Over the past year the University of Lincoln has been examining ‘what works’ when it comes to pedagogies that foster partnership working with students. We adopted a mixed methods approach in considering the concepts, practices, culture and impact of these partnership-based pedagogies across four disciplines and compared and contrasted this to produce to our findings.
At the University of Lincoln, we’ve embraced working in partnership with students to co-create knowledge as well as develop our university. Recently we undertook a piece of HEA-funded research to find out what works? Today we’ll be kicking off a new series of lunchtime seminars. You can register here.
Student as Producer, our set of organising principles for embedding more collaborative and research-engaged-teaching, is now in its fifth year of underpinning pedagogic practice at Lincoln, with partnership between staff and students becoming a key concept across many of our programmes. This past academic year, a team of students and staff have undertaken research to find out ‘what works?’
To appreciate some of the differences between the disciplines in our institution, we focused our research on four areas, aiming to cover STEM, creative arts and humanities. We chose to undertake case studies in Psychology, Media Production, Biomedical Science and History.
In keeping with the ideas of partnership, three undergraduate students (from varying disciplines) were recruited to undertake the data collection for the project, including the initial question development. In addition to this I, alongside my postgraduate studies took the role of part-time research assistant, co-ordinating the day-to-day activity of the project.
Four distinct themes came out of the initial analysis of the data: definitions and concepts, practices, culture and impact. This blog will briefly touch on each of the sections, with full details found in the final report.
We are proud of what we have achieved in terms of developing partnership working with students, although we still have some way to go. One of the key themes that came through early in the research was the disparate use of definitions (language) and concepts; this led us to question whether we needed to do more to develop a shared language or whether the diversity was helpful for fostering innovation. However, it did mean that in our research we were able to see four different approaches rather than four variants of the same approach.
Across the different approaches, we began to identify some common features in the practices adopted by academic staff. The strongest theme to develop in this area came from the opportunities students had to participate collaboratively through research, both that took place within the curriculum, as well as beyond it. The merits of research-engaged-teaching are well rehearsed and came as no surprise given we have been embedding this systematically. What was new to us, and indeed one of the most interesting findings, was to think about where practices occurred; were they in within the curriculum, outside the curriculum, or ‘on the edge’ of the curriculum? The latter being used to describe those activities that were supplementary to the formal curriculum but still sitting within a specific discipline or even cross discipline and being seen as a core part of the learning experience.
We went on the look beyond individual practices and at whether the culture of an academic department and of the university enabled or stifled partnership-based pedagogies. The data we collected revealed an interesting trend around student identity determining the success of partnerships forming. This was partly based on a student’s confidence to engage in a different way, and to therefore construct their role in the learning process quite differently, but also sometimes based on how ‘valid’ they considered their voice to be. For instance, some students felt more or less comfortable engaging with staff as partners ‘in the classroom’ depending on whether they had a student leadership / representative role and working with staff as partners in other contexts. When we put this to symposium event in June, there was a strong feeling from those present that as we change our pedagogies, we must remember to realign students’ transition and induction experience so that the right expectations are set and students confidently engage.
Finally, we considered the impact of these approaches on student learning. Naturally this was the most challenging to pin down, but we were able to identify some similarities and differences between cohorts and disciplines. For example, staff felt more comfortable trying new and riskier approaches to learning and teaching further into a programme, such as the second year of an undergraduate degree, once students had ‘settled’. However, staff, and indeed students, identified that new students arrive into higher education expecting something more akin to their school or further education experience. It seems strange therefore that we are already changing expectations in the first year when students transition into a more traditional HE experience, and then changing expectations again when introducing more innovative and creative pedagogies later in a degree programme. There is a great deal already published on the first year experience, but perhaps we should be discussing whether the first year really should be so ‘safe’ or whether we could increase student engagement and learning much earlier than we dare to currently.
Throughout our research, we have focused on discussing the emerging results with staff and students at Lincoln and beyond; and working collaboratively with them to move the project and findings forward. We have done this in a significant way through a Symposium we held in June and when we launched our final report at RAISE’s Annual Conference in Nottingham last month. We are now looking forward to further discussions, including during our HEA webinar today!
Continuing our overall approach to the research, we hope to continue the discussions on the project with the lunchtime seminar series on Wednesday 7 October.
To follow the work of the University of Lincoln’s Educational Development & Enhancement Unit, follow us on Twitter: @LincolnEDEU