Developing successful student-staff partnerships

Supporting you to work with students to develop your institution’s digital environment and create engaging learning experiences – by Clare Killen, author of the new Jisc Developing successful student staff partnerships online guide

Combining skills sets to develop digital practice
The 2014 NUS report, radical interventions in teaching and learning states,
“in order for universities to foster more inclusive learning environments, we believe that students must be empowered as active and participatory agents, not as mere consumers, so that they can articulate their own conceptions of what makes good learning environments, and work in partnership with academics and administrators to realise these conceptions.”

Given the fast pace of technological innovation and the continually evolving opportunities and challenges this brings, working in partnership to develop students’ digital learning experiences and environments opens up new possibilities.

“Staff and students have different digital literacy skills sets. Combining the digital bravery (R Sharpe and G Benfield) of the students with staff knowledge and expertise of a given domain can allow you to critically investigate digital practice in a subject.”
Jim Pettiward, blended learning facilitator, Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT), London Metropolitan University

Jisc has been involved in partnership projects with a range of institutions and other agencies since 2008. There are now some mature models operating in both further and higher education with growing evidence that working in partnership with students is enabling colleges and universities to:
• Deliver more effective student engagement activities
• Engage their students in active dialogue about the digital aspects of their learning experiences
• Explore the role of technology in supporting students’ studies and in preparing them for employment

Students, staff, institutions and employers all benefit from partnership activities and the positive impact of partnership initiatives often extends to much broader and more general practice. Wider institutional benefits include the development of unique student-led approaches to issues with the benefit from ‘fresh-eyes’.

Different names
In my research I have encountered many different names for student (and staff) partners including change agents, partners, ePioneers, ambassadors etc. There are also many different approaches to partnership work, varying from students leading change in projects that make a difference to their own learning or subject to student engagement in defined projects or in improving institutional processes such as recruitment and teaching practice observations.

The goal of engaging students working with change is that the process can significantly enhance impact, promote engagement, improve the quality of the learning experience and support sustainability.

Different models
The models vary according to the purpose behind the initiative and the issues that institutions seek to address.
Some seek to build digital confidence, develop digital practices and literacy or to increase engagement in using technology to support learning. Examples include Barnet and Southgate College’s DigiDesk initiative where student ambassadors operate a helpdesk for students and staff, London Metropolitan University’s Clued Up! project to develop student digital literacy skills and Blackburn College’s DigiPals scheme where students champion the use of e-learning to enhance learning and encourage peer engagement with technology.

Developing relevant digital curricula or an aspect of teaching, learning and assessment is another approach. Examples include:

• The development of a series of subject specific digital literacy statements as part of the PriDE (Professionalism in the Digital Environment) project at the University of Bath

• The Integrate project at the University of Exeter where students explored how a range of different technologies could enhance teaching and learning in the Business School.

• The University of Nottingham students as change agents scheme aims to empower students to make a difference to teaching and learning by working with schools on curriculum-based development projects

• The FASTECH project at the University of Winchester and Bath Spa University engages Student Fellows to explore how technology can enhance feedback and assessment processes

Models that support specific initiatives include UCL’s digifest, a five day festival of all things digital, designed to share and grow innovation across the university, the University of Southampton’s student-led ‘Mission Employable’ project in the School of Humanities and Pembrokeshire College’s crowd-sourcing approach to improve democracy, decision-making and enhance the learner voice.

Other models that have either broadened their remit beyond an initial digital focus or are embedding partnership within the wider institutional culture so that it becomes ‘the way things are done’.

• Birmingham City University’s student engagement initiatives involving students taking on a variety of academic, mentoring and collaboration roles.

• The University of Lincoln’s student engagement activities in restructuring subject committees, work shadowing between students and the executive team, student representation on interview panels and the work of engagement champions.

Developing your own approach
Whether you are just starting to develop student-staff partnership work at your institution or to scale-up and embed existing initiatives the new guide to developing successful student-staff partnerships provides a collection of effective practice resources, guidance, reflection points and tools to help you build strong and productive student-staff partnerships to develop your institution’s digital environment.

The guide is split into six sections which can be tackled individually or in any order that suits your particular need:
» The benefits of working in partnership
» Quick start
» Viewpoints framework
» Case studies
» Webinars
» Links to other agency initiatives

The Jisc change agents’ network actively supports a community of practice of students and staff working in partnership on technology related innovation projects and facilitates the sharing of best practice.

The change agents’ network has recently published the second edition of the Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change, a peer-reviewed journal that welcomes articles, case studies and opinion pieces relating to learning, teaching and assessment within the context of students and staff working in partnership.

The SEDA-accredited Institutional Change Leader course supports staff and students who are working in partnership on technology led curriculum innovation projects in UK further education and skills and higher education. This course is currently free and the next course starts on 19 October 2015 and runs for 5 months.

Jisc has been collaborating with NUS and The Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP) to develop a benchmarking tool for the digital student experience. This tool highlights the importance of partnership working and offers institutions a starting point for discussions between staff and students about what is working in the digital learning environment and what they can work on together to improve.

The updated guide Enhancing the student digital experience: a strategic approach includes examples of how FE and HE institutions are building successful student-staff partnerships.

Get involved by joining the Jisc Change Agents’ Network community mailing list and follow @CANagogy #JiscCAN on Twitter.

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