Student links in advice chain

April 12, 2001

Management students at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design have picked up an industrial habit and organised a mentoring and cascade briefing system for their degree course.

Every first-year on the management design and communication course is assigned a second-year mentor, while second-years are partnered with third-years. The idea is that each individual communicates vertically and horizontally in the chain.

As the whole ethos of the degree is to prepare students to be good managers, communication skills are essential. Many organisations in industry and commerce operate a cascade briefing system, but it only works as well as the individuals who participate.

Third-year Helen Cuthill said: "In the second year, many students spent ten weeks on industrial placement after which they submitted an assessed report. We learnt many lessons from the experience, which, however well-intentioned, might never have been communicated to the present second-years without the cascade.

"Introducing a formal mechanism by which we share information enables subsequent year groups to be better prepared. It is also better if this information comes from students themselves rather than being relayed by a third party - such as the staff."

Third-year Claire Duffy said the cascade overcame the problem of timetable differences that make everyday common-room contact hit and miss.

Duffy said: "If staff want to get an urgent message to us all, in addition to placing notices on the noticeboard, then they can telephone key people at the top of the communication chain (in the third year) and everyone knows what responsibilities they have for cascading this down through to the first-years."

The cascade was initially used for academic purposes, such as organising staff-student forums, but it soon developed - for example first-years contacted mentors for help with accommodation.

Minor niggles often create macro worries - especially for first-years, Duffy said. "The system has succeeded in uniting the three years of the degree and providing a welcome comfort zone for everyone. It has not only enhanced our experiences now but has equipped us with some useful tools for the world of industry and commerce - we hope other degree students will consider adopting the initiative."

Jo Andrews is Peugeot senior lecturer in organisational communication at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design and director of the management design and communication course.

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