With the approaching Teaching Excellence Framework and the now national (if not international) priority for enhancing the student experience and by association student engagement, the RAISE Network special interest group for student engagement met back in March 2016 to discuss current best practice emergent from the home institutions of our membership, to consider exciting opportunities elsewhere and to investigate potential collaborations and future developments.
Student-led inductions, transition mentoring, embedded workshops for student development, the role of personal tutoring and the role of student engagement in learning and teaching. Some of the highlights included Nottingham University’s Advantage Awards which offers a means of co-designing projects with students, and serves as a means of expanding engagement whilst enhancing the profile of both staff and students. It’s also pretty exciting stuff to be a part of, when considering the shifting nature of the current HE landscape.
At Newcastle the conversations around student engagement were very much about examining what this means from the student perspective in order to ensure that they maintain inclusivity for all members. Their interest here lay in investing in collective collaborative projects, including ‘option modules’ for collaboration in a combined honours programme. Glasgow shared some positive examples of co-curricular design practice and in particular with their discussion of how these collaborative processes generated shared terminology as used by students and staff alike, which helped to develop and build upon their individual motivations for participating.
Within institutions like Lincoln and Birmingham City University, the student voice has now become a clear and directing voice which carries weight when considering the way that the universities are run, an approach that Dan Derricott (then Student Engagement Manager, University of Lincoln) describes as ‘rare and exotic.’ Far from the antagonistic historical political relationship that has existed between unions and their institutions, there has been a move in recent years for a much more collaborative approach to resolution management, particularly in areas where we have a shared investment for success. That’s not to say that our unions don’t have teeth, as so they should in their representation of our students, but in instances where partnership working will achieve the most desirable outcome, collaboration should be our first choice. Much of this work has involved the development of staff capacity for leadership in student engagement. Here much of that activity has been about working with staff enthusiasts to become institutional change agents and future leaders in this area, or as Luke Millard (Head of Student Engagement at Birmingham City University) puts it, momentum in this area is gained through a process of infection with enthusiasm.
Much of this development work has necessitated a renewed approach to staff development, with Portsmouth currently working with their Students’ Union to consider their own staff development. However as a part of that process, they are also exploring a route to the professional development of their students. When examining initiatives such as those being discussed here, some of the inherent concerns being raised emerged in particular in institutions where they do not have such a positive working relationship with their Students’ Union. In fact one of the key issues raised by the student partnership special interest group was to ensure that our ongoing dialogue did not just explore our glorious successes and ‘victory narratives’ as Cherie Woolmer (Glasgow) put it, but instead expressed a need to continue to be clear in an open, honest and frank discussion about the dangerous territory that these venture might take us into.
Here, in response to some of these concerns, great stride have been taken in the development and fostering of staff capacity and leadership in approach to student engagement when considering the approaches taken by both the University of Lincoln team and the Birmingham City University approach to Student Academic Partnership. Victory narratives aside, elsewhere concerns were raised about the need to get staff on board and the levels of institutional support required to ensure that ventures and projects of this nature were sustainable. Student Partnership in this respect covered a wide variety of approaches from those such as BCU and Lincoln’s approaches to partnership models of working, design and decision making, to the shared agenda setting of Newcastle’s Teaching and Learning Forum.
With the launch of the Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal scheduled for September 2016, this conversation is set to continue with many of these case studies being shared amongst the wider HE community at the forthcoming RAISE 2016 Excellence in Student Engagement Conference (Loughborough, 8-9 September 2016).