Durham BB 2015 conference
This year’s Durham conference was centred around the theme of Students as Partners with Abbi Flint from the HEA giving one of the keynotes broadly based around the report Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education that Mick Healey, Abbi Flint and Kathy Harrington have just published via the HEA.
Clearly the conference theme is a very timely topic that challenges our assumptions, practices and beliefs about learning, teaching and assessment. The educational experience a student today gets is very different from the one their tutors and teaching staff received as undergraduates. The conference questioned whether our own experiences are still valid reference points.
From my experience as a learning technologist of five years and MA student in online and distance education 3 years ago, I have witnessed rapid change in pedagogy with the onslaught of technology. This change has indeed reconceptualised education as we know it. The concept of students as partners may seem strange and some students might indeed ask why they should be partners when they pay 9k a year for a course program that is partly conceived by their peers. But unless educators can fully understand today’s digital technology and how new generations are using it, we can never hope to deliver a parallel learning experience that enhances and excites our learners. In fact, without working and learning from students in a form of partnership, we will be out of touch, ineffective and blatantly arrogant with the needs of learners. As Jim Emery from Glasgow Caledonian University stated in his presentation around student engagement “those who graduated even as recently as 4 years ago faced different challenges from the students of right now. The dynamic and relationship between a teacher and a learner is different, or if not it’s ineffective”.
But the notion of student as partner has to be genuine. To be a partner, one has to be fit for purpose, be able to understand the challenges, tensions and opportunities. For students to take partnership seriously, institutions need to man-up and take the responsibility of ensuring technical currency exists within the pedagogic delivery. This again can only be done with the student voice and institutions positively acting on their findings as Duune suggests below:
There is a subtle, but extremely important, difference between an institution that ‘listens’ to students and responds accordingly, and an institution that gives students the opportunity to explore areas that they believe to be significant, to recommend solutions and to bring about the required changes. (Dunne in Foreword to Dunne and Zandstra 2011, p. 4)
Students as Partners – Making it Happen
Measures such as student reps being on all university committees, including the exam reviews and assessment boards have been put into place by Hull York Medical School.
They expelled the ‘token gesture’ principle and forged ahead to work with students as co-producers by involving them with getting a variety of curriculum development activities as paid university employees. Examples include working with the HYMS eLearning Team as Student TEL Ambassadors to ensure that the VLE courses for the new academic year are updated and evolve in appropriate ways both in curriculum design and content and to accommodate the changing profile of students. Often, this would involve the students working alongside clinical and academic staff as co-designers of learning resources and influencing the way they use technology to enhance learning and teaching. Students have also worked on research projects and developing eLearning resources such as virtual patients and e-tutorials.
Another significant and simple participation tool used in the open course GCUGameson was Padlet embedded into their Blackboard Course Site. This simple tool cut through all the red tape and complexity that comes with the Blackboard discussion tools.