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Student Learning in Partnership

Students as co-developers

Students are increasingly actively involved in the enhancement of their university experience. This includes representing the student voice on university committees as well as collaborating with lecturers in co-research, curriculum design, evaluation of teaching and learning and strategy development. One area of work that students still have relatively little input into, however, is the professional learning and development of their lecturers.

The project “Students as Co-Developers” aims to work in partnership with undergraduate student interns in King’s Learning Institute in supporting the professional learning of new academics.
The aims of the project are:

  • To engage undergraduate students to work in partnership with tutors and new lecturers on the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice
  • To evaluate the experiences of new lecturers and student interns when working together to enhance teaching and learning practice
  • To contribute to the emerging theorisation of student “voice” in higher education
  • To determine future directions for embedding student engagement in the enhancement of learning and teaching.

The “Students as Co-Developers” project is funded by the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) Research Scoping Study Award from January 2013.

The project is led by Dr Saranne Weller, Senior Lecturer in Higher Education and Dr Camille Kandiko Howson, Research Fellow at King’s Learning Institute, King’s College London.

The project brings together and builds on their previous individual work on professional development, student engagement and the use of concept mapping as a research methodology.

Project Background

As a response to the rhetoric of “student as consumer”, a participative approach to student voice and the student experience has framed new ways of working with students in response to recent higher education reform. There are emerging examples of how students can be integrated into educational change as participants and experts as well as partners and agents for that change (Dunne & Zandstra, 2011). For example, students have assumed collaborative roles in curriculum design and development (Bovill et al., 2011, Mihans et al., 2008), strategy development (Healey et al., 2010) and pedagogic evaluation (Bovill et al., 2010). It has been noted, however, that models of professional development continue to be designed and delivered on the basis that students do not have an active role in informing the learning of academic staff (Cook-Sather, 2011).

Engaging students as consultants “catalyzes a revision of students’ relationships to their teachers and their responsibilities within their learning” (Cook-Sather & Alter, 2011, p. 37). Outcomes that are seen to accrue to students participating in such change initiatives include the development of skills, knowledge and values as well as increased agency in shaping their learning experience and a reconfiguration of the power relationships between lecturers and students in the classroom (Barnes et al., 2010). For participating staff, previous research has suggested that the principal outcome of such collaborative activities is access to new student insights on teaching as these inform reflective practice and contribute to transformational professional learning (Cook-Sather, 2008).

The “Students as Co-Developers” project seeks to extend and evaluate the role of students as partners within professional development to explore the possible opportunities and challenges of working collaboratively with students, lecturers and those involved in supporting professional development.

Project Outline

The “Students as Co-Developers” project engages undergraduate student interns as pedagogic consultants in the process of collaborative teaching observation and developmental seminars as part of King’s College London’s well-established Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP).
In this project we explore the following research questions:

  • What are the perspectives of students, new lecturers and PGCAP programme tutors of learning and teaching “expertise” in the context of professional development?
  • How do students, new lecturers and PGCAP programme tutors construct the concept of “student voice” in the context of a professional development programme?
  • How might staff perspectives on students as co-developers inform the future design and delivery of professional development interventions?

From February 2013 we will recruit 3 undergraduate student interns to work as co-developers and co-researchers in partnership with the project leads and PGCAP programme tutors to undertake the following activities.

Student co-developers activities
1. Each student will lead a teaching observation with one new lecturer and facilitated by an experienced PGCAP programme tutor with the aim to engage in collaborative dialogue about observed teaching practice (Bell, 2001; Cook-Sather 2011). The students will also participate in 2 programme seminars linked to the observation activities.
2. Students, new lecturers and PGCAP programme tutors will develop a series of hard copy concept maps facilitated by the researchers at each stage of the process – prior to participation in teaching observation, after the observation and after seminar participation - to elicit conceptions of teaching and learning “expertise” and the role of “student voice” in learning and teaching enhancement.
3. Students and new lecturers will individually participate in a concept-map mediated interview drawing on the concept map data to explore perspectives of student engagement in professional development.

Project Outcomes

The project began in January 2013 and will be completed by February 2014. The “Students as Co-Developers” project aims to deliver the following outcomes:

  • A piloted model of student-lecturer partnership for professional development and the enhancement of learning and teaching
  • Contribution to the theorisation of conceptions of “student voice” and “expertise” from the perspectives of students, lecturers and developers
  • Recommendations for research and development communities for the embedding of student engagement in the enhancement of learning and teaching
  • The scoping of an area of work at the intersection between student engagement and professional development for the planning of future research, practice and policy development


Barnes, E., Goldring, L., Bestwick, A. & Wood, J. (2010) A collaborative evaluation of student-staff partnership in inquiry-based educational development, in: S. Little (Ed.) Staff-student partnerships in Higher Education (London: Continuum), pp. 16-30.

Bell, M. (2001) Supported reflective practice: a programme of peer observation and feedback for academic teaching development, International Journal for Academic Development, 6(1): 29-39.

Bovill, C., Aitkin, G., Hutchison, J., Morrison, F., Roseweir, K., Scott, A. & Sotannde, S. (2010) Experiences of learning through collaborative evaluation from a masters programme in professional education, International Journal for Academic Development, 15(2): 143-154.

Bovill, C., Cook-Sather, A. & Felten, P. (2011) Students as co-creators of teaching approaches, course design and curricula: implications for academic developers, International Journal for Academic Development, 16(2): 133-145.

Dunne, E. & Zandstra, R. (2011) Students as change agents – new ways of engaging with learning and teaching in Higher Education Bristol: ESCalate/Higher Education Academy.

Cook-Sather, A. (2008) ‘What you get is looking in a mirror, only better’: inviting students to reflect (on) college teaching, Reflective Practice, 9(4): 473-483.

Cook-Sather, A. (2011) Teaching and learning: College faculty and undergraduates cocreate a professional development model, To Improve the Academy, 29: 219-232.

Cook-Sather, A. & Alter, Z. (2011) What is and what can be: how a liminal position can change learning and teaching in higher education, Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 42(1): 37-53.

Healey, M., Mason O’Connor, K. & Broadfoot, P. (2010) Reflecting on engaging students in the process and product of strategy development for learning, teaching and assessment: an institutional example, International Journal for Academic Development, 15(1): 19-32.

Mihans, R., Long, D. & Felten, P. (2008) Power and expertise: student-faculty collaboration in course design and the scholarship of teaching and learning, International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(2).

Project contacts: Dr. Saranne Weller and Dr. Camille Kandiko Howson




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