framework adopted by AU, but it is a significant way forward for the university. AU is thinking about significant changes throughout all of its operations, and part of that is learning framework document about how AU presents its services. The guiding principle of this document is the question, “What are things that need to be considered when dealing with learning?” A steering committee has been formed to implement the framework. It will look at such things such as how learning can improve and change in the future, and how AU can be more inclusive. Originally, there was no student representation on this committee and no consultation planned for students, but AUSU said that because students were the heart of AU, there needed to be consultation. AUSU requested and obtained a seat so that student voices can be heard. Since then, AU has been engaging with students and there have been lots of good ideas and feedback. The recommendations as a result of the consultation will be very important to facilitate learning at AU.
What are some of the ideas that are emerging from this process? A big aspect of this is maximizing the use of technology and customized learning. A big debate among AU students is around e-texts versus paper texts and other course materials that are tailored to the individual needs of the course. Despite AU’s unique learning format that is unlike bricks-and-mortar universities, most courses at AU are still reliant on a traditional textbook as a primary resource. As it stands now, there is not much alternative to textbooks, and students still need them. Another recognition is that a lot of the burden is placed on students to teach themselves in the absence of “traditional” university lectures. What role should AU academic staff play in teaching? How can students have more interaction with staff? So far students have said that they would like the ability to interact with tutors more and in a beneficial way. Students often have a difficult time reaching out to tutors. Also, AU students feel isolated from one another and don’t get the needed interaction and support with each other. Student interaction is not universal between courses and programs, and this is another area where AU is very inconsistent. Another comment from students is that, unlike other universities, they are unable to choose a particular tutor, especially one that fits their learning needs.
Another big area that the Learning Framework is involved with is course development and implementation. Students don’t know what goes into developing a course. Perhaps this is a communication issue between AU and students, but students are demanding increased use of technology that will help them learn, and also taking advantage of the ability to use various platforms, especially on mobile devices. AU prides itself on the ability of students to study anywhere—but the student experience shows that the reality of AU courses often does not mesh with this assertion. Technology is a big part of this process. Classes need consistencies from course to courses—Arts courses have a completely different layout and functionality from Business courses, for example. It was also mentioned that AU needs to look into consistency with the Moodle platform as well. AU as an online university should be at the forefront of technology, but the general feeling among students seems to be that it is lagging behind other universities.
AU staff and administration are eager to find out what learners expect from their education. The issue of interaction goes both ways, where tutors and staff have so little contact with students that they do not know what the student experience is like or what it demands. Coming up with creative and value-added tools such as co-op learning placements and video group chats, were mentioned as just a couple of ideas that AU could use. Obviously, financial constraints mean that AU can’t do that for every course, but even small changes can make a difference to the student experience. The MBA program at AU is a shining success of what could be possible, but the lower undergrad course fees mean that the same tools may not be implemented in other subject areas.
Other questions that are part of the Learning Framework are regarding how students see their education; such as: What can you do with your degree? What about opportunities other than employability? AU as an institution needs to be recognized more with the general public—its brand recognition needs work. Despite the fact that AU is highly regarded among Canadian universities, there is a stigma that students attend AU because they have no other choice. Perhaps increased advertising and marketing campaigns, in visible places such as on billboards and airline magazines et cetera will help change this perception. Although it was noted that there are some regions where this is happening.
AUSU President Brandon Simmons said that the Learning Framework is an incredible opportunity for AU, as it is not often a university decides to change its whole model from the top down. However, it is also important for AU students to seek out ways to get involved with other students and engage with AU. Perhaps implementing local study groups and the meet-and-greets with councillors will be a start and lead to more opportunities put in place by AU in the future
In closing, President Simmons remarked that council really appreciates the feedback and will pass any ideas that students have at any time to AU administration. He said that “It’ll be itnersting to see what the university is like in a couple of years and how it’s going to use the current student feedback to make AU even better.”
DID YOU KNOW…?
…the city with the most AU students is Calgary, Alberta!