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Sisifa spills the tea on Block Learning

By Jack Pirie

Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of uncertainty and uneasiness surrounding AUT and its changes in regards to the academic learning structures implemented by the University. These changes were put in place to combat the disrupted learning year as a result of COVID-19.

In an exclusive interview with AUTSA President Sisifa Gigi Lui, Debate was able to uncover some vital information concerning the way in which these decisions were carried out, how student representation was undermined, and what we can expect from AUT moving forward.

AUT had set up a COVID-19 Emergency Task Force to deal with emergency decisions surrounding the way in which the academic year would resume post-lockdown. Despite AUT consistently stating that student matters are at the forefront of every decision there was “no student representation to begin with,” says the AUTSA President. Sisifa says that “AUTSA had to fight our way to be on the representation”.

In the initial decision to go toward a block learning model on April 1st, there was close to no “consultation with students” in determining how the new structure would be implemented. The AUT board and leading facility had decided it was not worth creating a poll or survey to get students' opinions and their thoughts on the proposed plans. Instead, the head of departments and leading academics at AUT were held solely responsible for dictating outcomes that would directly impact students.

When asked about her initial reaction to the way in which AUT had made, developed and proposed block learning Sisifa says “If I’m being honest I was quite annoyed at the fact we weren’t given that consultation around deciding what that block model looked like.”

Despite assurance that AUTSA would be treated as a partner moving forward “it felt like the student voice wasn’t being treated as such of a decision maker, we were being treated as a third to fourth level feedback chain. It got to the point where I felt the student voice was being taken as tokenistic. We were not seen as decision makers, more as feedback chains,” says Sisifa. Considering students are the largest stakeholder for AUT, the lack of consultation points to greater issues of power dynamics and lack of representation within the university.

After a very public uproar, with multiple media outlets capturing the voices of aggravated and concerned students, AUT decided to revert back to a normal semester-based learning structure, with the exception of cancelling all examinations for semester one. Moving forward, all course papers would be assessed and graded through assignments.

When asked about when the student representation was told about the decision to revert from the block learning model, AUTSA President Sisifa said “I found out on the day that the model reverse update was being released”. Sisifa told Debate that she could only describe the situation as “a shocker” where she felt “annoyed and upset” not just for herself but for “all students”.

After the initial release of the block learning model and the lack of consultation between AUTSA and AUT, Sisifa had thought she had established a partnership between AUTSA and AUT in consultation when discussing COVID-19 issues moving forward. Only to have the rug pulled from under her and realise there had been no communication between the two parties for a second time, leaving AUTSA questioning “if we’re even considered decision makers at this point?”

"If I'm being honest, I was quite annoyed at the fact we weren't given the consultation around deciding what the block model looked like."

Within the first two hours of the initial change to a block model system Sisifa received 50 emails from concerned students asking about the changes, along with over 150 private messages on Facebook, followed by the AUTSA Vice President receiving over 200 direct messages on Instagram. Once the proposal to reverse to a normal semester was released, approximately the same number of students reached out for assurances and answers that AUTSA just couldn’t provide.

This flip flopping decision making from AUT has left some students unsure and extremely anxious as to how the future of University looks for them. It has created a divide in the student body, as some students have started a petition to revert back again to the proposed block learning system, whilst others are adamant that a normal semester structure is the way forward.

Some students are glad to see the return of normal learning structures. “It’s nice to return to normal after a lot of chaos, a lot of people will be looking for a sense of stability and routine when we come out of lockdown… I think if AUT keeps going back and forth and doesn't set a decision it’s going to make students feel like AUT don’t know what they’re doing and aren’t thinking about the best interest of students… it will create a lack of confidence in the University and make students unmotivated to do well or put effort in,” says Communications student Briana Meldrum.

Others saw block learning as a refreshing system to get behind: “I liked the block learning idea… I really liked the idea of focusing on one paper at a time – right now everything in the world feels so stressful and I felt doing our assessments in blocks would ease some of the school related stress… On the other hand I also think that it’s been a real muck around of time and energy for everyone,” says fellow communications student Lyric Waiwiri-Smith.

When asked about the state of the relationship between AUTSA and AUT, Sisifa went on to say “definitely progressive…after an interesting start.” However, given that we are venturing on unprecedented territories, it is now more vital than ever that AUT is receptive towards the needs of students. Student consensus and consultation is key in navigating through these turbulent times.


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