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Students as Partners: A model to promote student engagement in post-COVID-19 teaching and learning.



The COVID-19 pandemic brought a seismic shift to the ways and means in which higher education institutions (HEIs) approached teaching, learning and assessment provision. The medium and longer term effects of COVID-19 are likely to have an impact on the approaches of education, to which students and staff could work collaboratively as ‘partners’ in ensuring a student-centred approach. Development of a culture of Student Partnership has been identified as a means of working within resource constraint environments and optimising educational experiences for students and staff alike. This paper makes a series of recommendations aimed and supporting and enhancing the quality of higher education in the post-COVID 19 future.
AISHE-J Volume 12, Number 3 (Autumn 2020) Page 1
All Ireland Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (AISHE-J)
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0
Students as Partners: A Model to Promote Student
Engagement in Post-COVID-19 Teaching and
Dale F. Whelehan
Trinity College Dublin,
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a seismic shift to the ways and means in which
higher education institutions (HEIs) approached teaching, learning and assessment
provision. The medium and longer-term effects of COVID-19 are likely to have an
impact on the approaches of education, to which students and staff could work
collaboratively as ‘partners’ in ensuring a student-centred approach. Development of a
culture of Student Partnership has been identified as a means of working within
resource constraint environments and optimising educational experiences for students
and staff alike. This paper makes a series of recommendations aimed and supporting
and enhancing the quality of higher education in the post-COVID 19 future.
Keywords: COVID-19, teaching and learning, quality assurance, student engagement, student
1. Introduction.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the way society thinks and
behaves. In the context of higher education, many institutions have had to adapt to online-
learning, and with it, a grappling of complex systems of technology, innovative approaches to
teaching, learning and assessment, as well as adapting to work-from-home environments which
have become a salient feature of the lives of many. A lesser focus has been given to student-
centred engagement into the design and implementation of these processes. This is
unsurprising given the timeframe in which such drastic changes had to occur, as well as the
orientation of time with regards to proximity to annual examinations. As we shift from the acute
phase of the pandemic into the longer-term sustainable changes that are required, it is important
that students should play an equal role in their education shaping its design, implementation
and review (Marquis et al., 2015). This is in line with the European Standards and Guidelines
AISHE-J Volume 12, Number 3 (Autumn 2020) Page 2
(2015) approach to student-centred approaches to ensuring a quality higher education provision
(ESG, 2015). The active involvement of ‘students as partners’ can facilitate implementation of
key activities in a blended learning environment to facilitate overcoming challenges to
implementation of educational frameworks such as competency-based education (Gruppen et
al., 2016; Miller, 1990). This paper discusses principles of student partnership and suggests
some key activities which staff could actively engage with in order to facilitate student-centred
learning as we move into a post-COVID-19 higher education system.
2. Current Landscape.
The acute management of COVID-19 in higher education has provided useful insights for
institutions to critically reflect upon. Reactive processes reflect a sector that didn’t have a culture
of students engaging in decision making from the outset. Such processes include decision
outdated didactic online teaching(Bishop, 2002), inappropriate philosophies and assessment
methods to measure higher-level thinking (Agarwal, 2019) and difficulty in finding the balance
in implementing an inclusive roadmap (Felten & Baumann, 2013) for examinations provision
with consideration for students’ environment or resources. Learning from these decisions is
important as we move to a digital environment. According to the National Forum for the
Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’s Irish National Digital Experience
Survey (INDEX, 2020), teaching online was a relatively new concept for many academic staff,
with the report noting that 70% of staff had never taught in a live online environment prior to the
COVID-19 pandemic. Involvement of students in design of the post-COVID blended curriculum
may enhance motivation and student engagement, fostering a stronger more collaborative
learning community (Deeley & Bovill, 2017) between students and staff.
3. Developing Student Partnership.
Higher education now has the opportunity to start with a blank canvas - independent of the
shackles of cultural norms to teaching and learning. A continuum of student participation in
curriculum design exists (Bovill & Bulley, 2011) to which formal legislation protects (Universities
Act, 1997), but there are other opportunities for students to get involved such as pedagogical
planning (Bovill & Bulley, 2011) , students-as-researchers (Maunder, Cunliffe, Galvin, Mjali &
Rogers, 2012) and as strategic developers in a post-COVID education climate (Healey,
O’Connor & Bradfoot, 2010). In the context of Irish higher education, in 2017 as Education
AISHE-J Volume 12, Number 3 (Autumn 2020) Page 3
Officer of the Students Union, this author launched a ‘student partnership campaign’ in Trinity
College Dublin in 2017 (Trinity College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin Students Union
Student Partnership Policy, 2017) which focused on four main activities to develop a culture of
Figure 1: Four activities to develop a culture of student partnership in Higher Education
3.1 First activity: Institutional policy.
The initial aspect of facilitating a culture of student partnership is the development of an
agreement policy between the academic institution and the student representative body.
National focus on ‘student partnership’ has been discussed by government bodies such as the
National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, as well as
being facilitated by new national programmes such as the National Student Engagement
Programme (NSTEP) and could act as resources for institutions to draw upon. A joint
commitment from both stakeholders places dual-responsibility of student engagement, defined
as ‘…the investment of time; effort and other relevant resources by both students and their
institutions intended to optimise the student experience and enhance the learning outcomes
and development of students, and the performance and reputation of the institution’ (Trowler &
Trowler, 2011), on students and staff. There are ten key principles which are important to
First Activity:
Scoping of
formal and
mechanisms of
Third Activity:
annual priorities
reflection and
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consider when designing and implementing institutional change that can facilitate student
partnership in COVID-19 times (Higher Education Authority, 2016).
Table 1:Ten principles to guide develop an institutional approach to student engagement
(adapted from Higher Education Authority (2016).
Principles of Student Engagement
Students as stakeholders
Inclusivity and Diversity
Students as co-creators
Collegiality and Parity of Esteem
Professionalism and Support
Reciprocal Feedback and Feedback Loops
Self-criticism and Enhancement
Recommendation: Seek collaborative opportunities between student and staff academic
representatives to create a road-map for policy provision in ensuring that in a post COVID-19
era, student-centred approaches to teaching and learning involve students from the conception,
design, implementation and review of programmatic and institutional changes.
3.2 Second activity: Scoping of formal and informal mechanisms of
student engagement.
In conjunction with the development of a long-term strategy for facilitating student engagement,
a partnered scoping exercise in conjunction with governance experts and quality assurance
experts could be undertaken to explore areas in which students currently engage in decision-
making, the impact of such student engagement, and the potential opportunities for enhanced
student engagement in relation to the COVID-19 changes to teaching and learning. Common
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representations include sabbatical officers from Student Unions and affiliated representatives.
Dual-training by students and staff leaders is an important role to enable effective
representation. Students may get involved in feedback mechanisms at an institutional or local
school level through quality assurance and enhancement mechanisms. This is an area needing
urgent attention to reap the true benefits and potential of feedback. For many, the feedback loop
is closed in an unsatisfactory way, by implementing change for subsequent cohorts, or by not
actioning on any suggested approaches due to an ‘insufficient response rate’. In the context of
COVID, where such pitfalls have led to some of the aforementioned problems in the first place,
academics need to recognise their key role in engaging students in quality enhancement
through going beyond tokenistic means of ‘capturing’ the ‘student voice’, and instead truly
listening in innovative ways such as focus groups, student-staff liaison committee meetings, or
by actioning feedback in a live-manner. In the digital environment, where both students and staff
are on a similar learning journey, a collaborative approach at the programme level in may play
a pivotal role in ensuring students are successfully attaining a quality education.
Recommendation: Commence review of current opportunities for students to engage in
teaching and learning provision, and ensure they are rigorous, involve closed loops, and make
meaningful impact of students’ experience. Consider development of processes which
overcome pitfalls in current student feedback mechanisms through development of ‘feedback
spirals’ (Carless, 2019) which allow analysis of complex teaching and learning processes and
sustainability of change within education systems. Identify additional opportunities for student
stakeholder engagement from the classroom level to institutional level through innovative
collaboration in governance and quality assurance.
3.3 Third activity: Establishing annual priorities.
Accountability and measurable impact are important to both highlight the success of student
partnership activities in facilitating student engagement, as well as help identify the areas for
future improvement. It shows growth between both stakeholders in addressing the concerns
raised by stakeholders in light of COVID-19 adaptions. Collection of quantitative and qualitative
data regarding impact of COVID-19 on student engagement, from both stakeholders, can help
inform the annual priorities for the year. In the context of Trinity College Dublin, an overarching
theme of ‘revolutionising student engagement through embedding a culture of collaboration and
partnership’ was further divided into three priorities:
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Engagement with representation in governance,
Engagement in teaching and learning,
Engagement with the wider community.
During COVID-19, a reflective campaign may centre around ‘ensuring student engagement in
the COVID-19 pandemic through a culture of partnership’ through which a series of performance
indicators which can be actioned, with responsibilities allocated to student and staff working
groups are provided. In this new normal COVID-19 environments, priorities are likely to focus
around how students and staff work together in implementing the pre-approved competency
frameworks of their programmes in a blended learning environment, and could be facilitated
through frank and open discussions with students at the beginning of the academic year around
expectations and realities. While most curricula have devised comprehensive competency
frameworks, it would be a missed opportunity for programme review boards to not consider
comprehensive digital literacy as a key competency in all programmes going forward.
Recommendation: Using a strategic management approach, such as strengths-weaknesses-
opportunities-threats (SWOT) analysis (Helms & Nixon, 2010), involve students in identifying
their own priorities for the academic year and ensure cohesion between these
recommendations and those of management and academics. Agree on a proposed plan of
implementation of key overlapping areas for enhancement which will have a meaningful impact
on all stakeholders’ experiences, such as upskilling in pedagogical design of online teaching
3.4 Fourth activity: Review, reflection and dissemination.
Other institutional approaches to developing a culture of ‘Students as Partners’ have
recommended 3 phases to implementation testing and prototype, identifying and
implementing strategies, and developing systems and processes which support your planned
activities (Shaw, Rueckert, Smith, Tredinnick & Lee, 2017) as well as recognising the importance
of evaluation as a key activity to drive change (Coombe, Huang, Russell, Sheppard, Khosravi,
2018).The final activity to facilitate ‘student partnership’ is to take stock of the work of the
collaboration between students and staff at the end of the academic year. This is organised
through the annual review of the priorities, the successful implementation of any of the
performance indicators, as well as through a showcase of best-practice within the institution of
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partnered solutions. With flexibility required for COVID-19, such reflection ensures rigour of the
policy in reflecting stakeholders’ priorities. This dissemination also affords the opportunity to
academics to adapt practices in an accessible way. Finally, it indicates potential future activities
to further embed a culture of student partnership as we return to more in-house teaching - such
as developing ‘student leaders’ in teaching and learning by involving them as peer-reviewers of
teaching, and chairing committees.
Recommendation: As a live campaign, ensure ongoing discussions and review take place
between students and staff throughout the year to monitor progress in agreed areas of priorities,
or revision and adaption if required in light of changes to the national higher education context
e.g. a return to in-class learning, increased resource provision through the creation of a Higher
Education ministry. Identify, highlight and share the successes in the partnership between staff
and students at the end of each year in overcoming COVID-19 related challenges.
4. Barriers and Benefits.
While many HEIs and staff have begun to truly embrace student partnership, it has been
reported that some staff may feel uncomfortable in the shift of power to that of a ‘partnership’
with students (Murphy, Nixon, Brooman & Fearon, 2017). Murphy and colleagues identify four
main processes that should occur to encourage ‘buy-in’ from academic staff
1. increasing staff willingness and involvement by starting at a place where issues are occurring
(for e.g. online assessments) and working here with students in designing student-centric tools
(Cook-Sather, Bovill & Felten, 2014).
2. Developing students in the partnership process by working with national training bodies on
student engagement.
3. Shifting the focus from ‘staff as experts’ to ‘staff as facilitators.
4. Recognising that partnership activities are a professional development opportunity. A
systematic review on ‘Students as Partners’ in Higher Education (Mercer Mapstone et al., 2017)
also found an abundance of benefits for students including development of key transferrable
competencies such as meta-cognition, increased critical skill development, and increased
student-efficacy; and for staff including development of better curriculum materials, increased
motivation for teaching and research, and improved personal career prospects.
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5. Reflection and Conclusion.
This paper argues that the ‘student voice’ is often missing from making meaningful change, or
is often involved too late in a tokenistic manner. If a culture of student partnership existed within
institutions prior to COVID-19, which focused on troubleshooting and enhancing digital learning,
it is likely that institutions collaborated with students to ensure pedagogically sound digital
education provision. Nonetheless, the foundation for such cultures can be laid in the post-
COVID era of teaching and learning, with a new opportunity for meaningful student and staff
collaboration to ensure a quality education. This culture can be facilitated through a series of
activities as outlined in this paper, recognising that ultimately responsibility of student
engagement is a partnership between students and staff alike.
6. References.
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Bishop, A. (2002). Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly: Critical reflections on Web-
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Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014). Engaging Students as Partners in Learning
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Deeley, S. J., & Bovill, C. (2017). Staff student partnership in assessment: enhancing
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Healey, M., O'Connor, K. M., & Broadfoot, P. (2010). Reflections on engaging students in the
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Knorr, K., Marquis, E., Shammas, R. & Swaim, K. (2017). A systematic literature review of
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Miller, G. E. (1990). The assessment of clinical skills/competence/performance. Academic
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Online teaching platforms have been a technological resource available to university teachers for well over a decade. The extent of take-up by university teachers had, however, been uneven—until COVID-19 made face-to-face teaching unviable. A proliferation of rapid-fire university staff development courses ensued, to fast-track competence to teach online, without due cognizance of the impediments that students in developing contexts like South Africa would have to navigate. Access to synchronous sessions presents particular teaching and learning challenges. Arguably the most exigent aspect of the pedagogic process is the extent to which teaching and assessment practices might sustain the same level of student cognitive competence development in the online space. As such, university academics were likely to experience dissonance as ‘new’ learners (of online pedagogy) and ‘new’ teachers (using online pedagogy). As a higher education pedagogue, I reflect on my particular struggles in moving to online teaching and assessment practice. Methodologically, I engage the tenets of self-study research to portray the dilemmas and cognitive dissonance I experienced in aspiring towards pedagogic communicative competence in the digital space. I reflect on how I employ synchronous and asynchronous teaching using video-conferencing tools, and the necessity of undergirding such online teaching and assessment with fundamental pedagogic/educational principles. I argue that the online pedagogy is likely to be successful if pedagogues are consciously alert to teaching and learning theory that undergirds online teaching, to ensure that online learning platforms like Moodle move beyond its predominantly repository-like function.
The presence of COVID-19 amid an inflexible, binary-gendered South African academia has imposed increased mental, social, economic, and physical burdens on women, intersecting race, class, gender, and culture. COVID-19 has exposed issues in wage gaps, role overloads, research productivity, tenure, mentorship, and work-life balance, drawing attention to the burdens experienced by women. While women academics experienced varied challenges pre-COVID-19, the pandemic exacerbated these and regressed the advancement of women in academia. The numerous challenges that women academics experience are categorised under the four key areas, namely mental, social, economic, and physical encumbrances. A qualitative desktop methodology and an auto-ethnographic approach are adopted in this study to examine the burdens of a virtual university on women. An exploration of scientific studies was incorporated into the presented chapter. The chapter is underpinned by a theoretical framework describing the social construction of reality and intersectionality, which is well placed in circumstances where women are marginalised. To respond to the current position that COVID-19 and the transformed university structures have placed women academics in, a multidisciplinary gendered inclusive approach is utilised. Placing women at the centre of the clinical model will yield an integrated institutional model.
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This case study was designed as one of many pilot projects to inform the scaling-up of Students as Partners (SaP) as a whole-of-institution strategy to enhance the student learning experience. It sought to evaluate the other pilots in order to understand the phenomena of partnerships and how students and staff perceive the experience of working in partnership. It also sought to explore the extent of benefits and challenges experienced by staff and students throughout the process and identify potential implications for future implementation.
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The development of students’ higher order learning is a critical component of education. For decades, educators and scientists have engaged in an ongoing debate about whether higher order learning can only be enhanced by building a base of factual knowledge (analogous to Bloom’s taxonomy) or whether higher order learning can be enhanced directly by engaging in complex questioning and materials. The relationship between fact learning and higher order learning is often speculated, but empirically unknown. In this study, middle school students and college students engaged in retrieval practice with fact questions, higher order questions, or a mix of question types to examine the optimal type of retrieval practice for enhancing higher order learning. In laboratory and K-12 settings, retrieval practice consistently increased delayed test performance, compared with rereading or no quizzes. Critically, higher order and mixed quizzes improved higher order test performance, but fact quizzes did not. Contrary to popular intuition about higher order learning and Bloom’s taxonomy, building a foundation of knowledge via fact-based retrieval practice may be less potent than engaging in higher order retrieval practice, a key finding for future research and classroom application.
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Staff and students coming together to enhance learning is a key educational challenge facing the higher education sector. Literature proposes different ways of achieving this through co-creation, partnership, and collaboration. This paper focuses solely on staff perspectives of a staff-student partnership project aimed at improving feedback strategies. Through a mixed-methods approach, staff in four disciplines in one UK university were questioned in regard to collaborating with students, asked to take part in a co-creation experience, and then invited to take part in a follow-up interview. Findings indicated that staff initially supported greater student engagement in curriculum development but were wary of substantial change in the design of curriculum content. Some doubted the experience and abilities of students in this context. The overarching response was a positive statement followed first with a “but” and then with the issues that could be caused by a partnership approach.
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Students as Partners (SaP) is an approach to student engagement that has gained much traction in recent years. Evidence shows that it adds value to the learning experience and provides opportunities for students to develop the capabilities needed in their future pathways. This paper documents one university’s approach to embedding partnerships in its institutional culture. The paper begins by contextualising the process in relation to wider institutional goals and outlines the three phases of implementation. This case study argues that to enable a whole-institution approach to SaP, it has been necessary to invest in strategies at a number of levels that enable partnership, from high-end policy and protocols to providing opportunities for staff and students to shape their own partnerships.
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“Students as Partners” (SaP) in higher education re-envisions students and staff as active collaborators in teaching and learning. Understanding what research on partnership communicates across the literature is timely and relevant as more staff and students come to embrace SaP. Through a systematic literature review of empirical research, we explored the question: How are SaP practices in higher education presented in the academic literature? Trends across results provide insights into four themes: the importance of reciprocity in partnership; the need to make space in the literature for sharing the (equal) realities of partnership; a focus on partnership activities that are small scale, at the undergraduate level, extracurricular, and focused on teaching and learning enhancement; and the need to move toward inclusive, partnered learning communities in higher education. We highlight nine implications for future research and practice.
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Both the student engagement framework and popular attitudes toward disabilities contribute to many practices in higher education that, however unintentionally, highlight the perceived deficits that " disabled students " bring to university campuses. In this chapter, we explore the possibility of reframing disability and student engagement through the lens of deaf-gain. Building on emerging scholarship about neuroplasticity and diversity, deaf-gain calls attention to the ways in which the visual, spatial, and kinesthetic structures of deaf epistemologies may provide insights into ways of knowing that are advantageous for both deaf and hearing people. We focus on the visual skills, gestural intelligence, and community oriented capacities that, when approached from a deaf-gain perspective, present new possibilities for engagement and learning for all students. 21.1. Introduction 1 Student engagement is a powerful heuristic for higher education. By emphasizing the importance of both students and institutions as actors, student engagement provides a useful framework for planning and research (Kuh, 2009). Put most simply, students must engage to learn, and high-quality institutions support frequent, deep engaged activities by students to promote learning. No matter how research-based and practical, however, heuristics are not value-free. Shulman (2002) emphasizes the utility of frameworks like student engagement: The Student Engagement Handbook: Practice in Higher Education
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In recent years, research and practice focused on staff and students working in partnership to co-design learning and teaching in higher education has increased. However, within staff–student partnerships a focus on assessment is relatively uncommon, with fewer examples evident in the literature. In this paper, we take the stance that all assessment can be oriented for learning, and that students’ learning is enhanced by improving their level of assessment literacy. A small study in a Scottish university was undertaken that involved a range of different adaptations to assessment and feedback, in which students were invited to become partners in assessment. We argue that a partnership approach, designed to democratise the assessment process, not only offered students greater agency in their own and their peers’ learning, but also helped students to enhance their assessment literacy. Although staff and students reported experiencing a sense of risk, there was immense compensation through increased motivation, and a sense of being part of an engaged learning community. Implications for partnership in assessment are discussed and explored further. We assert that adopting staff–student partnership in assessment and more democratic classroom practices can have a wide range of positive benefits.
Conference Paper
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This paper explores the desirability and possibility of active student participation (ASP) in curriculum design. Rationales for pursuing ASP in curriculum design are outlined. A conceptual model from community planning literature is then presented – Sherry Arnstein's 'Eight rungs on a ladder of participation' – a model that has been used widely in various disciplines but rarely in higher education. Arnstein's model is adapted to enable exploration of different possible levels of ASP in curriculum design in higher education. Key features of this adapted 'Ladder of student participation in curriculum design' model are outlined and illustrated through the use of examples. Discussion focuses on contextualising the desirability and possibility of different levels of student participation in curriculum design, and explores the utility of the adapted model. The paper concludes with some suggested areas of ASP in curriculum design that need further investigation.
This article presents the results of research that examined the experiences of staff and students engaged in a novel ‘student scholars’ program established through a university teaching and learning institute in Ontario, Canada. Drawing from participant reflections and focus group data, we describe the benefits and challenges perceived by individuals partnering through this initiative, using the theoretical framework of threshold concepts to understand these experiences. We describe ways in which participants experienced partnering as both troublesome and – in some cases – transformative, and consider the implications of these findings for academic developers engaging in and/or supporting faculty with the process of partnering with students.
In this book we explore how and why faculty and students can engage as partners in teaching and learning in higher education. This collaborative process may not come naturally to students or faculty. Students often come to higher education from schools that emphasize high-stakes testing, not shared inquiry. Faculty have spent years developing disciplinary expertise, sometimes in rigidly hierarchical graduate programs, creating intellectual and cultural distance between our students and ourselves. Despite these and many other barriers, many of us have cultivated pedagogical habits that treat students as active contributors to learning and in some cases practices that invite students to be active contributors to teaching. As we will show, student-faculty partnerships—through which participants engage reciprocally, although not necessarily in the same ways— have transformational potential for individuals, courses, curricula, and institutions.