The Future of Student Engagement – RAISE Conference 2013

The Researching, Advancing & Inspiring Student Engagement (RAISE) Network held its annual conference ‘The Future of Student Engagement: Partnerships, Practices, Policies and Philosophies’, 12-13 Sep at Nottingham Trent University.

Colin Bryson from Newcastle University opened with a presentation called ‘Partnership – why it is the way forward for student engagement’

Colin set out his definition of student engagement, which is about being and becoming through fostering a sense of belonging and community, autonomy and creativity, confidence and self assurance. Colin ended the presentation by asking us to consider some of the challenges to the future of student engagement:

  • How do we create opportunity for all students? Not just the champions/the few.
  • How obligatory should partnership and participation be for all students?
  • Are there limits/boundaries to student/staff co-determination?

I think the comment from Students as Partners twitter account sums up the benefits to using the idea of partnership in relation to student engagements.

Students and staff engaging via a Teaching and Learning Consultancy scheme

With my colleague Dr Liz Bennett I presented a paper called ‘A student and staff partnership model to enable dialogue and enhance teaching and learning’ with findings from the Higher Education Academy funded project Students as Teaching and Learning Consultants. We argued that the consultancy scheme that was set up as part of the project created a space where students and staff could step outside normal roles and the traditional student/teacher relationship. Throughout the project students have been keen to engage with a staff perspective and this has been the case for a number of staff who participated as well. We argue that through this model both student and staff are able to occupy a liminal position that offers different insights and produces a different kind of student/staff relationship. See also previous project blog posts about the new role of students and the new relationship with staff.

We used a conceptual framework for student engagement developed by Ella Kahu in her paper Framing student engagement in higher education, Studies in Higher Education,Vol. 38, Iss. 5, 2013 and as it turned out Ella Kahu was actually at the conference! So it was also a great opportunity to say hi to Ella (who is at @EllaKahu).

Second keynote was by Nick Zepke from Massey University, New Zealand.

The first day ended with a book launch for The Student Engagement Handbook, Practice in Higher Education edited by Elisabeth Dunne and Derfel Owen

Just talk to us

The second day started with a student panel where we heard a range of student stories about engagement. A few of the students – reflecting on the first day of the conference – wanted more practical demonstrations of student engagement, ideas that worked (and didn’t work) that they could take back to their institutions.

Some key advice that the students had for staff in relation to student engagement were:

  • Be careful with the jargon when you promote engagement
  • Be excited to be there and doing your job (and be excited about working with us)
  • Don’t be judgemental of your students – work with them, be receptive to new ideas

Multifaceted approach to student engagement

I was impressed with the amount of initiatives going on at Birmingham City University, they are really embedding student/staff engagement and partnership across the institution with their ‘umbrella of opportunity’ – students as academic partners, employees, mentors, entrepreneurs and in collaborative projects.

Also enjoyed hearing about research done by PhD student Shanna Saubert (University of Leeds) into international students and their experiences of engagement.

I caught a great session by students and staff from the University of Reading showcasing the OSCAR online studio community – this facilitates collaborative working as well as students showing their work (from the time they receive an offer – even before they start at University, amazing really…).

Key take-aways: Collaboration and going beyond the traditional conference format

What really struck me at this conference was that creating opportunities for students and staff to have informal conversations and to engage in genuine collaboration seem to be key to developing a sense of shared responsibility and a community of engaged students and staff.

I also talked to a few of the student delegates over lunch on the second day of the conference and was struck by their feedback on the conference format. They wanted more practical ideas, more participation, more stuff actually produced and less of the paper presentation and panel debate formats that most HE staff have probably gotten far too used to. I think what the students were suggesting was much more like a ‘hackathon’ where there is collaboration on the day and also the potential for outputs or like a ‘TeachMeet’ with a focus on practical ideas and mini presentations

Don’t reduce students to consumers

It was great to have students at the conference and also representation from the National Union of Students (NUS). I did not see Rachel Wenstone’s presentation where she mentioned the NUS Manifesto For Partnership but I have seen her speak against the idea of students as consumers. Anyone interested in student engagement and student/staff partnership should view this recording of her keynote at the Association for Learning Technology.

RAISE Conference in tweets

It was great to see so many delegates tweeting about sessions etc and very useful to be able to follow the conference activities. To see some of the tweets, please click on the link to a RAISE Storify I created following the conference – may not have captured all the tweets as it was done a few days after the event.

Posted by Kathrine Jensen (@kshjensen)


About talintuoh

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