Hear This! Festival of Radio Drama
– Ms Tanya Kempston, Ms Mari Ni Nga Lam and Ms Alya Prasad
What is your working definition of Student-Staff Partnership (SSP) or Students as Partners (SaP)?
Alya: This experience constituted a partnership through the dissemination of knowledge and skills related to drama and teaching concepts from a top-down approach, which further emerged through the creativity and insightful perspectives we students brought from a bottom-up approach after applying the training within our independently led group of secondary-school students.
To elaborate, as a trained student mentor, I was responsible for monitoring and supporting the learning process for my own group of secondary school students after being introduced to the project and its aims, such that I assumed independence and used my own judgement. I was able to approach Tanya, who was available as a resource person, called upon when information or expertise was needed. While working closely with my students, I was able to identify strengths and areas for improvement within the Hear This! Festival of Radio Drama program structure and day-to-day educational tasks, which served as valuable information to further refine the learning experience for secondary students moving forward. I recognised that this model and approach to a pedagogical partnership program was effective as it acknowledged the different knowledge, skills, and abilities academics and students brought to the work. Specifically, Tanya disseminated knowledge to partnering student mentors, while we applied it to facilitate learning outputs, provided individualised support and feedback to secondary-school students through effective communication skills and creativity, and elevated the program quality through insights gained from our online training.
Tanya: Students as Partners has so many satisfying dimensions, but I would describe it as an organic process being characterised by shared aims and goals, constant communication, willingness to explore what was little-known or little-understood, respect for each other’s knowledge, abilities and creativity and one in which can be really joyful in nature both during the process and in terms of the ‘product’ .In our case, this was our Hear This! Festival of Radio Drama first implemented in 2020 during the first wave of COVID-19. Alya and Mari were two of a group of about 16 amazing undergraduates with whom I collaborated in May 2020 to set up and run this project in conjunction with a Hong Kong partner secondary school. The first step was implementing the ‘train the trainer’ model with my UG partners and leading them to discover the possibilities of radio drama in an online environment. Even at that moment, I had a really good feeling that they would be fantastic mentors, as they were endlessly creative, resourceful and fun – every moment of the ‘train the trainer’ phase was so enjoyable and also an affirmation that people can be collaborative and creative on Zoom!. All the HKU UG participants were really respectful, committed and hard-working mentors when we moved to phase two, in which they trained their own groups of secondary school participants to make and perform radio drama on Zoom. I think our secondary school students were a little bit surprised and very happy that they had been so creative and of course, this was very good for the development of their English language skills.
What metaphor would you use to describe the relationship with your student partners?
Tanya: I would call this a mountain that we climbed together: when climbing steep peaks, mountaineers are constantly checking in with and looking out for each other as well as relaying difficulties ahead. In May 2020, at the very beginning of the Hear This! training for student mentors and the implementation of the training for our secondary school students, none of us had implemented a radio drama festival on Zoom before. This really was a process during which we learned about what worked well and not so well in terms of this type of drama and training on Zoom so we ‘climbed the mountain’ together. It was a really joyful moment to come to the ‘peak’ when the secondary school students performed such amazing radio drama pieces in groups on performance day and to see what people can do when committed to making good drama! Clearly our partnership school, HKMA David Li Kwok Po College, also felt there was great value in Hear This! as we were invited back to run another iteration of the event in 2021 and we have a standing yearly invitation from the College to return for more online radio drama.
What obstacles to partnership did you encounter? How did you overcome it?
Tanya: Rather than obstacles, we had challenges to our partnership. One memorable one occured when we were Zoom bombed in the very first session of phase two when we were all learning how to use Zoom together. In May 2020, Zoom was still quite new to us all. All of us – HKU UG student mentors, secondary school students and their teachers were all together in the Zoom room when we were Zoom bombed – an experience which was more distracting and silly in nature rather than upsetting. Mari suggested that the HKU mentors be co-hosts in every session and admit their own group of students so as to ensure only those who were supposed to be there actually were there. This worked a treat – no more Zoom bombing from then on. This really reinforced to me that I needed to trust and expect the UG student mentors to be full partners, as they were ready and able to be so.
What lessons did you learn or what benefits did you see from engaging in student-staff partnerships?
Mari: I gained a multitude of benefits from this student-staff partnership project. In terms of student-staff partnerships, it changed my prior thoughts and philosophy of what a student-professor relationship is especially since my bachelor’s degree consisted of teacher-driven lectures, so it was incredibly refreshing. Tanya facilitated discussions between her and us HKU mentors and provided us with the opportunity to use our voices and exercise our creative and collaborative abilities. It gave me more confidence to share my ideas, which really made me feel like I was part of the creative process. Instead of a hierarchy between Tanya and the HKU students, our working process exhibited strong ensemble work, communal efforts, co-education and co-dependence. On top of that, this all took place online. I believe that with the impact of COVID-19, people’s impressions of online teaching & learning have dramatically changed, highlighting that collaborative partnership work does not have to be done face-to-face in order for it to be successful. To put it differently, it showed me the online environment can be a great place for experimentation, creativity, and community. As a result, fruitful and valuable outcomes were yielded, which was incredibly meaningful given that this project took place during a grim, unprecedented and stressful time.
Tanya: Trust your students. Trust their abilities, maturity, commitment and creativity. You will learn a lot from them in ways that are enlightening and also humbling.
What did your students gain from the student-staff partnership?
Mari: I had never participated in a student-staff partnership project prior to this, and as a future educator, I believe this experience made me professionally stronger. It also concretised my ability to work with others productively in an online environment. I hope that Hear This! can be a catalyst for more creative projects involving the cooperation and collaboration of students and staff.
Alya: This experience of participating in the pedagogical partnership program positively impacted and inspired me significantly by exposing me to the possibilities of merging education with artistic interests. Since the project, I have been able to apply what I learnt, to develop and curate my own initiatives of agentic engagement within and beyond the university, that simultaneously catered to the intensified educational and digital divides amid the pandemic, especially within access for marginalised communities. Since Hear This! provided training, self-directed creative working opportunities when leading a team, and a platform to boost confidence and communication skills through presentations, the experience acted as an ideal stepping stone, fuelling confidence in my abilities, skills and leadership capabilities.
What takeaway message do you have for teachers who want to try out student-staff partnerships?
Mari: I highly recommend it, as it will be a wonderful learning experience for both parties. I strongly believe that new and intellectually stimulating ideas can come out of working with people of different ages, walks of life and cultural backgrounds. I learnt a lot about myself and the kind of educator I want to be.
Tanya: Just go for it! This has been, without a doubt, one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life to date. I am just in awe of the creativity, work ethic, problem-solving abilities and commitment my student partners brought to every single aspect of Hear This! It was an absolute joy and one I am thrilled to have played a part in.
Alya: Overall, the pedagogical partnership program motivated me to think creatively and apply newly acquired knowledge towards a purpose for positive social change beyond the program and university. I was inspired to think more critically and be more innovative, especially when considering multiple dimensions of project feasibility during the pandemic, but still maintaining engagement and value.