By Charis Lam, Design Research Events Lead
As students, we often think of staff as curating the university experience for us—laying out the processes and procedures between us and our degrees. Yet, staff are not just responsible for providing the university experience; they also share it, albeit from a different perspective. Through the Future of SLP (Student Life Professionals) project, my team had the chance to take a peek into this perspective.
The SLP Network is a community of practice, offering support to student-facing staff through professional development and community events. Based on the insights my team identified, as well as SLP’s own research, the Future of SLP Working Group is redesigning events and programs to better suit the needs of its members. Last month, the Working Group heard a presentation on the results of my team’s research.
As we discussed in our previous blog post, our analysis synthesized data from group discussions and one-on-one interviews with student-facing staff. We believe in our insights, which we supported with quotes from the discussion and interview transcripts. Even so, when we try to look at the world through another’s lens, it is good to add a dash of humility. We listen to participants’ stories, parse the words, and try to feel their experiences as best we can.
This hit me during our presentation, in particular. There I was, explaining to a group of student-life professionals the needs and desires of…student-life professionals. It felt audacious. It felt grave, like we needed extra respect and care to make sure we were right–that what we were saying was true, interesting, and added to the conversation without ever forgetting that the true experts were in the audience.
When it comes to the day-to-day experience of student life professionals, we students can only see through imperfect glass. However, there are thousands of staff at the University of Toronto, and even a perfect glass would not provide the same view for each person. Perhaps because we look from further away and unattached to one particular lens, we provide our own broader perspective on the experiences of student-facing staff.
It might even be easier to see the nuances of some insights in aggregate. For example, we found that peer and industry pressure drive demand for Masters degrees among student-facing staff. This might be motivation enough for some–a reason to grit one’s teeth and get through. Or it might not be enough, as discovering the personal value of each degree or promotion also matters. Taken together, these two experiences of the same situation provide a fuller picture of the experiences of student-facing staff, and the variety of needs to be met.
Other insights closely reflected the experience of our entire audience. They were aware of the decentralization of the university and the difficulty of finding and communicating with people across departments. Why did *we* need to say it? Because we think it brings home how big an issue it is for many people, and the combination of removed analysis and lived experience drives action.
We look forward to seeing those actions. Human-centred design involves needs-finding, which the Innovation Hub has done, but also solutions-prototyping. Although we have turned the field data over to our partners for this second half, we hope that we have provided the seeds of change that will help student life professionals feel better supported in their experience and creation of university life.