Skip to main content

Working with Students as Partners

The Conceptual Model of Healey and collaborators (2014) distinguishes four broad areas in which students can act as partners in learning and teaching:  

  • learning, teaching and assessment;  
  • subject-based research and inquiry;   
  • scholarship of teaching and learning;  
  • curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy.  

Visually the model is represented as four overlapping circles to emphasise that distinctions between the areas are blurred and inter-relationships are complex and diverse when put into practice.  

Each of the four areas of activity are mapped below: 

Learning, teaching and assessment – In partnership, students are active participants in their own learning. Engaging students, for example as teachers and assessors in the learning process, is a particularly effective form of partnership. 

Subject-based research and inquiry – Whether it involves selected students working with staff on research projects or all students on a course engaging in mini research project, there is overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness of this approach in stimulating deep and retained learning. Partnership here involves allowing students to have extensive autonomy and independence, and negotiate as partners many of the details of the research and inquiry projects that they undertake. 

Scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) – Conducting projects in partnership with students has been suggested as one of the five principles of good practice in SoTL. Here students can co-develop new resources or approaches for your teaching. Through the lens of SOTL students undertake research projects into the learning and teaching they experience with the intention of enhancing the quality of student learning. DCAD Collaborative Grants can be used to provide funding to students for this work.

Curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy – Students are commonly engaged in course evaluations and in staff-student consultative committees. However, why not go beyond the student voice and engage students as partners in designing the curriculum and giving pedagogic advice and consultancy? Institutions which have implemented such initiatives have seen significant benefits for both students and staff. 

Best Practice Tips

Examples from each area are provided below: 

  • learning, teaching and assessment;  

Case Study – Physics: For over 20 years, the Department of Physics at Durham has run an embedded 3rd year project, where students work as a team to solve a problem provided by an external stakeholder (previous stakeholders have included everyone from Durham County Cricket Club to Sony). Student work in teams, but also provide individual marks to each other, along with an assessment from the module convenor and external stakeholder. 

  •  subject-based research and inquiry; 

Case Study – Foundation Programme: For over 8 years the Foundation Programme has provided students to the Computer Science Department. As part of their Foundation year students undertake a research project to develop a sensing, autonomous selfdriven vehicle, through adaption of a radiocontrolled car. 

  • scholarship of teaching and learning; 

Case Study – Dr Sam Nolan: Sam Nolan (Assistant Director, DCAD) has for a number of years used students as research assistants in his scholarship of teaching and learning projects. Students have developed resources including virtual laboratories, augmented reality, and media rich online courses which have been used by thousands of other students. As one former student collaborator puts it: “My summer jobs were one of the most rewarding parts of my time at Durham University, and certainly gave me the most material for impressing job interviewers of any aspect of my time there. I walked straight into full time employment the Monday after finishing university and my time as a summer student was largely to thank.” 

  • curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy. 

Case Study – Terri Edwards (DCAD): Terri led a UKCISA-funded staff-student partnership project with international students at Durham which ran successfully from 2016-17. In the project, Terri worked with students as curriculum advisors to develop academic writing courses and materials. Further reading on this work is available via the links below.

Further Reading

Healey, M., Flint, A., and Harrington, K. (2014), Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education.  Higher Education Authority.

Edwards, T. (2017a). International students as Curriculum Advisors for academic writing courses: developing and implementing staff-student partnerships. In Grants Scheme 2016-17: a report on pilot projects supporting the international student experience in the UK (pp. 39-43). London: UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA).

Edwards, T. (2017b). International students as curriculum advisors for academic writing courses: staff-student partnerships in English for Academic Purposes (EAP), in K. C Şahan, M. Melsen, A. Tawell, K. Newell, & K. Wortmann (Eds.), STORIES 2017: Doing Education Differently (pp.36-42). Oxford: STORIES Conference, Oxford University.