This summer, the University of Winchester held the inspiring Generation Z in Higher Education Conference. After attending a presentation on Students as Partners in Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning (EDTL) by Maynooth University, I’ve been reflecting on the benefits of authentic student partnerships and how to better embed them at university, especially in light of the switch to a digital learning environment.
Student Partnerships is a pedagogical approach that places students as agents of change, working in collaboration with academic staff to improve teaching and learning. It subverts the traditional relationship of academics as ‘experts’ and students as ‘novices’ there to absorb knowledge, which is difficult to overcome as it is so rooted in our expectations of higher education. Consequently, as was discussed during the presentation, this can cause students to feel as if they can’t shape their university’s education strategy and have to accept things as they are.
This misconception can only be disproved if students can actively see their university’s willingness to engage with students and become involved themselves. For this to occur, there must be student partnership opportunities available early on and throughout university, so student collaboration becomes a part of university as opposed to something novel and out of the usual student experience.
One of the easiest ways to enable student partnerships is to embed them within the curriculum. This can be done simply through active learning techniques such as flipped teaching which places the student in more control of their learning than traditional classroom methods because students will first learn material by themselves and later apply this information in class through discussion, group work and problem solving, which works well both virtually and face to face. Not only does this allow them to form partnerships with each other through in-class collaboration but with their lecturers as well, because it places the student’s understanding of a topic at the heart of debate, meaning they, along with their teachers, have the chance to shape new understandings together. Moreover, academics have the opportunity to learn from their students, as they become viewed as co-researchers, breaking the binary of ‘expert’ and ‘novice’.
A way to further student partnerships, cementing their place within higher education, is to additionally implement them outside the curriculum through student partnership initiatives. The Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning (EDTL) team discussed a few different ways these partnerships have been enacted at Maynooth University that work particularly well alongside digital learning including social media campaigns run by students in partnership with the university. This got me thinking about the student partnerships we at BILT pioneer that have been effective at keeping students connected to the university throughout digital teaching. The Hackathon, for example, gives students the opportunity to co-design solutions to issues and themes the university is currently working to tackle, which is especially important given the major changes to the way education is delivered in recent years. Moreover, my own role as a Student Fellow allows me to partner with staff from across the university to embed the student voice within pedagogic enhancement at the University of Bristol.
Student partnerships like these demonstrate the willingness of an institution to centre its students at the heart of its education strategy. Furthermore, it empowers the student position, enabling us to have more autonomy over our education at a time when many feel they have lost touch with their learning and ultimately enriches our university experience.