ALT Conference: Student led projects

As a member of the programme committee I volunteered to chair a number of the sessions at the conference. The first sessions I chaired, both focused on looking at student led initiatives.

Facilitating student-led teaching and content creation through technology: Use cases, instructional design & delivery responsibilities, University of York

Person sitting at a table reading a bookThe session discussed an initiative which focused on formative assessment providing which helps to connect the learning across modules and link to the programme learning outcomes. Illustrative activities were used to help academic staff to understand how different approaches could work for their curriculum. Focusing on pedagogy but providing ideas on how technology could support this. It focused on re-envisioning the role of the students by acknowledging student skills and actively getting students to produce content.

The focus should be in real-world activities to employ their skills and creative capacity. They have a number of use cases which provide examples of the types of practices which could assist programme outcomes, for instance where students create research summaries of papers or engage in critiquing academic writing through blogs.

However, this approach had some challenges:

  • Can be difficult to ensure the quality of student work and make sure they don’t go off track. This is where clear direction, examples and regular monitoring becomes important
  • It can be difficult to time student led tasks as this can become a cultural issue to ensure they are times to be done when it is least disruptive to learning.
  • There can also be an assumption students will welcome this approach and it can culturally be quite difficult for some international students as they are used to teaching staff being the expert.
  • Some students don’t want to do this type of work, especially when it is group work as they feel contributions and tasks need to be fairly assessed and it can be hard for them to manage, although is perhaps a skill they need to learn.
  • Effective facilitation of these tasks can be a challenge, as it can take a lot of time and requires input in order to help develop student skills.
  • A number of the case studies are available in the TEL York handbook

This is a link to access the resources from this session.

Student technology ambassadors schemes: their impact on roles, relationships and digital skills training in UK higher education

Person using laptop with phone and notebookThis session looked at some research into the success of student digital champion initiatives. It focused on the changes which have taken place within institutions, the training and support and digital skills as a result of these schemes. These initiatives were often created as a push towards the student as a partner and supported by the work of the Jisc Change Agents network.

There are many institutions running schemes like this all at different stages of the process some with schemes just starting others with schemes ending due to funding, staffing changes and a lack of focus. A number of these initiatives had not thought about future proofing and sustainability and this is a key challenge to making these work. It is also interesting to consider how much of an impact these schemes have made with many having low impact in relation to the number of students who are able to benefit from it and get involved.

It also involves a cultural shift in the power dynamic between students and teachers which can destabilise current structures and, as mentioned in the previous session, this can be challenging for international students who have never experienced this.

I think some of the issues raised here are important when we think about the digital champion networks we have at the University. It can take a lot of time and effort to build and curate these networks. Not only are you challenging the cultural boundaries within the institution and for individuals (staff and students), you also need to ensure this is a beneficial experience for all. We need to ensure we learn from each other and build something which is sustainable for the future and where partnership truly takes place.

My next post will focus on sessions where initiatives have looked at building in innovative use of technology through university wide initiatives. This includes my own presentation looking at the work which has taken place on the Digital Practice Baseline.

Laura Hollinshead

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