Student and staff partnerships as ‘student engagement’ – on being a case study

I was asked  to present the ‘Students as Teaching and Learning Consultants” project as part of the national ‘Changing the Learning Landscape’ programme; to be a sort of ‘live’ case study at two of their strategic change workshops in April 2013.

Photo of workshop

All rights served, Kevin Flinn

The workshop delegates were teams of management and academic support staff from 16 English HE institutions who are enacting change programmes (the teams include student representatives)

I went along with James Ritchie, one of the student consultants, who presented his experience of being part of the project.

I am sure that many of the questions that came up in discussion reflect what a wider audience might ask so I thought I would include them here:

How did you select the students to be part of the scheme?

The Student Consultants were recruited from students taking part in the Students’ Union’s STARS (Student Training and Recognition Scheme). Participants in STARS are drawn from a wide-range of involved students that include course representatives, student activity group leaders, and community volunteers. The diverse range of participants in this scheme have ensured that there is a good cross-section of the student body – for example, our clubs and societies include different faith and cultural groups, and there is always a good representation of mature students involved in the course rep system.

Students were asked to submit a paragraph about why they were interested in being part of the project and in teaching and learning.

Were the students paid? Should students be paid?

Students are paid £10.35 an hour to train and work as teaching and learning consultants. I believe students should be paid when we ask them to commit time and expertise to a project or other activities. This is also a way to ensure that all students can be included and not just the ones that can ‘afford’ the time.

James made the point that, although the students were not initially told they would be paid (I believe this was part of the Students’ Union’s recruitment strategy), he would not have been able to do as much work with members of staff as he has done.

How did you ensure that not only the engaged students were involved?

This is a difficult question as the students were recruited on the basis of having an interest in teaching and learning and improving the student experience. This project is very much one of many platforms to engage students meaningfully in teaching and learning. There should be other processes in place to represent the more ‘quiet’ students and the outcome of the discussions on the day was very much that the course rep role would cover this.

What training did the students receive?

The main aim of the training was to prepare the student to meet with staff and present the project aims and negotiate tasks to undertake. Focus was on how to give feedback in a way that enabled conversations about teaching and learning rather than judgments about approaches/styles.

Students were presented with an overview of educational approaches but not given any specific pedagogical training. The training was really about giving students confidence in their ‘authentic’ student voice and in the student perspective they would be able to offer.

I was pleased that a number of the student representatives that were there agreed with this and saw the importance of student retaining a ‘student perspective’ rather than becoming ‘experts’.

How do you get the members of staff who need to improve their teaching to take part? Should the scheme not be mandatory? Could staff be referred by managers to work with student consultants?

This is where the student representatives from the organisations taking part in the scheme made some fantastic arguments for how making such a scheme mandatory for staff would undermine the aims and ethos of the partnership approach. It would result in the scheme becoming a tick box exercise with no possibility for real impact.

James also argued that making it mandatory could mean that the students would not be received as positively by the members of staff as had been the case at the moment. This positive welcome was key to students having confidence to engage in conversation and seems to have been an effect of the students being in a different role. As a consultant James felt he was taken seriously and given a lot of responsibility. Staff were asking him what he could offer and these discussions often led to prolonged involvement in different tasks.

Following the workshops, Jessica Poettcker, lead on Technology Enhanced Learning, the National Union of Students kindly let me know that:

“Your project has generated a lot of interest among attendees of the workshops in student mentoring – I’ve had so many questions about it since then”


“Your project has generated a lot of interest among attendees of the workshops in student mentoring – I’ve had so many questions about it since then”

(Jessica Poettcker, NUS lead on Technology Enhanced Learning)


About talintuoh

Supporting and connecting colleagues to develop inspiring and innovative teaching and learning
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