2015 Symposium


Reflections on the family and facebook symposium

Emma Rowbotham 

On October 19 2015 ANZSSA, ATLAANZ and ISANA joined forces to deliver a symposium which focused on two emerging issues for tertiary students: family and facebook. In terms of content, the focus of the day was to look at how connections are made for students via family, community, web and social media. By joining the different organisations together, participants had the opportunity to strengthen their professional connections, as the room was filled with colleagues who work in the various areas of students services, learning advice and international students. For many of us, I think our work permeates across these three areas and so it was fitting and quite natural to have all 3 organisations present in the same room. 

Dr. Cathy Stone was the first keynote speaker and she shared the results of her recent Australian research that looked at exploring the experience of first-in-family (FiF) students and that of their family members and ‘significant’ others. This talk raised my awareness of this particular cohort and prompted me to reflect on ways that I can address the needs of FiF students in my daily practice as a learning advisor. Learning about the different invisible work (reassuring their family that they have ‘invested wisely’, proving that ‘anyone can make it’) and motivations (long held ambition or dream, reaching for better) of FiF students prompted me to find out if any of the students I am currently working with are first in their family to attend university. I was also inspired to start thinking about First Year Orientation and how we can ensure that the particular needs of this growing cohort are also addressed in our overall message to First Year students.

The second keynote by Dr. Catherine Gomes addressed how international students use social media to both connect and disconnect from various communities. One practical suggestion that came about from this talk was to encourage students to take photos of each other at university events and to ‘tag’ each other in their photos, thereby encouraging other students to become involved in the community. However, when I’ve suggested this to some of my student leaders they seem hesitant to merge their social and academic online profiles. This made me wonder whether students want to keep their personal and their ‘professional’ or ‘academic’ social media presences separate (much like me and many of my colleagues who have both personal and professional facebook accounts).  Perhaps this assumption could be further explored through student focus groups.

The two highlights of the day for me however were the student led session and the group discussions about hot topics. The 5 students who spoke were inspiring, thought-provoking and discussed a range of topics from best practice in tutorials, to creating safer places for students in the queer community.  Jake Arthur who is a former PASS leader, current Masters student, and first year tutor for a 100-level English course spoke about the need to explicitly lay out what kind of community we want to create in tutorials, especially in first-year courses where students are not necessarily aware of what is expected. He sagely pointed out that the missing link in creating the kind of academic communities that benefit students might be as simple as outlining a vision for that community. Alex Mark, the 2016 President of UniQ – a representative group for queer students on the Victoria University campus - spoke about the particular barriers that students from this cohort can experience at university. She spoke passionately about what is currently being done at Victoria – weekly lunches, movie nights and discussion seminars – but also urged all staff that much more can be done to ensure queer students feel safe and heard in the wider university community. The professionalism of all the student speakers served as a good reminder that we should be using student leaders at every level of our practice – from peer leaders, to conference presenters and perhaps even organisers. 

As for the group discussions, they touched on a range of topics from using social media for distance learning and creating virtual iwi for Maori students, to theoretical and practical models of student motivation and engagement. The soundbite topics provided the invaluable opportunity to network and re-connect with colleagues across the 3 excellent associations as well as the time to share best practice ideas. In all of my groups, the 20 minutes allocated to each group discussion always seemed a bit too short – a true sign that participants found the exercise interesting and engaging!



Symposium programme

Monday 19 October 2015

8.45-9.15                              Registration

9.15-9.30                              Whakatau – welcome

9.30-10.00                           Icebreaker

10.00-11.15                         Keynote speaker: Dr Cathy Stone

11.15-11.30                         Morning tea

11.30-12.30                         Soundbites: Group discussions about hot topics

12.30-1.00                           Lunch

1.00-2.15                              Keynote speaker: Dr Catherine Gomes

2.15-2.30                              Afternoon tea

2.30-3.30                              Student led session

3.30-4.00                              Summary of the day, Poroporoaki


Tuesday 20 October

If delegates would like to stay overnight in Wellington, you are welcome to attend and/or organise special interest group meetings on Tuesday 20 October, 9.30-11.00.  These will provide an opportunity to reflect further on symposium themes and apply this to our work.


Breaking the Barriers

Supporting and engaging First-in-Family university learners and their families: Key findings from cross-institutional research in Australia

Students who are first in their immediate families to go to university represent a growing student cohort which has been shown to be at greater risk of attrition.  This keynote address will discuss the findings from a recent Australian research project exploring the experience of first-in-family (FiF) students and that of their family members and ‘significant’ others. The project was funded by the Office of Teaching and Learning and was a partnership study between the University of Wollongong (lead institution), Open Universities Australia and the University of Newcastle. Through its focus on both the students’ experiences and the reactions, attitudes and experiences of families, friends and colleagues, it reveals ways in which this combination of influences, as well as institutional practices, impact upon students as they transition into university life, build a student identity, and incorporate their studies within the family and community sphere.

Dr Cathy Stone is a Conjoint Senior Lecturer (Social Work) at the University of Newcastle, and a consultant in the higher education sector, with extensive experience in improving student success and retention in both on-campus and online settings, most recently as Director of Student Success with Open Universities Australia. Her research and publications focus particularly on the experiences of mature-age and first-in-family students. Cathy is a Fellow of ANZSSA in which she served as President from 2004-2007 and has been a joint editor of JANZSSA since 2010.



Connections and Disconnections

A look at international student social media use in Australia and Singapore

Social media has become a significant if not essential part of everyday life.  More than just presenting us with an accessible way of communicating with each other, social media has also allowed us to share our thoughts, opinions, ideas, ideologies and deeply personal lives with family, friends and acquaintances frequently and instantly.  For mobile subjects such as international students, social media is a readily available tool for keeping connected to friends, family and the home nation while providing avenues for embedding themselves into the host nation.  Against this background my research looks at the significance (or insignificance) of social media in connecting international students to both the home and host nations.  

Dr Catherine Gomes is a Senior Research Fellow and Australian Research Council Research Fellow based at RMIT University.  She has researched and written extensively about international students in Australia in particular their information-seeking behaviour,  the social and cultural spaces they occupy and their evolving identities in transience.  Catherine has also written about ethnicity and race, multiculturalism, xenophobia and the media in Australia and Singapore.  She is the author of Multiculturalism through the lens: A guide to ethnic and migrant anxieties in Singapore published by Ethos Books.  In 2012 Catherine was a recipient of a teaching award from RMIT for her ability to bring innovation to large and diverse student bodies.


Breaking the Barriers: First-in-Family students and the role of family/community
Connections and Disconnections: A Look at International Student Social Media Use in Australia and Singapore
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