Hearing Voices

Empowerment, it is the sole function of technology.

To do more with less, to reach out in new ways, to make life that little bit easier, but most of all technology allows us to communicate information and ideas astonishingly quickly.

If something big happens in somewhere in the world, it will be global news in a matter of minutes, news flashes will hit websites and tv channels, forums and social networking sites will burst forth with discussion, linking to new information the second it becomes available.

So technology helps us communicate, but its that manner of communication that has started to change teaching.

For a long time education has been stuck in the traditional 20th century style of teaching, teachers at the front of the class informing and instructing, students listening but not engaging and responding. However with the advent of forums, social media websites and telecommunications; Students are now used to commenting on a range of issues that concern them, whenever they like.

Students were speaking but we as educators weren’t listening

If we aren’t listening to our students, how can we ever hope to satisfy their needs?

Thus the concept of the learner voice was born and combined with ICT we’re giving students the tools to comment on everything we do. Through the use of surveys, forums and student controlled content management systems we are giving students the power to talk back and be heard.

A good example of this happened on our forums a couple of months back.

Since its inception the College has had a no hats policy for a variety of reasons, students have always had issue with this but have been unable to force any change.

Timeline of change:

And then on the 08 Dec 2008 at 09:38 a student posted the following in our Student Council Forum:

“why are we not allowed to wear hats in college? I can understand not wearing huge stupid hats, but it is really cold, and wearing a hat keeps you warm. When you get told to take it off, you just end up getting really cold ears!”

Students soon started posting messages agreeing and asking for a petition to be formed, within the thread Students started asking who to meet with to discuss the issue further. Staff members soon responded to the student debate, informing them of the issues (security) why hats were not allowed.

Students then debated how a hat would stop people from commiting crime within the College:

“To be honest, If a student or ‘intruder’ really does want to do anything bad in college they will enter without a hat. Then, before they do what ever they do (without wanting anyone to know who it is) they will put their hat on.

Therefor the chances of them being told to remove their hat is very unlikely and if a tutor is there to tell them to remove the hat surely they will be caught doing what ever it is they are doing.

Once they have done what ever it is they are doing they will surely flee then later remove their hat.

Thus rendering the whole no hats concept pointless unless college searches our bags for hats before we enter…”

The thread on the forums had now exceeded 140 posts and over 2500 views, the students were starting to get noticed. As a result of the student discussion the College created a online survey to find out their views on the current hat policy, what they would change and why.

Selection of questions & responses from the Survey:

“Do you think changes should be made to the current policy?”

75% of students said yes

“Do you feel that people should be able to wear any type of hat?”

Yes 48%
No 52%

“Do you feel that if the “no hats” policy were removed, it would give the wrong message about acceptable behaviour to students and staff?”

Yes 26%
No 74%

It was clear that Students wanted change but they understood that not all hats were appropriate and that they did not see an issue with presentation or security.

In April 2009 the Student Council posted the following in the hat thread:

“Change to the Student Code of Conduct
Following recent consultation with students and staff concerning the wearing of hats, it has been decided to amend the Student Code of Conduct as follows:

Point 9 under the Behaviour heading will be removed and replaced with:

Hoods must not be worn in College at any time
Caps or hats of any type must not be worn in an examination
Students must remove hats or any other head covering whilst talking to a member of staff or in class if asked to do so by the member of staff
Students must not wear hats or any other head covering whilst they are wearing a uniform or protective clothing required for their course
Students must remove hats or any other head covering whilst working in certain environments eg: engineering workshops or laboratories
Hats and any other head covering must be removed whilst photographs for College ID cards are being taken.
The only exceptions to the above are those who wear hats or head covering for religious or medical reasons with permission.”

The Student Body had spoken with one voice and through their use of the forums facilitated a large scale change in College Policy.

Without the Forums to serve a melting pot for the debate and the Students enagement of it as a discussion platform, it is unlikely that any of the above would have occoured.

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