I am very pleased with the response of staff here at the University of Huddersfield to the “student as teaching and learning consultants” project. All of the eleven student consultants have been working with at least one member of staff and overall there are
eighteen sixteen members of staff who have requested to work with the students.
What have the student consultants been asked to do?
- Mostly classroom observation, sometimes including mini focus groups with students at the end of teaching
- Review of VLE from end user perspective
- Talk to students to get feedback on teaching style, module in general, practicals etc.
A big part of why the project has been successful so far is the involvement of the Students’ Union in recruiting students who are engaged, motivated and capable of independent working.
What do staff think so far?
At the moment three members of staff have completed an evaluation of working with the students:
“I found the observation response useful and reassuring”
“It did meet our expectations. The different perspective was useful. We run internal peer-observation, but student observation can be very useful.”
“The opportunity to engage a student perspective is refreshing and challenging. I think this is valuable.”
All of them would recommend working with a student consultant to their colleagues.
One of my concerns was that staff would expect a student consultant from their own subject area and prefer to work with a student who had some knowledge of the area, that the member of staff were teaching. However, students reported that staff they have worked with considered getting a perspective from student outside their department/discipline area to be valuable. Having a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ seems to be considered an advantage.
What is it like to be a consultant?
In a session where student consultant discussed the difference between being a course rep and a student consultants, the overall view was that, in the role of consultant, students felt equal to the lecturer they were working with and the nature of the scheme meant they were welcomed or invited in.
“…with student repping people can be quite defensive whereas in this environment, the person is directly asking for feedback” (Student consultant F)
“…not as lecturer and student it was ‘I am here to help you and you are here to help me’, finding things out together and it was really good…” (Student consultant K)
“…people dread seeing you as a student rep whereas this way they look forward to seeing you. It’s a case of: ‘oh, what is the feedback’…” (Student consultant I)
“…with the course reps the lecturers know your role but in this….they don’t and they allow me to speak more and do more…” (Student consultant E)
Unexpected and expected challenges
Because the scheme and the concept of the ‘student teaching and learning consultant’ are completely new to students and staff, there has been one or two unexpected ‘side-effects’ so far.
For example: one lecturer asked a student consultant to sit in on guest lecture and report impressions back. This did not fit with the project ethos of students working one-to-one with a member of staff delivering or guiding teaching and learning activities, so this activity was not undertaken. Or a course leader who wanted a student consultant to observe lectures and seminars delivered by a number of staff. In this case the activity went ahead after having made sure that the individual members of staff did want to take part and that student consultation and feedback was done at that individual level first.
Other challenges: how to interpret (and address) disruptive student behaviour. Is it about lack of concentration and commitment from students or about lack of engagement due to how teaching is designed and delivered?
How to offer alternative perspectives to the perception that a lecture is about transmission of knowledge and covering content with no need to engage students? The logic being that seminars are where interactivity happens.
As expected only about a third of the student consultants have actively engaged with sharing reflections on the online platform. When we conducted mini focus groups with them to explore their experiences so far, they have – of course – lots to tell, however this is when guided by live questions and a facilitator. Somehow the prompt to share online guided by questions emailed out is not taken up as much. At the moment I am resorting to prompting individual students but as yet not succeeded in creating a virtuous circle of postings and comments.
Getting involved in assessment
The project has an exciting opportunity to work with researchers from Oxford Brookes University which involves the student consultants interviewing lecturers about designing assignment briefs. The aim of this research project is to support practice in the area of assessment literacy by developing a set of assignment brief design guidelines for academic staff.
The Assignment Brief Consultancy project at Oxford Brookes University is also funded by the Higher Education Academy and is lead by Fiona Gilbert and Garry Maguire
See the Assignment Brief Consultancy (ABC) wiki for more information
The University of Huddersfield project has agreed to collaborate with the ABC project by undertaking the data collection stage of exploratory research into the process of designing assignment briefs by academic staff.
Posted by Kathrine S.H. Jensen (@kshjensen)