At the moment I am in Chester attending the Staff Educational Development Association (SEDA) Spring conference with the theme of the student journey. The first keynote speaker was Usman Ali, National Union of Students VP, with a talk entitled “Holding students to a higher standard”.
Usman Ali highlighted that it was key to engage students in their education with a partnership approach and by helping students make connections in their learning, making subject material relevant to their experiences and interests. He quoted a Chinese proverb to illustrate this point:
“Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand”. He argued that currently student engagement did not consist of much beyond “tokenistic” approaches and did in most cases not yet reflect a genuine partnership approach. NUS has developed a student engagement toolkit to help HEI’s move beyond tokenism to involvement.
Usman spoke passionately about students having academic and educational rights: Quality, Representation, Engagement and Equality.
Equally passionately, he criticised the currently dominant “student as consumer” model as well as the marketisation of HE by questioning some of the assumptions of this model. For example, most students can’t easily take their “custom” elsewhere. He argued along the same lines that students did not necessarily have a well informed basis to make these “consumer” choices on. He pointed out that there is most likely a difference between student expectations and what students need. He counselled against structuring HE on the basis of uninformed expectations. As part of this he cautioned against a US style approach, that he characterised as focusing on a “shallow student experienced” based on “shiny new things”, such as sports facilities, social activities etc. He encouraged the audience to engage students actively through voice, not passively through choice. As he said: “Don’t choose shiny, choose satisfying”!
This echoed the title of the keynote, namely that students should be held to a higher standard rather than seeing them as customers.
I though it was refreshing to listen to someone who doesn’t think final degree attainment is the only point of HE but who defends a view of education as being transformative and has a much broader understanding of the learning process.
I have to say that i really enjoyed the keynote format – NO PowerPoint, just an engaging and knowledgable speaker.
Students as researchers
I went to a workshop run by Mick Healey which was focused on getting staff to engage student in research and inquiry from day one of their HE experience. Participants had some really interesting ideas about how to embed awareness and opportunities for students to do research. The idea of a student organised and led research conference was one great idea as well as a case study described in the Department of Geography at University College London of students interviewing academic staff members about their research.
A look at some seminal literature with Ranald Macdonald
I also really enjoyed a very informal and relaxed session about influential educational theorists. We read snippets from Carl Rogers, Ken Bain’s classic What the best College teachers do (2004) and SD Brookfield on the skilful and reflective teacher. Other recommended sites were The Idea Center and Tomorrow’s Professor mailing list.
Post by Kathrine Jensen (@kshjensen).
Follow the conference on #sedaconf12