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12 February 2024

On the right track with supporting staff-student partnerships


Dan Axson
Learning Technologies Manager, University of Sussex

Abby Ryanto
Student Researcher and Content Creator, University of Sussex

Juliet Eve
Head of the Learning and Teaching Hub, University of Brighton

Pippy Stephenson
Student Researcher and Content Creator, University of Brighton

In this blog post, Dan Axson from the University of Sussex reflects on presenting interim findings from their QAA-funded Collaborative Enhancement Project at the SEDA Autumn Conference with colleague Abby Ryanto, and Pippy Stephenson and Juliet Eve from the University of Brighton.

The four collaborating institutions involved in this Collaborative Enhancement Project, entitled How are staff supported to undertake student-staff partnership opportunities? have been busy conducting, transcribing and analysing student and staff interviews to identify headline themes from each institution. Whilst there are, of course, some differences, there are some very encouraging common threads. The SEDA Conference event was a great opportunity to provide an overview of the project, explore our initial findings (with heavy caveats) and ask our audience to reflect on their experiences - for better or worse - of student and staff partnerships.

As reported in our literature review, there has, to date, been little focus on the preparedness of staff to carry our partnership activity. Naturally this is changing - you can't run a project over 12 months without this happening! See, for example, the excellent resources from Ruth Healy, University of Chester: A Guide to Working with Students as Partners, brilliantly summarising partnership activity, cycles, values and more. Nevertheless, broadly in the sector there remains a gap around the types of skills, attributes and resources staff need to be able to carry out this type of work effectively - for example, what digital tools might one use to further flatten established hierarchies?

We know that in every organisation there is a core body of staff and students who engage with such activity; this may be for many reasons, but the confidence to do so comes in part from having the necessary skill set - project management skills or use of collaborative technologies, for example. It might be that these skills are assumed in the very staff we're encouraging to get involved with partnership activity, but it shouldn’t be.

Participants in our workshop at the SEDA Conference were asked to reflect on their own experience and suggest something that may have helped mitigate or address any challenges faced. One participant described partnership working as a 'liminal space' and other responses included 'avoid dropping staff in cold, by ensuring staff have training', 'time to support/checking in individually’. What was most encouraging was that the conversations overheard, shared and posted all chimed with themes emerging from our research. It seems we are on the right track.

We are continuing with our full thematic analysis across the data from all four partners and emerging themes from two of the partners are: communication, setting expectations and roles, visibility of impact, and feeling valued. What's interesting is these themes in themselves don't necessarily speak to the skills required to facilitate such things, rather highlight opportunities for us to explore what the implications are and provide much needed provocation for us and for the development of a staff-facing toolkit, which is the planned outcome of the project.

Look out for our project finale in March where we will disseminate our project findings and launch our toolkit via an online event - register to join via the booking site.

If you'd like to find out more about our project or have thoughts to share with us, please do get in touch