Going Global: The International Distance-Learning Student Forum

OU Students Association President, Sarah Jones, introduces the International Distance-Learning Student Forum (IDLSF).

On Friday the 12th of November 2021 at 5.30pm in the UK (and much earlier in each of Canada’s six time zones), the first ever International Distance Learning Student Forum (IDLSF) meeting was held on Zoom.

The IDLSF is a meeting for student leaders and staff from the OU Students Association, Athabasca University Students’ Union (AUSU) and Athabasca University Graduate Students’ Association (AUGSA) from Alberta, Canada, to discuss topics and issues related to distance-learning student representation.

Since mid-2020, we have been developing a relationship with colleagues from Athabasca when, after an initial meeting, we discovered that we share so many similarities and face many of the same challenges. Having explored some isolated opportunities for partnership work, we really wanted to consolidate the relationship and ensure that there would be regular opportunities to communicate, share best practice, and even identify other areas for partnership activities. That’s when the idea of the IDLSF emerged, and so we’re delighted to finally get it off the ground.

The purpose of the IDLSF is to discuss a pre-agreed topic, compare notes, and share experiences and best practice, and the plan is to make it a quarterly meeting that will strengthen the partnerships between our organisations. The format of the meeting was a presentation from the OU Students Association, a presentation from AUSU, followed by a discussion and Q&A on the topic.

The topic for Friday’s meeting was ‘Community Building’, and it was brilliant to see so many of our OU Students Association student leaders taking an active interest at the meeting and taking the opportunity to meet some of their Canadian counterparts. During the meeting, our Community Team did a brilliant presentation on some of the amazing work we do for OU students, and it was fascinating to find out what another distance-learning students’ union on the other side of the world was doing to bring students together and overcome the same challenges we all face in engaging with distance-learning students.

It was great to see the chat-box light up with comments from our student leaders in response to some of the ideas and initiatives our Canadian colleagues described. Through the computer screen, it was almost possible to see the thoughts turning to ‘How could we implement that kind of thing here for OU students?’. And that’s exactly what we were hoping the meeting would lead to. There’s no shame at all in stealing good ideas, and if our students at the OU can benefit from them, and students in Athabasca can benefit from learning about our work in the UK, then the IDLSF will be really delivering on its intended aims.

The IDLSF will be a quarterly meeting, with the next one taking place in February 2022.

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Sarah P Jones

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