VP Education candidate: Morag Donnachie

The Student contacted VP Education candidate Morag regarding her campaign and manifesto. To read Morag’s manifesto, click here.

Why did you choose to run for this position?

Honestly, I thought I could make a difference.

What are your thoughts on the mandatory interruptions policy?

I think this is an incredibly damaging policy that will potentially exacerbate mental health issues that students may be experiencing in a number of ways such as, for example, increasing their isolation, removing them from sources of potential support and preventing them from feeling any sort of ability to make their own decisions about how best to support and treat their mental health.

What is the most ambitious point on your manifesto and how do you plan to tackle it?

I think that possibly the most ambitious point is my pledge to work towards more flexible forms of learning and assessment. This is not going to be an easy thing to ‘sell’ to lecturers and course organisers and I fully anticipate that it will not happen during my tenure as VPEd. I am not looking for quick fixes, even if all I achieve during the course of my time is get the ball rolling and persuade others that it truly is the best way forward for the university as a whole that will be sufficient. To answer the second point of your question, a project such as this will require consultation with everyone involved, students, staff, administrators even. It will need careful assessment of the evidence of research studies and other institutions that have trialled flexible learning. There is a great deal of compelling evidence however that demonstrates that flexible learning and especially flexible assessment can have a huge impact on students’: learning outcomes, grades, satisfaction and wellbeing. Having control of your own learning gives a far greater sense of agency, it gives students ownership of their own learning and can help students to really thrive in what is a very intense and stressful period of their lives.

What experience do you have that you believe will be pertinent to this role?

I have previously been involved with an arts organisation in the west of Edinburgh, during my time there I delivered a number of Theatre in Education projects, facilitated workshops and served as Company Secretary to the Board of Directors (which sounds way grander than it actually was, a bunch of local people who cared about their community and wanted to make a difference – also we got heaps of help and support from the full time paid staff) during this time I taught myself company and charity law (most of which I have now sadly forgotten), I helped design and implement arts-based education for some of the most deprived and disadvantaged young people in Edinburgh. I have both seen and experienced the difference that having a voice and a sense of agency can make to people who just need a wee bit more support to enable them to thrive and fulfil their potential.

You talk about protecting those students who come from marginalised backgrounds. How would you go about this?

I haven’t ever mentioned protecting marginalised students. What I have discussed is the importance of supporting non-traditional and marginalised students, enabling non-traditional students to feel a part of the university community, and providing them with the skills and support to thrive in a university environment. As for how I would do this, at the moment I can really only speak to what would have helped me, in order to truly formulate effective policies and interventions I would need to be able to discuss that with students from non-traditional backgrounds to identify the areas where those supports are lacking and identify effective means to ameliorate them. However, from my own experience, a far greater level of contact time in the first year, with a greater emphasis on study skills, how to read, how to understand and effectively answer essay questions, how to analyse a source properly would have been very helpful. This is a very course specific list however but at the heart of it is: ideally, the first year could serve as a transitional year between school/college/access course and the far greater expectations at the university level.

Your manifesto also mentions more flexible assessment methods. What methods does this include and how do you plan to get lecturers onboard with these alternative assessment methods?

There is a growing body of research on this topic and it will take a careful assessment of the evidence as well as consultation with both staff and students to decide the best way forward for the institution as a whole. However, possibilities include; giving students choice in the weighting of their assessments, providing a greater range of assessment methods from which students could select those best suited to their own learning style – such as (for example) choosing between creating a webpage, writing an essay or producing a youtube/twitch/other vlog on a given subject.

Finally, is there anything in particular about your manifesto/campaign that you want to draw students’ attention to? What is your favourite policy?

I don’t know about favourite policy but, bearing in mind the crucial part played by tutors in delivering a high quality education, I think that my policy to work towards ensuring tutors get increased training and support to effectively and consistently do their jobs and, that their contracts are an accurate representation of the demands of the job, is possibly one of the most important manifesto points. Tutors can play a massive part in drawing out skills, knowledge, understanding, creativity – I could go on. However, if they are underpaid, inadequately trained and supported, lack a clear framework in which to operate, you undermine their effectiveness, their motivation and their ability to guide and inspire students.

 


 

The following is a transcription of Morag’s responses during the Sabbatical Candidate’s Question Time which took place on Thursday 28 February 2019.

Due to technical difficulties we, unfortunately, do not have any record of the first half of this event. Some answers may have been edited for clarity.

How do you intend to effectively represent the students from the academic level you are not currently a student at?

Similarly to Laura, I think the key thing would be to communicate and listen. To find out the needs for postgraduate students, the areas they need more support, the areas where their needs are not being met as they could be. I think I many ways, postgraduate students have very similar needs to undergraduates. They need flexible forms of assessment, they need free access to study materials, regardless of where they’re working for. They need support, they need someone to listen to them, they need a voice to speak out for them. And that is what I aim to do, for any student, at any level.

 

Image: Shannen Tioniwar 

 

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