At the 21st International Conference on Learning in New York in July 2014, Dr Pam Parker and myself ran a workshop on engaging students in educational development.
Our slides are available on slideshare:
This workshop is similar to one we ran at the SEDA conference earlier this year.
It explores how we can engage students productively and appropriately in educational development activities as partners. The notion of students as “partners” is not without controversy or debate, something that came out at the SEDA conference as well as our own Learning at City conference. Can students really be partners? And is engagement meaningful or is it just “tick-boxing”? Do students know what will really be required of them? This last issue was one that resonated with me as students are often put onto committees that are staff dominated and they don’t really understand what is required of them or the environment is quite intimidating for students to properly interact or contribute.
We tried creating a student advisory board for Learning Enhancement and Development akin to our Learning Development Advisory Board. The rationale for this was that now we are a student and staff facing team we should ensure we have true student engagement and look for opportunities to maximise this. It was initially hard to engage students in the advisory board and eventually we offered some financial incentives which did work. Again offering incentives for students to participate is an issue that divides people but I think given the circumstances and expectations we have of our students it is appropriate. The advisory board went very well and the students contributed some great ideas as to how we could involve them and the kind of activities we need to do to support staff. We particularly liked the ideas around more student projects, reviewing our peer review system and educational development sabbaticals. Not sure these will all fly with senior management but they are good suggestions nevertheless.
We then did a group work exercise with tablecloths (well they were supposed to be tablecloths but there weren’t tables in the rooms so had to redesign our activity!) where people answered a set of questions around what activities they do with students to engage them, what challenges they have and so on. Our audience had a very diverse set of backgrounds for primary schools to adult learning and so on which led to some very fruitful discussions. We are yet to analyse all the data but some ideas as to how we could engage students included students who were finishing a programme write letters to those just starting it with their top tips, students undertaking peer review or observations of staff – being done by primary school students (!) and student councils. It was a great discussion and we came back with some good ideas that we shall look at implementing over the next year.
Personally I would like to spend a day or more shadowing a student to see what their experiences are really like. And I would love to see senior management doing this too.