Thursday, February 1, 2024

Designing Social Isolation Out of University Programs

Carmen Vallis, University of Sydney
In "Helping Students Overcome Social Isolation at University", Carmen Vallis, University of Sydney, points out the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2023 requires universities to provide students with the support they need. They suggest one-off or ongoing intervention may be needed for individual students suffering social isolation, and not just those from underrepresented groups.

Rather than treating social isolation as a problem to be diagnosed and cured, I suggest designing university programs and courses to incorporate teaching of social skills and group activities. Rather than treating students from underrepresented groups as an exception to what a normal student is, incorporate into the program what the students need to learn.  This is not about putting tennis on the curriculum, but recognizing that students learn better in a group, and will be required to work with other people when they graduate. The skills of teamwork are central to any profession.

As a graduate student I experienced social isolation. This was because I was an online international student, studying a different discipline with people who were a different gender from a different culture. What helped were group exercises, and peer feedback exercises, where I was reluctantly forced to interact with other students. I now teach students who are required to work in cross cultural teams. The students complain about having to do this, but they do know that after they graduate this is how they will be working.

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