Late yesterday afternoon I received a communique from Dr Mossy Kelly, Director of Student Experience for the School of Mathematics & Physical Sciences. As a School Representative I was invited to attend a meeting of the Student Experience Enhancement Review team. It was a very short notice arrangement, but thankfully my only lecture of the day finished just as the meeting was due to commence. Joined by a first year course representative and several of the senior faculty, I was tasked with pouring over the National Student Survey results for the previous academic year.
Far away from my usual classrooms, the panel assembled in the Nidd building at the edge of the business school. Several attendants were delayed by the difficulty of navigating their way through unfamiliar corridors. Rather poetically this would become a major topic of the discussion.
Looking through our survey results, we found that our mathematics courses were almost entirely red on academic support, organisation & management, and student voice, while the learning resources section came up mostly green. We deduced that both of these features could be down to the fundamentally generic nature of mathematics as an academic discipline – one cannot easily make it visually interesting in a brochure. Whereas physics could be represented by it’s lasers and pulleys; chemistry by its test tubes and fume cupboards; biology by its petri dishes and gerbils; computer science by its, well, computers; mathematics consists almost entirely of standard lectures in standard rooms. There are no special objects or equipment that would be required solely for mathematics and not other subjects. This factor works to our advantage in terms of resource evaluation; so long as the university’s library and information technology systems are sufficiently-endowed (and Hull is far from quiet in proclaiming its fulfilment of these criteria), the students will report that their needs are satisfied, without the departmental staff being required to make any further effort.
The downside of our flexibility, however, is that we become a school of nomads. While the other subjects can confine themselves to their dedicated environments we are free to be unceremoniously scattered across all and any spare spaces, so that we are without a secure territory to call our home. A potential result of this is a loss of departmental identity within the faculty. There is no obvious place to go to find one’s teachers to lobby for changes or to request help with assignments. It is not inconceivable that this could lead to a lack of engagement between faculty and students, which might in turn cause the support networks to be weaker than in other disciplines. It would be interesting to compare the survey results for other subjects to determine how much of a difference the presence or absence of a distinct departmental headquarters can make to the effectiveness of the organisation.
No further engagements in this capacity appear immediately on one’s horizon, but communications from administrators foretell some sort of forum being held before Christmas. Perhaps the badges will have arrived by that point!