Sharing best practice and stealing ideas – student staff partnership working

I have been very fortunate over the past week to have attended a number of events run by colleges and universities where the theme of student –staff partnership working has been the focus. This in itself is an interesting development and shows the growing awareness of how important it is to engage students in the development of their learning.

“Partnership can be viewed through the lens of student engagement” said Simon Walker, University of Greenwich, when he introduced the student-staff panel discussing Creating a culture of partnership working at the recent Jisc Learning and Teaching Experts Group.

The panel included:
Rachel Challen, e-Learning Manager, Loughborough College
Heather Newbrooks, Student engagement manager, Loughborough College
Andrew Carter-Smith, Digital Champion, Loughborough College
Rebecca Rochon, Buckinghamshire New University
Elgan Hughes, Student Engagement Officer, Birmingham City University
Dan Derricott, Student Engagement Manager, University of Lincoln
Dan Richardson, Student Engagement Intern, University of Lincoln

Panel members shared their approaches to partnership working and the benefits they were realising. The questions from the audience focused around how you gain senior management support for these initiatives, how you reward and recognise both staff and students’ contributions in these projects and how and if you should engage the unengaged students in these projects.

Loughborough College panel members
Loughborough College panel members

You can listen to Elgan, Dan, Andrew and Dan share their experiences of working on student staff partnership projects here

“Partnership is essentially a process of engagement, not a product. It is a way of doing things, rather than an outcome in itself.”

This aspiration was evident to see when I had the privilege of attending Blackburn College’s Learning Futures dissemination event, CULTURESHIFT Embedding technology in staff and student practice (see #lfuturesBC). The college has embraced a holistic approach to technology enhanced learning and is working with both staff and students across a range of subject areas, levels and ages to support their effective use of technology. Deb Millar, Head of e-Learning, (@DebMillar24) has led a team of student and staff digiPals #digiPals to work collaboratively on a range of e-learning projects. The projects include the use of Twitter to support hairdressing and sports studies, to the use of Skype to bring in industry experts remotely and Blendspace to encourage learners to share their work.

Blackburn College Culture Shift Event 29 June 2015
Blackburn College Culture Shift Event 29 June 2015

Senior management support was evident with Tracy Stuart, Vice Principal of Curriculum and Quality, tweeting (@BbcollTracy) and celebrating the achievements of her staff and students. In addition, Deb and her team have developed a brilliant set of #learningwheels – graphical illustrations to show the benefits and affordances of different tools and technologies eg Twitter, Padlet, Blendspace etc. You can view the learning wheels in development and collaborate with Deb and her team on their further developments here.

Blackburn College DigiPals
Blackburn College DigiPals

It was wonderful to see the student #digiPals sharing their work and achievements and recognising how these collaborative projects were enabling them to gain a wide range of skills which would not only support their learning but also their future employability prospects. Their work has received support and funding from the ETF Learning Futures programme.

At the Jisc Leeds Connnect More event I was introduced to the work of Keith Tellum, Head of technology enhanced learning at Leeds City College and Craig Clements, President of their Students Union. Keith has been working in partnership with students as Digital Leaders (supported by Toshiba over the past 3 years). He has also importantly been working with the Students Union to support the development of their digital strategy. So often we hear from student-staff partnership projects that there are issues with engaging the students union, yet here is an example where the students union is leading the change. In this case through their use of google docs to enable collaboration and sharing of information and feedback.

Finally I was invited to attend and deliver a keynote around the work of the Change Agents’ Network at the University of Westminster’s 14th Learning and Teaching symposium #UoWLTS15. I was able to participate in an excellent student-led session from their student co-creators who have been leading a range of projects across the university. Mark Clements and Sandra Lusk have provided a supportive framework for these students to develop their skills in team working, communication and project management. I was struck at how articulate and confident these students were – some of whom were in their 1st year of study.

Student Co-creators from University of Westminster
Student Co-creators from University of Westminster

I would like to congratulate all of these institutions for their inspirational practice and for celebrating their student’s achievements on these projects. From all of these examples and approaches, what is evident are the wide-ranging benefits students are themselves articulating:
Gaining an experience of leadership and influencing change
Gaining experience of using research to shape change
Gaining recognition through awards such as leadership awards, academic credit, extra-curricular awards and awards accredited through external bodies
Increasing confidence and skills (e.g. communication, team-working, management, research skills)
Enhancing networking opportunities with e.g. employers, community
Improving employability and job prospects

We will be working over the summer to update the CAN Student Partnership toolkit and will be publishing a set of 10 institutional case studies from HE and FE which showcase the range of approaches to student partnership working.

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