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Exec Blog: November 2015

The snow has arrived in most parts of Canada, and it’s hard to believe 2015 is coming to a close.  Winter brings all sorts of challenges – many of which don’t affect our studies as online learners.  Although AU students typically aren’t affected by the cold, those of us studying at a distance do face other unique challenges.  This month, I am writing about what I perceive is one of the biggest obstacles facing students at AU.

AU has published a series of what it calls “service standards”.  These are what the University has committed to for the acceptable frames of time for both the administrative and academic areas of the University to respond to student requests.  The list of AU service standards may be found online here.

In my role as AUSU President, I hear from students on a regular basis about their concerns relating to wait times for responses or marks.  I have read numerous threads on social media about the difficulties created for students when service standards are not upheld.  In my role as a student at AU, I have also experienced these delays and the negative effect they have on my ability to move forward in a course.

In September, I met with the Dean of each AU Faculty, as well as the Interim VP Academic and I asked each of them what a student should do if the standard of service is not met.  The response was nearly unanimous, in that a student should contact the course co-ordinator.  This was concerning to me, because emails to the course co-ordinators from students are not tracked or monitored in any way.

In October, I attended a meeting of the General Faculties Council at Athabasca University.  There was a heated discussion surrounding student satisfaction in the Student Success Centre.  Some of the attendees representing the Faculty and Support Staff were making claims about what type of support students expect from their University.  They claimed that students are overwhelmingly satisfied with the Tutor model of instruction and there is no data anywhere to show otherwise.

I spoke up very clearly, as the voice of students to inform the Council that what students expect is to have service standards upheld.  Regardless of the model of instruction, students will not accept a system that allows students to go for days or even weeks with unanswered questions.  I explained that there may not be a method of course delivery that works across all faculties and across all courses, however, students need answers to their questions and marks for their assignments.  My exact words were “tutor response times are of great concern to students.  This is not a perception, this is a reality.”

Since September, in every meeting with AU Administration; I have asked for:

  • The University to start tracking and reporting the average length of time for each course, from when an assignment is submitted online to when a mark is recorded.
  • A way for students to report a lapse in service standards that is tracked by AU.
  • A way for students to anonymously report a lapse in service standards.
  • Better communication to students as far as what the service standards are (ie: a link to them on every course home page).
  • A renewed commitment to upholding service standards.

This week, AUSU will launch a survey to the membership on the topic of AU service standards.  The purpose of this survey is to be able to clearly identify where the problems exist for students.  With this data, we will continue to raise awareness of this issue to AU.  Please take a few moments to complete the survey once it is launched, and as always, feel free to get in touch with me at [email protected] with your concerns!

Shawna Wasylyshyn
AUSU President