At the Open University Students Association, ensuring that student voice is not only heard, but listened and responded to, is of the utmost importance. Thanks to the close partnership we share with The Open University, student representatives are involved in decision-making through various groups, committees and meetings, at all levels of the University, so we want to share our ‘best practice’ tips for anyone thinking of involving students in meetings and groups:
Think about who you want involved and why
- If your project will impact students, it’s key to involve and listen to the student voice. It is important to consider student involvement at the very first meetings before work is underway. It prevents students from having to ‘catch up’ and ensures that they are treated as an equal member of the group.
- More than 20,000 people with disabilities study with the OU, so it is important to ensure you have considered any individual needs. You may need to make some reasonable adjustments to enable disabled students to attend or take part, and this may incur additional cost.
- Be proactive, making a point to ask students if there is anything you can do to support their involvement, rather than waiting for students to come forward. Be clear that any adjustments that need to be made will not act as a barrier to participation.
- If you aren’t sure how to reach students or want to discuss your ideas, get in touch with the Vice President Education or the Volunteering and Representation team at the Students Association if you are from the OU, or your own student association if you are reading from elsewhere.
Ensure students understand what you need from them
- Be clear about the commitment you are asking for. Do you need the student to simply attend a session, or will they need time to read documents and/or participate outside of the meeting? Try to be open and honest about how long workstreams and groups will last (e.g. weeks/months/years).
- If students need to read papers before meetings, please send them at least ten days in advance, make sure the students know who to contact in case they have questions. If you want to use online tools to share papers, check students have access – otherwise use email.
Make sure students have all the information they need
- Where students are full members of committees or working groups, remember to make sure they have the same access to any information circulated between meetings, and in discussions, where relevant.
- When working groups or new committees are created, the Terms of Reference should include the student(s) as members. This ensures that student members are not missed off mailings or invite lists for meetings.
Consider your location and timing
- Just like you, students are busy! Try to give them plenty of advance notice, regardless of the type of event or activity.
- Remember to account for travel to and from the venue in your timetable; avoid making students travel in rush hour where possible.
Make sure you have a budget to cover travel and subsistence expenses
- As the OU is a four-nation University, students could be travelling from a range of areas. If you do not feel you can accommodate expenses for students outside of a certain radius, it would be best to review your event and consider using an online format to encourage a diversity of voices.
- You’ll need to provide a hard copy expenses form for students to complete and return. Please process claims swiftly; students will be out of pocket until they receive payment. It may help reduce the amount they have to pay in advance to use ‘click travel’ or other means to book on behalf of students.
- Be clear what expenses will be covered to avoid students having to ask, as this can create a barrier for anyone who feels uncomfortable asking.
Choose meeting rooms carefully and consider whether students can attend remotely if they prefer
- Most students can access the MS Teams app and struggle to join ‘Skype for Business’ – however, it’s best to ask which platform they prefer to avoid stressful technical issues.
- If students will be the only individuals attending the meeting remotely, it is unlikely they will be able to contribute in the same way as face to face members. It could be hard for them to gauge when to interject or speak if they are not in the room, especially if they don’t yet understand the group dynamic and have not met the other members.
- When booking meeting rooms, think about if they are easy to find, whether they are close to amenities, and ensure you know of and are meeting any accessibility requirements your student participants have.
- If anyone is attending remotely, keep an eye on the chatbox/raised hand icons and make time to come to them. Be aware of where the microphone is to avoid noise interference.
- For multi-location universities, such as the OU, it is good to consider using venues outside of your ‘core base’. While students love to come to the main campus, it is good to see other locations, and using other offices or venues could increase attendance depending on the event.
- Could you hold meetings or workshops outside of ‘normal’ working hours? To truly engage with a diverse range of students, it is important to remember that many students, particularly OU students, may study alongside working and/or caring commitments. If hosting a series of workshops where you are looking for student input, offering different times will benefit your project.
- When working with the same students regularly, try to consult on the time of the meeting beforehand, and work around the student – unlike staff, their availability within working hours may not be flexible due to other commitments.
Tell students why it is important and what impact their involvement will have
- Students love to know how their involvement helps. Make the objectives and purpose of your meeting or group known, and share this with all students you want to get involved.
- Students will not be as familiar as you are with internal jargon, policies and processes, so please make sure the papers and communications you provide take this into account. At the beginning of meetings, make it clear that it is okay for students to ask what acronyms mean, and remind staff to try to avoid them, or to explain them in the first instance.
- It is important to remember to close the loop and let students know how their contributions have made a difference. Let them know where to find the information and when to expect it.
- Since students will be giving their time voluntarily, you may feel recognition of their contribution is in order. Tokens of appreciation should always be proportionate to the activity. Thinking of rewarding students for their involvement? Please contact the Students Association Volunteering and Representation team, who will be able to provide our guide.
On the day
- Arrange for someone to meet students when they arrive to avoid any anxiety about finding the right rooms or even getting lost.
- Provide the name, phone number and email address of someone they can contact on the day if there are any problems or questions.
Hopefully, by following the advice outlined above, your project will have meaningful input from a diverse range of students.