Giving ownership to the student body

A recurring theme at this year’s Educuase conference has been the need to better engage students in the development of services and courses.

One presentation from Clemson University highlighted the approach they had adopted. Clemson have established an IT Student Advisory Board which is not only involved in helping to shape Clemson’s IT Strategy and plans, but has control over a proportion of the IT budget which it can use for developments. The members of the Board are nominated by their respective colleges and they elect their chair from that number. Members serve on the board for a number of years to ensure that there is some continuity from one year to the next.

The students at Clemson are subject to a charge for use of IT and so the Board, in addition to making suggestions as to future services, reviews those already in place. In order to inform the discussion, the Board are given costs for the services. The experience has been positive. The Board have not been afraid to make unpopular decisions – they recommended that the IT charge was increased and have introduced charging for print. The latter delivered savings which the department were then able to invest in other projects. The Board, being students themselves, have identified services that have enhanced the student experience including introduction of Mac based labs and the development of a mobile app.

In theory the Board can make any recommendation to the IT department, even to the extent of suggesting closing down services. It was clear that there hadn’t been any ridiculous suggestions to date but also there was provision for IT services to explain the consequences of such suggestions.

Overall, the Board was responsible for delivering benefits for its fellow students and was clearly working in partnership with the IT department. For their part, the IT department benefited from a source of innovation which, because it was coming from the student body, was aligned to the student experience.

University IT departments have great difficulty in engaging students. This is little surprise when the default method of engagement is often a committee meeting where the student will often only be one of a larger group comprising academics and administrators. The students have no ownership of the services and don’t feel that they are making much of a contribution. This seemed to me to be a model that could be applied to every institution, giving ownership to the students and developing a strong partnership with the IT department.

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