Following the pilot last year at the University of Huddersfield which was a Higher Education Academy funded project, I am excited that the scheme is carrying on and new students have been recruited. I have had some questions about how students are recruited and what sort of training they do so I thought I would attempt to outline in more detail how this part of the scheme is structured.
The student teaching and learning consultants are recruited via the Students’ Union. The students are recruited mainly from second or third year students and from students who have an interest in the teaching and learning and improving the student experience. They send in a written application against an outline of the job role focusing on skills in communication, working as part of a team and maintaining confidentiality. In the second year of the scheme, students were also asked to attend an interview before they were selected.
The selected students are required to attend two training sessions before they work with staff and then also ongoing meetings to share feedback and address any issues or training needs that may arise from the consultancy work.
The ethos of partnership and the principles of feedback
The first training session consists of an introduction to the scheme that stresses the ethos of partnership, objective feedback and the need for confidentiality. In an introductory ice breaker exercise we share best and worst teaching and learning experiences as a way to start identifying some characteristics and get some ideas about everyone’s background experiences.
We also present and discuss different approaches to teaching and learning as well as introduce Chickering & Gamson’s principles for good practice in undergraduate education. At this point we stress to the students that they are not going to be trained to be experts in pedagogy or teaching excellence but that it is about offering their unique perspectives as students based on their experiences as learners in higher education. Often there can be a mismatch between what academic staff understand to be happening in teaching and learning activities and interactions and students’ understanding.
Students role play being consultants and staff using some case studies developed by the Students Consulting on Teaching project at Lincoln University. Fake moustaches help a lot with getting students to loosen up and have fun with it. This is particularly effective in getting them to imagine how they would present themselves and the scheme. Students are also introduced to some principles about observation, the power of descriptive language in opening up conversation as opposed to feedback based on opinion or judgement. We introduce the students to some principles for giving feedback.
We also explore the emotional aspects of feedback, how difficult it is to ask someone to look at your professional practice, the feeling of leaving yourself open to criticism even if it is constructive.
For the next training session, students are asked to prepare a prompt sheet to support them in their work and to start them thinking about what they need to cover in conversations with academic staff.
In the second training session the focus is on reinforcing that the feedback they offer is constructive and focused on opening up dialogue about teaching and learning rather than evaluation. To achieve this we try out a short exercise in speaking in front of an audience and getting feedback we ask everyone to prepare a 5 minute talk about a subject they are passionate about and then pick two out of a hat. The apprehension felt by all goes a long way to illustrate the need for empathy.
We also bring in a guest lecturer who does a mock lecture for the students to offer feedback on.
As this is the second year of the scheme we have made the most of the experiences of the first year student consultant. We incorporated their feedback into the first presentations and two of them also delivered some scenarios for the new students to discuss and offer what their approach would be to this. They called them ‘awkward scenarios’ as they illustrated grey areas of what they might be asked to do, such as a lecturer asking for a student consultant to observe a lecturer but then also asking the student consultant to take note of what students were on their phones or talking when they shouldn’t be and report back.
In the second year of the scheme we have added training in a third session on listening skills with a focus on open-ended questioning and how to avoid leading questions.
What is it a about the word ‘feedback’?
Following the first year of the scheme, we have been having ongoing discussions about the problems of using the word ‘feedback’ with staff. Feedback can be a term that students and lecturer dislike as it implies evaluation and possible judgment of some sort, which is of course not what the scheme promotes. The term ‘Feedforward’ has been suggested as a way to signpost that the scheme is about development, however, there was a feeling that this wording possibly suggested a focus on offering solutions, which can also be problematic as the aim is dialogue.
See also last year’s post ‘The Student Consultants are coming’ from Dec 2012 on the training the student consultants did for more details
Chickering, A. W., and Gamson, Z. F. (1987 ) ‘Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education’, AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3–7.
Chickering, A. W. and Gamson, Z. F. (1999), ‘Development and Adaptations of the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education’, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 1999: 75–81. doi: 10.1002/tl.8006
Posted by Kathrine Jensen (@kshjensen)