Saturday, July 24, 2010

What I learned this week

I relearned that communication – interpersonal and organisational – is tough work…. That good communications can identify, alleviate and address problems before they get out of hand and that poor communications can lead to a downward spiral that – among other things – can damage or end relationships, dishearten otherwise committed people, and simply turn individuals off… Of course there’s more to ‘communications’ than that but what became obvious to me this week as I engaged with at least 175 students face to face on campuses and approximately 500 via a webcast/blogging session (the I’m All Ears Tour) is that there is, generally speaking, a communications problem.
I have a sense from listening and talking to our learners that there could and should be better communications (embedded in our operations) between students and staff, especially those who lecture, teach or otherwise advise them on their courses and programs.
Even though I have the blog and I talk to students during O week, Graduation and when I walkabout, the Tour was really the first time in 10 or 11 months that I really sought after students and asked them to provide me with some feedback. That’s my shortcoming; I should have done it sooner. I count it as among my best CQUni experiences to date. Why? Not because it was all champagne and roses --- not by a long shot --- but because students told me it made them feel valued, listened to and important. And they are.
I’m VERY interested in what students have to say about the University and made a commitment to them this week that I – through our Exec Deans, Deans, Directors and so on – would follow up transparently to the points they raised by posting their issues and our responses to them on the University’s website (available soon at I know there are other pathways and venues where students can raise issues, but to be frank, it appears to me that some students, at least, feel they are not being listened to and/or some of us are not being timely or consistent in our responses.
I don’t want you to misconstrue what I’m saying here. CQUniversity is doing a great job: enrolments in CQ are stronger than they have been in a long time; new programs are on the way; we are engaging and making a positive difference and we have some of the best teaching staff in the country no question…. I’m more confident than ever that we truly will have that ‘great’ University we all want in 10 years or less.
That being said, though, I end this week believing that each one of us needs to take more responsibility for the student experience; we need to encourage open and honest communication with our students; we need to be as responsive as we can to their queries, suggestions and feedback; and we need to hold each other accountable.
Let me just share with you some of issues, forum after forum, that kept popping up:
• The support staff – in the Library, Communications and Mathematics centre, and student centres especially – are very friendly and helpful
• The Moodle experience is inconsistent – the learning experience in some courses is excellent with lecturers exploiting the medium, adding value and really engaging students; other courses, however, don’t follow through or significantly leverage the technology; Some CQUni lecturers/course coordinators need to be “brought up to speed” on how to best use Moodle
• Why can’t more/all lectures be recorded and downloadable as opposed to streaming? Student said they needed their learning material to be more portable and accessible to them
• More courses need to be available in Term 3, especially in SEH programs
• More complete programs need to be offered on campus, not just 1st and 2nd years
• We aren’t informed enough about the entitlements and benefits of being a student and don’t know enough about how uni works before we start…
Listen, I’m running the risk of sounding negative here. That’s not my intention. We’re going in the right direction. The fact is, however, that only 3.8% of our students responded to the last round of satisfaction surveys. And no matter how you look at that, that’s not good. I think we all want an environment here that engenders communication, debate, continuous learning and a free flow of ideas from which we can all benefit. We want to be told when, how and why things are working and when they aren’t and make real steps to constantly improve our courses, ourselves and the student experience.
One Bundaberg student said it really well and, I think, best represented a sentiment that is likely shared by all of our 20-thousand students:
“I’m a customer too. I expect professional standards and I expect that back from CQUniversity.”
Sounds fair and reasonable to me.
I look forward to hearing from you.


Anonymous said...

I agree with most of this even if it was based on a small number of surveys and conversations. Obviously all things mentioned here require extra staff and training so once we have that we might be able to get somewhere with these issues.

Anonymous said...

Students are not customers and they are at a University ... they are adults which means that they need to take some responsibility for their own learning ... life is not about constantly being spoonfed or suckled. Aren't you meant to be what YOU want to be

Anonymous said...

Attending the Bundaberg Campus Student forum was the best feedback exercise I've attended. I've taken a lot of the issues facing students and made four major areas where improvement will be implemented in my program. The best were the communication concerns and to see how we are viewed from the students. I look forward to more of these and on a regular basis. The more feedback we recieve the better we can get at giving everyone the best service.

Anonymous said...

Students are customers! I'm investing in my future and I'm choosing CQUni to provide that for me. Not James Cook, not QUT...CQU. If you want students to enrol, you have to treat them like customers. Without customers, you don't have a business. Without students, you don't have a uni. Simple as that.

Scott, I think you're leading our uni in a great direction and look forward to completing my degree with pride that it's from CQU.

Rolley said...

That's some decent feedback from students, I remember the sentiment all too well - being a customer, knowing that you'd be paying for your degree for the following ten years while you work hard. They have every right to expect great things - and small things, such as a more practical delivery of audio/video based content.

To make such improvements in-house though, the media-infrastructure would most likely need some changes. I think improvements can be made in this area without the need for more staff or a significant amount of staff training though.

There's so many tools/services available these days, not to mention willing staff who would love to be involved in innovating the way we distribute media to our students. We have all the people and talent already for this, I think we just need a little more time and less bureaucracy.

Even small changes could make big improvements - the video encoding servers could be setup to produce not only the streamed media, but a package of downloadable and mobile-friendly files that Academics could also offer to their students.

On a grander scale, some Universities in Australia are using iTunesU for audio/video content delivery; it would be interesting to see how effective it's been for students, but overall it sounds like an amazing step.

Interesting times anyway, there's no doubt how important video content is to students.

Anonymous said...

Students should not be considered customers. This engenders the belief that lecturers are there to serve the students and that the qualification they get at the end df their studies is a product. The degree they receive is a recognition that a student has demonstrated an ability to meet the strict standards set by the University, it's not a product that anyone can get as long as they pay a fee. I agree that stuents have a right to expect quality education but I will not be regarded as a sales assistant serving a group of cutomers. The fee the student pays is reimbusement for my professional extertise as an academic and the resources provided by the University, it is not a fee for a degree.

Anonymous said...

There have been so many spirited discussions about this concept of students being customers. It is a bit surprising that there is little response to the blog from academics.

It is clear to me that this idea needs to have much more public discussion.

I disagree with the idea that students are customers. Yes, they have a right to expect and receive a quality learning experience.

However, they have responsibilities with those rights. From where I sit, there are many students who do not take responsibility for their learning. They expect to be spoonfed, and be provided with numerous concessions to complete their learning.

In addition, just because students are paying to participate in higher learning does not mean they are guaranteed a degree.

It means that they are investing in learning, and IF they meet the standards and the requirements then they will conferred a degree and thus entrance into a profession.

The University has an obligation to ensure that students meet the requirements of accreditation bodies.

It does nothing for the reputation of the University when students graduate without meeting the standards, requirements, and being enabled not to take responsibility for their learning.

When one pays for medical services, one is not offered good health. In fact, one is offered advice based on their expertise. It is similar in education.

Rolley said...

I think what's expected of students and their responsibility to learning is really a separate issue. Of course students shouldn't expect to be spoon fed, receive knowledge passively, and be handed a degree without earning it. What it means to be a student is one thing; what it means to be an education provider, is another.

The expectations that students have on their provider, us, is what makes them our customers.

Take that medical metaphor then, as mentioned in the previous comment;

If I was a patient, I'd first have to choose a hospital. Depending on the hospital I'd receive treatment from a different medical team. Regardless of that first choice, I'd expect the hospital have quality operating theatres with the appropriate tools and technology - I'd expect my surgeon to be confident with those tools, procedures, and technologies - I'd expect my anaesthetist to be fully qualified and experienced as well - I'd expect the theatre nurses, surgeon, anaesthetist, and other areas to communicate effectively between themselves to offer me, both patient and customer, the best level of care possible.

The same can be said for education.

The main point is, that as customers, students have a level of expectation of our teaching staff, our services, the quality of our content and how the content is delivered.

Anonymous said...

A web definition for 'custoner': "A customer, also called client, buyer, or purchaser, is usually used to refer to a current or potential buyer or user of the products of an individual or organization, called the supplier, seller, or vendor. This is typically through purchasing or renting goods or services"
A web definition for 'student': "The word student is etymologically derived through Middle English from the Latin second-type conjugation verb studēre, meaning 'to direct one's zeal at'; hence a student could be described as "one who directs zeal at a subject". In its widest use, student is used for anyone who is learning"

So please choose - I can either sell you a product or teach you, I can't do both at the same time because the relationships are very, very different and I am not a salesperson that has trained in the finer details of customer relationship.
Here is another definition: "A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education. ..."
Note that it does not say that a university 'sells education'
If you wish to simply purchase a degree, please see a website like

Rolley said...

I'd be a little cautious of relying so heavily on definition of the mere words. The definitions are just explanations of the words without a real context. They don't take many of the real life complexities in to account - how the student feels and see's themselves in the equation in particular.

Studying the etymology of the word student certainly provides us with the history of the word and its evolving meaning, but it doesn't provide any strict one-way meaning for today's society and the relationship between students and learning institutions. Is this not the point of etymology, how words and their meaning evolve over time?

One mustn't assume that the role of a teacher is to sell an education either; we're talking about this at an institutional level; where students not only see themselves as a customer, but actually consider Universities as they would with many other life-changing investments.

Perhaps to some it's an inconvenient truth that a student would consider them self a customer; however, I don't think it's a bad thing at all. Is it not a good thing to be challenged with higher expectations?