#SBSResearch: Students as Partners

In 2017, a team at the University of Suffolk delved into the HEFCE Catalyst Call A funded project PlacementPAL(Peer Assisted Learning): a digital app to scaffold students’ learning and knowledgeable action in work. Through this project, two courses were used as pilots for the development of a mobile web application designed to support students out in work-based contexts as part of their degree programmes.

UCS Question mark (18)
(C) University of Suffolk

Through this work, Dr Suzanne Nolan has explored the developing and growing trend of using students as partners in learning and work within higher education. She has been conducting research as part of the PlacementPAL project, as well as taking this further by conducting focus groups and interviews with academic staff, in order to gain an insight into how current higher education professionals view students as partners, and how we can create better learning and teaching environments.

According to Healy et al (2014)

Partnership is essentially a process of engagement, not a product. It is a way of doing things, rather than an outcome in itself. All partnership is student engagement, but no all student engagement is partnership.

This has certainly been true of the research Dr Nolan has conducted thus far. Initial research suggests that higher education institutions still have a long way to go to embed a culture of communication and development alongside students within their organisations. Clearer understanding may be needed in the definitions of students-as-partners, and the impact (both positive and negative) on students and staff.

There is also a need for organisational support in developing this culture from all levels of management. With the adoption of the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework), there are increasing pressures on higher education institutions to hear and respond to the student voice. Engaging with students as partners in learning and teaching would be a effective way of doing this.

This work is part of ongoing research. If you work in higher education, and would like to learn more, or contribute to this research, please contact Dr Suzanne Nolan: s.nolan@uos.ac.uk

Dr Suzanne Nolan is the Lecturer in Employment Development at the Suffolk Business School, and is course leader for the Chartered Degree Management Apprenticeship (BA (Hons) Business Management Professional). If you would like more information on this course, please visit the website.

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