The Newsletter Project
SRUC, Barony Campus specialises in training and education for the land-based and animal care industries.The campus is set within a working 260 hectare estate, which is situated in the rolling landscape of Dumfries and Galloway in South West Scotland.
An idea was born in the summer of 2012 for a student based on-line Newsletter within Mahara during a presentation to Barony Campus staff by a speaker from HM Inspectorate of Education, who stressed the value of effective communication in fostering the “Barony family spirit”, across the campus and beyond. The Barony Campus Learning Technologist (Ali Hastie) had been reading Ellen Murphy's Mahara 1.4 Cookbook the previous evening. Within Ellen's book is a chapter covering the creation of an on-line Gazette, which helped to spark the idea of creating the student centred on-line newsletter within Mahara at Barony Campus.
It is widely recognised that in any organisation it is important that each stakeholder knows they are a part of it. In the college environment the concept of “inclusion” presents challenges: There may be thousands of students involved in a wide range of disciplines; some are full-time, some are part-time; there are worked-based, block release and distance learners. There is little doubt that some can be left with a sense of isolation.
We believe that a project set up by Barony Campus – which is now part of an even larger organisation, the SRUC – and run entirely by the students themselves, is doing much to address the problem and enhance the student experience.
A meeting of class representatives formed a focus group and quickly recognised the value of learners collaborating and leading the project. Some volunteered to be actively involved, while others identified classmates who would bring their talents to the venture.
Central to success was the adoption of an Open Source portfolio system, namely Mahara. It would allow students to upload articles, images and embedded videos and Internet links and provide the opportunity for readers’ feedback within a group environment. It was the beginning of efforts to create a genuine on-line community.
The next step was to stage a cross-curriculum training workshop to familiarise the students with the e-portfolio system and to discuss the details of style and potential content. The brain-storming session identified articles on curriculum-based activities, leisure pursuits, reports on study tours and work experience. With imaginations fired it was agreed that the newsletter could carry advertising for charity endeavours and leisure events, quizzes and little known facts, and importantly, interviews with key members of staff at Barony and, with a merger looming, the senior management of the SRUC.
The first edition of the Barony Student Newsletter went on-line in December 2012 and has been published monthly since then. It is proving to be a unique vehicle for students to share their experiences, in their own words and with their own pictures and to raise important issues. As confidence grows, so too does technical competence: Recent contributions have included video clips from other website and more recently, a full-length interview with Professor Bob Webb, the Chief Executive of SRUC.
Members of the student team have learned editing and cutting to create professional-standard video bites. A link on the Barony Campus website has been placed linking to the newsletters allowing access externally by past, present and future students. The campus mobile phone texting system is now being used to prompt contributors to the Newsletter about deadlines.
To date all of the Newsletter monthly pages has had over 163,000 “hits” from both inside and outside of SRUC.
Contributions to date have come from all disciplines and all level of students. Some have had to overcome concerns about having their work read in public, but have done so. All involved have learned valuable lessons in , coping with the technology, working to deadlines and juggling course demands with preparing material for the Newsletter. Unquestionably the experience has boosted technical, communication and writing skills, adding significantly to their employment prospects.
The idea for this project may have come from the Learning Technologist, but the enthusiasm, enterprise and talents of the students has driven it forward. Staff guidance, support and encouragement is there, but with a light touch, to ensure that the Newsletter remains truly student work.
The staff at Barony firmly believe that unleashing the incredible breadth of skills and experiences of the learners has enriched the Barony community.
The template produced by the initial group of students will now be available as a resource for future generations of learners, not only here, but at all SRUC campuses and beyond.
It may not stop there, because Barony has already received enquiries from Colleges outwith SRUC, asking how it can be established, to ensure that none of their students are left feeling isolated.
The Barony Student Newsletter won an award at the Scotland Development Network 2013 Annual awards within the Student Enterprise category. Photo: David McKenzie, SRUC Vice Principal Education; Ailsa Caygill, Stuart Mactier (former students at Barony); Ali Hastie, Learning Technologist and Alison Halliday, Student Support Services Officer at Barony.
As one of the Engineering academic staff at Barony stated: “Mahara is a great tool to have in your toolbox”.
Barony Student Newsletter 2012-13
Barony Student Newsletter 2013-14
Barony Student Newsletter 2014-15
Barony Student Newsletter 2015-16
Ali Hastie, Barony Campus, Learning Technologist : firstname.lastname@example.org