September Executive Blog

When you hear the word university what comes to mind?

For many people they think of a bustling campus, packed lecture halls, and students cramming for exams in the library. Like many of you, this by no means describes my experience, but could it? While AU will never become a brick and mortar institution, there are exciting changes coming.

Athabasca University Campus

Athabasca University Campus

Throughout the summer, AUSU held several in person and teleconference consultations to get feedback from our members. We wanted to know what you wanted to see changed regarding how you learn at AU. There were many students from across Canada who helped share their experiences and thoughts.I was then able to share this information with the Athabasca University, and many of the suggestions from students are now included in the draft AU learning framework. From all the conversations that we had with students, there was one common topic in every meeting. It was the idea of creating community and the effect that it had on how students viewed their studies.

AUSU executive team with the AU President

From left to right: AUSU VP External and Student Affairs Melinda Goertz, AUSU VP Finance and Administration Natasha Donahue, Athabasca University President Neil Fassina, and AUSU President Brandon Simmons

Students all said that they wanted to have the ability to connect better with other students and faculty. This could be accomplished through in person opportunities, social platforms, or contact from tutors and academic experts. Students who had these experiences explained how the experience helped them to understand that AU was a real university. Often it is easy to view studies at AU as very isolated, it is just you on your own studying online – when in fact, AU is a real university. You are surrounded by students and faculty; you just don’t realize it. Your community is actually very large and is spread out across Canada and the world.

So, what if you could make a connection with every student in your class? How would that change your educational experience?

For me, it made a huge impact. I competed in the CPA (Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada) board governance case competition back in 2014 and 2015. This experience put me in contact on a consistent basis with other students in my program, as well as faculty members from my program. Suddenly, AU became real to me. I saw that there were other students who were in a similar situation as me and working towards the same goals. I also met AUSU councilors who got me interested in the organization, and now years later I am still involved as an executive, which allows me to work for the benefit of our amazing members.

CPA Team Leap

CPA Team Leap from left to right: Shannon Hinds, Brandon Simmons, Caterina Schinas. Laura Welsh

While the idea of having a community in an online institution seems like a stretch, the reality is that it is coming. AUSU has been working hard to create ways of supporting community building, and now the university is also placed this as a high priority. If you have suggestions on how improvements can be made, we would love to hear them. Feel free to email me at [email protected] and I can make sure that they are heard by the university.

Brandon Simmons
AUSU President