Students as change agents

I’ve had a few opportunities over the last week or so to hear about some of the great work that institutions are doing with students as change agents. At our Digital literacies: changing student practices webinar last week, we heard about the work that Exeter, Oxford Brookes and Greenwich have been doing with their students, or rather the work that their students have been doing with them! Between them, they’re working with students at all stages from first years to postgraduates, having put processes and structures in place to enable the students to work as co-researchers, content creators, mentors (to staff and students) and educators, though events such as workshops. It’s also a theme that came up at the Jisc assessment and feedback programme meeting last week, through the work at Bath Spa and Winchester and Queen’s University, Belfast. Students as co-researchers is a particularly strong theme in those projects, with the students showing a strong interest in knowing what goes on inside the ‘black box’ of assessment, and helping to suggest innovative ways of working to meet the pedagogical and practical needs of students while understanding the constraints faced by staff.

I heard more yesterday from the students involved in the digital literacies and iPads projects at Greenwich, as part of a wider meeting on digital literacy and employability. Both staff and students described the student involvement in the projects as a win:win situation, as the projects and institution benefited so much from the student involvement, and the students who took part – and their peers who they interviewed and represented – also gained significant experience which is highly likely to boost their employability. I was most struck by a comment made by one of the students: that her involvement in the interdisciplinary research group has encouraged her to do things that she never imagined she’d be able to do. That for me seems to get to the core of what education should be about – enabling students to imagine – and then develop the skills and knowledge to enact – new ways of working that in this case benefit themselves, other students, and the wider institutional community.

A student change agent network has emerged from the work we’ve been doing with the digital literacies and assessment and feedback projects, and aims to offer a community for students working in this sort of role to share experiences, and for projects to share resources to help other institutions take up similar approaches in their own context. The community site is still developing, but can be seen at www.hei-flyers.org, and is open for students and staff to join the community. From the discussion in our webinar and on twitter afterwards, there is a lot of interest in this ‘change agent’ role, however weird the term initially sounds (I’ve embarrassingly become so familiar with it I’ve forgotten how it sounded all very James Bond when I first heard it.) There is also concern that the students involved should be properly prepared for and supported in their role, and that the recruitment of students to these sort of positions should be fair and transparent. These are themes that are being tackled by the network, along with the question of how and whether this activity should be accredited.

Student engagement is also a strong theme in our Changing the Learning Landscape partnership work, and the NUS have produced a useful planning document and guidance notes for anyone wishing to think through how students will be engaged in any new initiative: Involving Students in Change.

Previous Jisc-funded work in this area has been collated in the Design Studio.

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  1. Pingback: Approaches to supporting change : JISC e-Learning Blog

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