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Understanding the student perspective

Further and higher education institutions have come a long way in terms of engaging with students to better understand needs and to help adapt curriculum design, delivery and assessment. All this is within an environment of changing student demographics e.g. with non-traditional HE learners in the work-place and increasing emphasis on progression and accreditation of e.g. experiential learning.

 

It is emphasised, however, that engagement with students does not mean more and more evaluation surveys - there is now a syndrome of “evaluation fatigue” – and institutions have to become more mature in how they engage with the student population.

 

Some activities demonstrating effective engagement with students include:

 

Student mentors

A number of institutions adopt a student mentor approach, where students are co-opted (and sometimes paid) to mentor staff in the use of technology. This approach has its limitations and there is a danger of students being used as cheap technical support, however many institutions report considerable benefits from adopting such an approach e.g. the Student-Staff Mentoring project at the University of Hertfordshire Business School.

 

Students as Agents for Change in Learning and Teaching – University of Exeter

This innovative project invites students to engage in active research within their School looking into ways of improving the learning and teaching experience. Applicants choose their own topic of research that addresses an area of learning and/or teaching that is of concern within their School. This is a collaborative project involving both the University’s Education Enhancement department and the Students' Guild, with student representatives from Staff-Student Liaison Committees (SSLCs) taking responsibility for promoting evidence-based change. SSLCs and programme managers are expected to take responsibility for embedding student recommendations for change into strategic planning and action. Hence the project is about more than 'students as researchers' or about 'listening to the student voice’, but about enabling students to engage formally with the processes of real and positive change.

 

Student as a Producer– University of Lincoln

Student as Producer is a development of the University of Lincoln’s policy of research-informed teaching to research-engaged teaching. Research-engaged teaching involves more research and research-like activities at the core of the undergraduate curriculum. A significant amount of teaching at the University of Lincoln is already research-engaged. Student as Producer will make research–engaged teaching an institutional priority, across all faculties and subject areas. In this way students become part of the academic project of the University and collaborators with academics in the production of knowledge and meaning. Research-engaged teaching is grounded in the intellectual history and tradition of the modern university.

 

The University of Hertfordshire CABLE process 

The University of Hertfordshire developed a change management process called CABLE (Change Academy for Blended Learning Enhancement) which involved a high degree of student collaboration.

 

Students as Critical Friends for quality enhancement

Edinburgh Napier University, in 2011, are employing students as Critical Friends within the curriculum design phase of a new suite of programmes for up-skilling youth workers in Edinburgh (including a new Foundation Degree programme).

 

Student diaries – University of Hertfordshire

This project provided students with technologies such as digital video cameras in order to produce alternative forms of feedback and aimed to:

  • Give students the chance to provide feedback on their learning experience.
  • Report students’ views using a powerful and effective medium of technology.
  • Give staff an explicit insight into students’ views and behaviours.

 

 

The ELESIG community of practice provides a network of practitioner exchange in this area.

 


 

In the JISC Innovating e-Learning Conference 2010, Usman Ali (Vice President – Higher Education of the National Union of Students - NUS) asked What do students really want? Drawing on recently published research on student perceptions on technology conducted by the NUS on behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) (October 2010). 

 

The focus of the presentation was:

  • What students think about current ICT usage in HE.
  • How students would like to see ICT used.
  • The training needs of academics and students.

 

Some key points made in the presentation were:

  • Many students still found conventional methods of teaching to be superior.
  • Staff need to develop their own ICT skills to meet the requirements of their students.
  • ICT has great potential to benefit the delivery of teaching, but harnessing that potential is the predominant challenge.
  • Students prefer a choice in how they learn.
  • Significant variations in levels of demand across the student population.
  • High levels of demand for improved IT facilities – NSS results demonstrated this also this year.
  • Virtual Learning Environments to be used in an effective way – particularly for FE students.
  • International students, particular those from countries with highly developed technologies, expect ICT/e-learning in the UK.
  • ICT should “create added value” not “value for money”.  
  • Specific student needs from institutions include research skills, ethical use of ICT, managing privacy, customisation, using discipline specific tools.

 

Recommendations from students included:

  • All institutions should have an ICT strategy that is revised every three years and students should be actively engaged in the process of developing that strategy.
  • Institutions should appoint Senior Fellows responsible for new technologies and supporting the integration of them into teaching and learning.
  • Faculties should have innovation funds to support academics to develop new ways of using ICT.
  • Institutions should review the use of their VLE to identify and share good practice of where it has enhanced the student learning experience.
  • Institutions should consider ways of making university administration more accessible through technology including e-submission of assessment, registration and course choices.
  • All students should be offered training needs analyses of their ICT skills at the start of their programme to identify their training requirements.
  • Course evaluation forms should question the extent to which tutors have integrated ICT into courses.
  • ICT skills should be integrated into the Professional Standard Framework, institutional promotional criteria and also selection for teaching awards.

 

A strong line of discussion in the conference concerned the extent to which institutions are prepared to respond to learners and the extent to which students' views should inform what institutions offer. On the one hand, institutions are concerned with student satisfaction and ratings and choice. On the other, we are wary of responding to what students want (Usman used the word 'demand') rather than what we think they need – 'As educators we need to be informed by what students tell us, but not led' (Mark Childs). Usman was keen to talk about 'building relationships' and developing partnerships with students and this thread was taken up with an exchange of practice and suggestions for how academics may develop opportunities for the bringing together of student expertise in social uses of technology with academic expertise in designing for learning.

 

In the plenary session, Aaron Porter (President of the National Union of Students) cited a period of incredible change in the HE sector where use of technology in education is prolific. Students use the Internet, Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and social media. He talked about how technology improves the offer to students, providing flexibility and personalisation. The NUS research shows that students prefer a choice in how they learn and have expressed concern around the competencies of their lecturers.  Students are aware of influence of the subject in deciding how to use technology appropriately and feel this appropriateness should be recognised.

 

Aaron Porter encourages institutions to open the doors, encourage students to come up with suggestions of how things can change and new ways of how students can be represented using technology.

 

View the recording of Usman’s session and download the presentation.