“The principle of student-staff collaboration is really important. Technology is dynamic and changing all the time causing shifts in culture. Identifying what these shifts are and how we should respond can only be done with both parties working together.”
Helen Long’a Tongu, student, London Metropolitan University
Engage in collaborative dialogue
In recent years the focus has moved away from listening to students’ views to engaging in meaningful and collaborative dialogue and partnership initiatives to identify what helps or hinders learning. The UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey reports that 30% of respondents are working with students as change agents with another 46% of respondents ‘working towards’ this.
Surveys provide vital information but over-use can lead to ‘survey fatigue’ and the tendency is to ask the questions and prioritise the issues that the institution thinks are important which may differ from those identified by students.
A combination of surveys, statistical data and collaborative exploration, perhaps using our evaluating digital services: a visitors and residents approach mapping process, will provide a richer discourse and lead to deeper understanding for all and potentially the co-design of new solutions to jointly identified problems. It is vital that such feedback is acted upon and that students continue to be actively engaged throughout the development and implementation process.
Principles of student engagement
The Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP) have identified a set of principles of student engagement covering learning and teaching, the quality assurance and enhancement processes and decision making, governance and strategy.
Our guide to developing successful student-staff partnerships offers guidance, resources, case studies and the Viewpoints toolkit to support institutions to set up, implement, develop and embed student-staff partnership initiatives.
The National Union of Students (NUS) have published building a framework for partnership with students which offers guidance to students’ unions and higher education providers in how to use their student charter to build and enhance partnership between students and staff. The NUS have also published a manifesto for partnership.
Case study - University of Exeter
Case study - University of Glasgow
The data is used by the university’s learning and teaching committee to shape strategic responses such as improving access to information and content via mobile devices and installing lecture capture in all teaching rooms.
Case study - Pembrokeshire College
Pembrokeshire College uses a digital tool and methodology called VocalEyes Digital Democracy to improve learner involvement and satisfaction. VocalEyes supports democratic decision-making for any given community in a way that is transparent and engaging.
VocalEyes uses a crowd-sourcing approach that enables students to suggest ideas through the online system which are then debated and rated by their peers online, before being analysed and presented to the senior management team at the college through learner voice representatives. Feasible ideas are then put into action and the college community is kept informed of actions taken and sometimes, the reasons why ideas are not taken forward.
Respond to different needs
There is no such thing as ‘a typical student’. Rather, there will be a multiplicity of different and distinct user groups with different needs, experiences, backgrounds and aspirations who are managing sometimes complex work, social and personal commitments and adopting varying modes of study. Effective use of technology can enhance the learning experience by, for example, providing additional channels of support or opening up enriched opportunities for learning and communicating for those who may otherwise find it difficult to participate.
Personal and contextualised learning
The challenge is for institutions to create an inclusive environment where students feel that their personal learning experience is important, that their learning needs will be met and that they will be both supported and challenged as they prepare for future work and study. In a digital society, making innovative and appropriate use of technology is an essential part of that preparation, contextualised according to the subject or discipline studied.
Students who feel an affinity with their learning institutions and who feel the institution cares about their experience are more likely to succeed, to maintain good relationships beyond their initial study and contribute through alumni activities.
Advantages of joint enterprise
The fast pace of change is often cited as a barrier in terms of staff keeping abreast of technological developments and yet feedback from students tells us that they are less concerned at what equipment is used and more concerned that it is used appropriately, purposefully and competently with clear benefits for the learning experience (Beetham, H and White, D (2013), students’ expectations and experiences of the digital environment, Jisc).
The perception that students are more confident in using technology than staff is too simplistic and an over-generalisation. Both groups have different skills sets and expertise to contribute and it may be more appropriate to think about internet users as having ‘visitor’ or ‘resident’ motivations (A Le Cornu, D White).
It is clear from our work on the Summer of Student Innovation (SoSI) and research on what students really want that there is no shortage of innovative ideas and well-considered solutions to student identified problems.
Case study - Unitu project
Unitu recognises the pressure that institutions are under to deliver a high quality student experience and has developed an online system that overcomes failures in traditional feedback processes, facilitates collaboration between staff and students and helps to resolve issues quickly and efficiently. The system also provides data showing how issues are raised and resolved, enabling more informed decision-making. The project is being developed by students from four UK universities and is funded through the Jisc Summer of student innovation project.
What is clear is that where students and staff work together to combine their skills and expertise the individual and collective learning, progress and outputs resulting from collaborative partnerships can far exceed expectations.
Case study - University of Southampton
iChamps at the University of Southampton work alongside staff partners in academic units and faculties across the university to identify and develop digital initiatives according to the needs of academic teams and the interests of students. iChamps are extending their reach and embedding the work of the iChamps network by linking digital developments with other student-led initiatives such as placements, employability and student engagement.
Case study - University of Reading
Students and staff at The University of Reading combined their digital and academic skills to develop ‘KiteSite’ a free mobile app for recording biological species that is openly available and useful for research and public outreach, as well as in research-led learning.
Case study - Barnet and Southgate College
The DigiDesk initiative at Barnet and Southgate College provides first-line support for both students and staff with their digital literacy or ‘e-basics’ needs and technical queries.
It is staffed by volunteer DigiDesk advisors, typically level 3 students with good interpersonal and IT skills with an interest in careers in computing, IT, animation and training.
It is run as a professional IT helpdesk located within the learning resource centre at the wood street campus and is open daily between the hours of 9:00 and 17:00 and unofficially, one late evening until 19:00 to accommodate part-time students.
Case study - Blackburn College
DigiPals are students at Blackburn College who champion the use of e-learning and encourage peer engagement with technology to enhance learning. DigiPals is one of a range of initiatives led by the college’s blended learning team, designed to create a culture shift across the college by embedding technology in student and staff practice. Typical examples of the types of activities that DigiPals engage in include:
- Showing their peers and staff how to use different technologies in a learning context.
- Taking part in training sessions, roadshows and promotions
- Creating instructional videos and guides
- Working with the blended learning team to provide feedback and to inform and influence the technology vision and strategy
Case study - Leeds City College
Two initiatives at Leeds City College are helping to build a powerful student-staff partnership and empower the student community:
- A team of students act as digital leaders and work alongside staff faculty technology champions known as learning leaders. Together, they mentor students and staff to enhance learning in their own curriculum areas and to resolve practical issues like helping students learning English for Students of Other Languages (ESOL) to overcome language barriers when logging on to the college network or creating new email accounts.
- After learning of the digital leaders programme, student officers from Leeds City College Students’ Union commissioned students to investigate ways that the union could improve its development with the use of technological systems. The union is now leading the way in use of technology to support collaboration across multiple campuses by modelling use of cloud computing and productivity tools like Google Apps to communicate, run meetings and work together.
Recognise and reward
Institutions that are fully committed to collaboration will adequately resource initiatives (including any training and support needed) and identify opportunities to recognise and reward student and staff achievements both digital and otherwise.
Different models of recognition and reward are offered by different institutions. Recognition may take the form of open badges, accreditation, graduate awards, paid internships, or payment in kind.
Blackburn College rewards DigiPals with both badges and also offers a small number of student scholarship bursaries and Prospects College of Advanced Technology is recruiting a team of student digital learning ambassadors who will receive scholarship funding. The DigiDesk service at Barnet and Southgate College is staffed by volunteers who benefit from training, work experience and support to ensure their skills and experience are reflected in UCAS statements or by providing references to potential employers.
Case study - University of Bath
At The University of Bath the Professionalism in the Digital Environment (PRiDE) project recognises and rewards the digital literacy skills developed by staff and students through the Bath Award and by ensuring that appropriate links are made to employability and professional frameworks such as the UK Professional Standards Framework and the Researcher Development Framework.
Case study - University of Southampton
Case study - Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA)
A new Institutional Change Leader Award has been developed by the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) working in partnership with Jisc. This accredited programme supports staff and students working in partnership on curriculum innovation projects in UK further education and skills and higher education. Offering professional recognition for staff and students, the pilot course has been designed to develop confidence and a range of professional and personal skills as well as to provide opportunities for networking, peer support and collaboration.