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Methods of student participation and engagement

'What is meaningful student participation?' This article explores the different forms of student engagement in inclusive learning.
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© University of York

What do we mean by student participation and engagement?

There are a lot of buzzwords that we hear when discussing student participation, especially within work around inclusion: co-construction, student activism, consultation, student-led-change. But which of these is actually most meaningful and achievable?

Truthfully, student participation and engagement can come in many different forms. We are going to explore the value of meaningful student partnerships and student-led change and look at some important factors which affect the engagement and success of these methods.

Student consultation: Students are given the opportunity to give their perspective on a particular area or piece of work across multiple levels. This may involve the student giving more personal feedback. Meaningful consultation should also ensure students are informed about what changes or decisions were made as a result of their input.

Student partnerships: the co-construction of learning and teaching between students and staff, for example collaboration on educational research and evaluation, or wider student experience projects.

Student-led change: A type of co-construction where students initiate the change, taking place in an environment of shared trust, respect and responsibility so that students feel confident to initiate change.

When we talk about ‘student partnerships’ we are referring to a meaningful and mutual exchange of ideas and thoughts between students and other members of the learning community. In these partnerships, student input should be respected and valued as an important and useful insight into learning and teaching challenges and experiences. Meaningful partnerships venture past the stage of consultation and feedback and should put the student at the forefront of actions going forwards.

Going beyond this, ‘student-led change’ is also an important method of participation and engagement to consider. Unlike student partnerships, student-led change refers to a project, initiative or piece of work entirely constructed and delivered by students. Whilst likely this is supported by staff, the drive comes from student recognition of a need for change in a particular area. This is one of the most meaningful methods of participation and engagement, and indeed inclusive change, as those experiencing the challenges to inclusive learning and teaching are able to both carry out AND experience the impact of that change.

Let’s have a look at some examples of meaningful student partnerships and student-led change that take place at the University of York.

Student partnerships: Inclusive-Learning@York placement students

An example of effective student partnerships from the Inclusive-Learning team at York can be seen in the existence of student placement-year roles throughout the academic year.

These roles are year long, full-time, paid placements in which students from the University are fully integrated into the Inclusive-Learning@York team. Here, the students are able to bring their own lived experiences and insights of learning and teaching into existing projects within the team, and be supported in the development of their own initiatives. Largely, these roles also include large amounts of collaboration between the placement students and other university students further promoting meaningful partnership. Here, the placement students are also able to bridge the gap between student and staff, and help shift the staff-student power dynamics that can sometimes act as a barrier to student engagement.

In this role the input of the placement year students is recognised and valued at an equal level to other staff members within the Inclusive Learning team, enabling shifts in thinking around inclusion that staff alone may not have an insight into and leading to meaningful change across the team’s work.

Student-led curriculum change: LGBT+ inclusion in the Hull-York Medical School (HYMS)

A great example of student-led change towards inclusive learning and teaching can be seen in the development of a workshop to further education on LGBTQ+ terminology in the medical school curriculum.

After entering the medical school and recognising a lack of content around LGBTQ+ matters, a small group of students developed a workshop with the aim of teaching students about LGBTQ+ terminology and matters. The workshop covered an introduction to the definitions of different sexualities and genders and explored more complex concepts of heteronormativity and belonging. Following the offering of this workshop to fellow HYMS students, the department has pursued collaborative opportunities with these students and is working to incorporate these resources into the official curriculum and learning teaching for all HYMS students.

Here, a piece of work initiated and delivered by students had a meaningful impact on students at the university and this was recognised and valued by the institution. This is a great example of an effective and meaningful student-led change.

© University of York
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