Staff-student partnerships: an evolving landscape

Did you attend CAN conference? Fear not Barbara has you covered...

A portrait photo of Barbara Tarling

In addition to studying for an Open Degree and fulfilling my responsibilities as a student member of The

Open University Council, I am also a QAA reviewer and a member of the Teaching Excellence Framework Panel. Two roles that have given me an insight into the ways that staff-student partnerships are changing the landscape of Higher Education. I was therefore delighted to have an opportunity to spend two days attending the 2019 Change Agents’ Network (CAN) Conference which took this topic as its theme. The conference is an annual event, sponsored by JISC and hosted this year by The OU. It was an ideal opportunity for me to learn more about the ways in which staff-student partnerships are developing throughout Higher and Further Education sectors, and I am grateful to the OU Students Association and The Open University Council who jointly sponsored my attendance.

Some academic conferences can be as dull as ditchwater but this one was lively and engaging from the moment that the first keynote speaker took the stage. Ruby Granger is a student at the University of Exeter who has made a name for herself vlogging about her study experiences on StudyTube. Her enthusiasm for learning is equalled by her passion for using social media to share the ups and downs of student life with an army of followers. Her opening was an energising introduction to two days of wide-ranging parallel presentations and workshops and there was so much on offer that it was hard to decide which sessions to attend. Should I go along to support my CEC colleagues who were talking about the way that partnership works at The OU? A topic that I’m already quite familiar with, or should I focus on discovering what is happening elsewhere in the Higher and Further Education sector? In the end, I opted to explore the unfamiliar and was later somewhat disappointed to discover that I had missed some spectacularly successful presentations by my OU friends, particularly the session on Diversity in Education given by Cherry Day and Billy Docherty. That’s the problem with conferences. There is always so much going on and you can’t be everywhere at once.

I was fascinated and encouraged to see the many different ways in which staff-student partnerships are developing across the sector. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding effective mechanisms to gather student feedback and using it to inform curriculum development, or using mentoring schemes to inspire students to engage with their studies and acquire the skills they will need in the workplace. But it doesn’t end there. The conference showed that there are boundless opportunities for staff and students to work together to support student success and enrich the student experience. Partnerships are celebrating diversity, supporting the mental wellbeing of distance learners, addressing the BME attainment gap, shaping the digital environment, improving access, widening participation and enabling innovation. As I drove home, I reflected on how much we can learn from sharing our ideas and experiences and how proud I am to be part of such a vibrant community of practice.

Posted on behalf of Barbara Tarling

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