When 2020 begin we all assumed that student experience would be either fully on campus, blended learning, or in some cases fully online. We had not anticipated a pandemic, let along one that is disrupting almost every area of society.

COVID-19 required all institutions- educational, business and cultural and sporting – to dramatically rethink their plans. That it was done relatively quickly reinforces the maxim never waste a crisis!

The Students First Symposium, run annually by Studiosity, was  caught up in this current of disruption. It changed from being a face-to-face experience to be held at Australian Catholic University, in North Sydney to six one-hour webinar presentations delivered between May and July. *

Three themes are worth noting.

First, the presentations were case studies of successful partnerships between five universities and Studiosity. They provided us with evidence regarding the complexities of a whole-of-institution approach to student support. For example: Edith Cowan U’s integrated student support ecosystem intentionally aligns the institutional agenda for student support across six layers of operations: strategic planning, policy, personnel, programmes, practices and third-party partners. While at QUT, a commitment to being “digital at heart” rather than “digital in part” is central to their approach in supporting students. The UNE presentation helped answer many questions support services in various universities have been asking and provided ideas on how to change the way support services are made visible and positioned within the institution.

Second, the importance of building relationships between a university and Studiosity was an essential element of the studies presented. Universities are complex places – places of politics, intrigue and mistrust of management. Developing trusting and mutually beneficial relationships are the means to overcome internal mistrust by some university staff of commercial providers such as Studiosity.  The case studies and the types of questions asked indicated building trust and understanding the business is at the heart of successful partnerships.

Finally, all of the presentations were strongly evidence based – there was compelling data on what worked, how students used various types of support, and how student support did improve students’ academic performance.

So what were the benefits of a virtual Symposia compared with a face-to-face one?

We had more participants (411 actual attendees in 2020 compared with the 68 in 2019)– it was cheaper (free), no travel (saving time, money and the environment), we could distribute the presentations immediately after the session was completed.

And because of these factors participants from 41 institutions across ANZ were able to engage. The F2F symposium does provide opportunities for networking, socialising and exchange of ideas. Perhaps there is a place for both kinds of events in the sector – the more inclusive Webinar series and the more traditional program. Let us hope we can deliver both in 2021.

* Denise Kirkpatrick Western Sydney U, Angela Hill and Rowena Harper Edith Cowan U, Philippa Levy Uni Adelaide, Kevin Ashford Rowe and Caroline Ruekert, QUT, Jennifer Lawrence UNE and Stephen Wan, Data 61. Their presentations are here

Judyth Sachs is Studiosity’s Chief Academic Officer. She is a former provost of Macquarie U. 

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