By Jen Blankenship
Mavericks in the Graduate Student Senate are stretching to reach new distance goals.
An experimental non-voting member was invited into GSS this spring. Leah Sperry, in the graduate social work program, now serves on the GSS Resolutions Committee via remote access. She is the first distance student to ever do so. She volunteered to help the group carve out more representation possibilities for the growing distance learner population.
UT Arlington Distance Learners include military personnel from around the planet, people who didn’t complete their education at younger ages and those seeking more education to enhance their job market competitiveness, among others. For the experiment, distance learners are defined as students enrolled in on line courses only.
Sperry’s remote access has been temporarily accepted as a non-voting member of the committee specifically to conduct this experiment. Voting membership carries privileges and includes travel awards. GSS has always required members to be physically present in order to become voting members, a policy that currently excludes distance learners.
The addition of Sperry required the Resolutions Committee to adjust immediately by creating a sub-committee team of five which includes her. Three students on the team are reviewing the GSS Constitution and By-Laws to determine what policy changes may help transition remote participants to voting members.
The team leader, Parham Asgari, also has some team members reviewing software and hardware changes that may be needed to help the experiment succeed. He is a chemistry graduate student with leadership experience and plenty of remote meeting experience. He anticipates the overall hardware needs will be minimal. Specifics won’t be available until the experiment is completed.
Two team members promptly became Sperry’s remote assistants to help monitor her live participation. Shannon Hoffman and Kevin Vilbig, both social work graduate students, make certain Sperry can see, hear and experience the meetings. Unfortunately, there have been many connection hiccups so far. Vilbig noted an additional leadership position as a remote assistant may be required at GSS general body meetings if this experiment becomes successful at the team and committee level.
That success may also mean altering voting methods at GSS general meetings where a shift to roll call methods rather than ayes may be needed to adequately include remote attendees. Currently, any graduate student can attend the general body meetings in person to become a voting member but the number of distance learners who might become voting members in the future may be limited by technology, assuming the experiment is successful and reaches that point.
The experiment results could also open options for students who normally attend GSS in person. It is possible that they, too, could be present by remote access on a limited basis, according one of the remote meeting models Asgari discovered.
The team plans to continue its experiment as long as needed, under the direction of the Resolutions Committee and GSS Executives. These Mavericks view it as a doorway to include more graduate students in GSS and to help prepare them for remote meetings in the work place.