Welcome to the second post of day 12 of our SoTL calendar. In this blog post, Heather Cleland Woods and Phil McAleer discuss the Friday Message and the sense of community it creates.
by Heather Cleland Woods (@clelandwoods) & Phil McAleer (@McAleerP) from the School of Psychology & Neuroscience
Clear communication is a central tenet of building a community within any School, but it does come with the challenge of making sure students receive the relevant information in a timely fashion and that students can actively engage with it. Today’s student encounters a bombardment of information from a number of, often online, platforms such as email, TEAMs, and Virtual Learning Environments, not to mention their own social media channels and chats. Parsing, comprehending, and acting upon the relevant information can be a challenging experience for students. As a result, often information gets missed simply by the sheer volume, leading to a sense of frustration from teachers and a sense of bewilderment and disconnection within students. The students simply can’t read the wood for the trees. In order to address this, one approach we have adopted within the School of Psychology and Neuroscience, at the University of Glasgow, is what we like to call “The Friday Message”.
Born out of an idea by one teacher working late one evening and needing to get a handle on everything that was going on that week, the Friday Message is akin to a newsletter targeted to a specific cohort or programme within a School. On every Friday of a semester, without fail, each Programme Lead sends a message on TEAMS, or Moodle, to all students on their programme summarising key information about upcoming teaching, important dates about assignments, and any administrative tasks the students need to complete in the coming days. The message also highlights any internal and external events such as seminars or workshops, online talks, or opportunities for skill development over-and-above the students own programme. But beyond that, the Friday Message acts as a connection between the lead and the students of that programme – maybe we share a song or a book that has caught our attention that week, or perhaps we give just a reminder of the importance of looking after ourselves and remembering that there is nothing that can’t wait an hour or a weekend. Each message, with its own distinct tone and personality, reflecting the writer, is a step towards breaking down barriers between staff and students. In short, the Friday Message is a one-stop shop to keep the students up-to-speed with what is going on in their course as well as helping to develop the sense that the course is theirs as much as ours.
Despite being a simple idea, the Friday Message can really help reduce that sense of being lost in the semester we know many students experience. Instead of having to siphon through a number of smaller sporadic messages arriving throughout the week, students know that they can go back to the Friday Message at any point that week and the information that they need is right there. It also means that the information is more likely to get read because there is no longer an overbearing number of notices; instead all the relevant points are there, in the one place, on the same day each week, creating a sense of structure and regularity that is sometimes missing from the busy student lifestyle.
From our own perspective, as teachers, we have found that the Friday Message saves us time and brain capacity. We no longer write numerous emails and announcements throughout the week, losing countless 15 minutes, with the added stress of having to process the information ourselves there and then to make sure it is conveyed appropriately to students. Instead, we can save the information for that one post at the end of the week, dedicating just an hour to writing the message on a Friday, with the added benefit of allowing ourselves time to reflect on the information and think how best to put it across. A well-considered summary of ideas and information will always be better than a message written in haste.
Perhaps the most surprising benefit, however, is the sense of community that the Friday Message can create within a school. We can all feel somewhat disconnected and focused within our own silos – staff just as much as students – and there is something quite connecting about hearing what is happening in other programmes. By reading messages from other Programme Leads, you also get the chance to see what events would work for your cohort as well as others. We have definitely benefitted from this within our School and regularly see a mix of cohorts at events, from Level 1 to Level 4, from undergraduate to postgraduate, all brought together by the Friday message.
In truth, the best ideas in teaching are often the simplest and the least expensive. The Friday Message costs no extra time and it is nothing new. However, the practice of reducing the quantity of notices that students need to pay attention to, and concatenating the relevant information into one place, mixed in with a sense of belonging and a sprinkle or two of personality, is one that we can all adopt for our own benefit and for the benefit of the students for whom we write our messages.