When I first started at LIS, explaining the educational concept was easy enough. Explaining how my role fit into the puzzle was not. Now, when asked by strangers, I mostly just reply that my job is to be fun. While a slight simplification, it does grant me approving looks and free drinks.
In the past year I have had the unique opportunity to craft a Student Experience (SXP) program from scratch. The task ranged from very exciting and educational to somewhat frustrating. However, true to my narrowed-down explanation, it has mostly been fun. I have travelled below the streets of London, crawled through strangers’ gardens after dark, folded 2nd hand clothing until my hands cramped up, and built spaghetti and marshmallow towers. Most of all however, I have stared at spreadsheets. No one quite prepares you for how much planning it takes to have fun.
My goal from the very start has been to build a SXP program which is drastically different from what other UK Universities offer. London being one of the most vibrant cities, we’ve had the unique opportunity to bring the real-world problems the students cover to life. From tours to Q&As, offsites and volunteering opportunities. I wanted to craft a program that went beyond just having fun, to also complementing and enhancing the students’ academic learning while helping build a tight-knit community.
It has not always been easy. Experiences have been planned where no one showed up. These moments always feel like a collective verdict on the quality of my work. It’s hard sometimes not to take it too personally, but rather see it as valuable feedback for the next experience. Furthermore, while 66% of our students have shown up to 10 or more SXP experiences during their first year, it is hard not to ask what is going on with the students we don’t see at all. Sometimes it means that I haven’t been able to plan something that appeals to those students, and sometimes it means that these students have demands on their time which simply don’t allow for extra-curricular attendance. Both feel like signs that I could be doing something better. I truly believe that our programming is an integral part to learning but also to the social experience of being an LIS student, which is why these are questions we need to be asking ourselves.
Even internally, while many people agree with this sentiment about the importance of SXP, there is still a way to go until we as a team are fully integrated into the larger task of creating a positive and productive learning environment. Even though we are a new institution, we are still battling ingrained ideas about what learning and support looks like. It is safe to say that the last year has been a learning curve for all of us, and we are all continuously exploring what true interdisciplinary teaching and learning looks like.
So, what have I learned in a year of being a Student Experience Coordinator? Most of all I have learnt that building a learning environment for students to have fun in is hard work. Building a community is not done overnight and is a continuous process. These students have grown up in incredibly uncertain times and we all have to take steps to make the transition into this hybrid learning and working world easier. Whether SXP at LIS is a success or not waits to be seen. Our attendance numbers and feedback tell one story, but true to the bottom-up and student-led nature of LIS, I’d recommend you talk to our students for the full picture.