In the past few years we have seen the emergence of a number of projects and initiatives where students work closely with staff as partners or ‘change agents’ in teaching, learning and research. The University of Exeter pioneered this approach (see Dunne and Zandstra, 2011) and more recently the University of Greenwich received JISC funding to develop a national support network of students as change agents and the staff that support them (www.hei-flyers.org). The first CAN (Change Agents Network) event was held at the University of Winchester on 19/20 February 2014 and Jenny Watson and Julian Prior from Learning Technologies were invited along.
Yaz el Hakim, (Dean of Teaching and Learning at Winchester and a keynote speaker at our T&L conference in 2012) kicked off proceedings stressing that the days of simply listening to the ’student voice’ were over and instead urged us to work with students as equal partners. Simon Walker from Greenwich then spoke about the aims of the network which are as follows:
* Creating a national network of student change agents to address new drivers for change
* Enhancing student change agents’ understanding of effective practice and change issues in educational innovation;
* identify and share effective practice and develop a forum for supporting and sharing of ideas;
* Create and link to resources to support staff and students
* Develop an accreditation framework for students working as change agents
Simon made the important point that students are coming to universities with vastly different knowledge and experience of digital literacies, bringing with them different ‘backpacks’ of devices.
Sarah’s key message was that we need to learn from students; working as partners in student-led projects really can transform education and is something the HEA, QAA, HEFCE and NUS fully support. Finally she hinted at some of the future work of the CAN which includes supporting the development of a SEDA recognised qualification in Institutional Change Leadership for students working as change agents, and launching a new journal: The Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change (reviewers and contributors needed). Exciting times ahead!
The next session led by Simon Walker and Mark Kerrigan was an interactive workshop focusing on getting to know some of the existing projects. These included:
- Josie Fraser at De Montfort Uni, Leicester who is running a digital literacies programme that is very ambitious and involves working with the council and local schools to improve digital literacies across the area (see http://www.dmu.ac.uk/about-dmu/news/2013/october/dmu-at-cutting-edge-of-a-digital-learning-revolution.aspx);
- Sheffield Hallam’s ‘Menu of Teaching Approaches and the Technologies that can support them‘ focuses on encouraging staff to make use of the many existing technologies and tools that are available to enhance learning (see Julian for a hard copy of this resource);
- Nottingham is using students as change agents to transform teaching, inform T&L strategy and support practice;
- Greenwich have produced cards to categorise in a light hearted way where people are as regards digital literacies (see image below);
- Will Page the student engagement officer at Exeter talked about the more than 50 change agents projects dotted around the university. Tips for engaging students included awareness that students no longer use email as their primary mode of communication.
We also learned that Winchester annually produce a student journal in which academics submit student work as case studies. Fiona Handley edited the first volume and said it was a lot of work as each article needed to be almost rewritten to get it into an consistent format but that it was a great vehicle and a means whereby students as partners’ reports could be disseminated.
A couple of workshops that Jenny and I attended are worthy of mention:
(a) Technology and change – Amy Barlow (Winchester) and Mark Kerrigan (Greenwich)
This session involved student fellows from the University of Winchester talking about the Mobile Device Scheme (MDS) they were involved in alongside Amy Barlow, a learning technologist at Winchester. The three year project introduced three different devices to students (iPads, Windows Surface tablets and the Galaxy Tab) and four student fellows (one from each faculty) played a central role as partners for innovation and technology experts. The fellows are in the process of publishing a monthly newsletter which includes App reviews and they undertake group workshops and 1-1 sessions with other students.
Mark Kerrigan from Greenwich University rounded off the session by talking about the mobile scheme in the School of Science whereby all first year undergraduates are loaned an iPad as a vehicle for developing digital attributes, literacies and competencies. There is an emphasis on developing critical skills and students are part of an inter-disciplinary research group and receive scholarships as a reward. One output was a set of student produced cards where students are encouraged to assess their level of digital literacy against four ‘ideal types’ (Immersed, Adaptive, Fixed, Detached).
(b) Supporting students – Peter Chatterton (Change Agents Consultant)
This workshop was led by change agents consultant Peter Chatterton who together with JISC has devised a toolkit to support institutions working alongside students to implement change. The resource toolkit comprises case studies, practice points, benefits of working with students as partners, useful links and a card toolkit based on University of Ulster’s Viewpoints for Student Partnerships resource. The card toolkit is structured around four distinct stages of implementation:
- Partnership set-up
- Partnership implementation
- Capabilities, development and accreditation
- Evaluation, impact and sustainability
In small groups of staff and students we took one stage each and, using the cards, explored how we might implement student partnerships by setting priorities for each stage of the process. I found this to be a really valuable exercise and it was great to hear that the card toolkit can be adapted for an institution’s needs. The toolkit provides a comprehensive plan for implementing student partnerships and students as change agents – the resources are available at http://www.hei-flyers.org/wordpress/viewpoints-resources/
Two other sessions that we attended:
- A workshop on writing and persuading skills led by an actor and screen writer who emphasised the importance of taking the time to understand who the audience was, so the content could be focused and cut to size. He emphasised that content should have a snappy beginning, middle and end (no waffle).
- Dave White led an interesting session on the morning of the second day in the fantastic setting of the Everyman Cinema in Winchester. Dave talked about the work that he and Helen Beetham have been carrying out on the JISC Digital Student Project and we then engaged in a useful future scenario planning exercise, the results of which can be seen at http://digitalstudent.jiscinvolve.org/wp/files/2014/03/Digital-student-experience-2020.pdf – well worth a look.
Overall we experienced two days of lively discussion and thoughtful reflection and we learnt a lot from other universities who are much further down the line in terms of working with their students as change agents. Solent has a long history of student partnership projects (Graduate Associates, the Peer Leaders scheme, Solent SMILE Fest etc.) and we are excited to see how a change agents initiative at Solent works alongside the development of digital literacies and supports the embedding of technology enhanced learning more generally.
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