In 2014/15, the Higher Education Academy (HEA) developed a ‘Framework for partnership in learning and teaching in higher education’ as a way to bring focus to discussions about student engagement and the concept of partnership. In the framework:
‘…partnership is understood as a relationship in which all involved are actively engaged in and stand to gain from the process of learning and working together to foster engaged student learning and engaging learning and teaching enhancement. Partnership is essentially a way of doing things, rather than an outcome in itself.’ (HEA 2014)
There are many ways we can work with in partnership with students. These include the following:
Learning, teaching and assessment: this type of partnership casts students as active participants in their learning. Partnership approaches might be typified by the following:
- focusing on collaborative and active learning (e.g. flipping the classroom, experiential learning, community building and placement learning);
- giving students a level of choice and ownership in learning experiences;
- placing students in different roles (e.g. as tutors, mentors or assessors) and as co-designers of learning materials and resources.
Curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy: this is a more typical model of student partnership where students are commonly engaged through programme evaluations and staff-student committees. Partnership approaches involve students in the formal processes of course design, revalidation, and professional development for staff. At UCA, we involve our students in course boards and in co-creation activities to improve the curriculum.
Subject-based research and inquiry: this is where we might engage students as co-researchers and co-inquirers in research projects. Partnership approaches might include the following:
- involving students directly in internal pedagogic research and ‘live projects’. At UCA, we piloted students as co-researchers in our BME student experience research project for example.
- providing opportunities for students to share their research publicly (e.g. through undergraduate research journals, blogs and conferences).
Scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL): this is where we might provide opportunities for students to inquire into learning, teaching and assessment as part of an ethos around research-informed learning and teaching. Partnership approaches might include developing students as researchers (as in Winchester Student Fellows scheme)
Over the last few years at UCA, we have been exploring these many different iterations of student partnership and are keen to move student involvement beyond a narrow focus on the validity of various systems of student representation. Hence, ideas such as students as ambassadors, co-creators, collaborators and the new kid on the block, ‘students as consultants’.
The Students as Consultants initiative began with an idea to involve students at UCA in the development of the university strategy. Lead by the Interim Head of Learning, Teaching and Student Engagement, in partnership with UCA Student Union, we were keen to explore new ways to work in partnership with our students, but also to provide value-added experiences in teaching and learning that moved beyond restrictive views of students as partners, to promote new insights and deep engagement in teaching and learning. At this time also, we were reviewing our careers, employability and enterprise initiatives and could see the potential of providing students with these value added experiences to shape their environment at the same time as boost their employability attributes.
The initiative was promoted and co-ordinated by our Student Union. Initially targeting student reps, we also asked our programme leaders for the names of students who were keen for a more active role in teaching and learning. We offered in return a £20 voucher and opportunity for training as a consultant. This call-out yielded 90 student volunteers, who we then contacted via an online survey in the summer of 2018. Of those 90 students, 25 were very keen to be kept on our consultancy database and for us to utilise their feedback in the TEF Gold narrative and the development of the university strategy.
Moving forward, it would be good to evolve the Student Consultant role in partnership with our Creative Education, QAE and Careers team. Might we develop some basic consultancy training for students interested in this kind of role, for example? The training could include developing a basic understanding of curriculum design, learning how to problem solve, communication skills and developing a successful relationship with your ‘client’.
We could also extend the participatory learning aspect of the role by inviting students to observe a lecture or seminar using the university peer supported review scheme , review how staff assess student work and give feedback or facilitate a focus group to find out about the student experience. Potentially then we are providing rich enhancement experiences for our students to improve their learning environments. We could also be helping teaching staff by providing them with impartial student insights and perspectives.
Annamarie McKie, Teaching and Learning Development Manager, 30 July 2019