Students as Partners Interview with Dr Mollie Dollinger
Can you share a specific project wherein you engaged in student-staff partnerships? Tell us more about the project?
I recently worked with a few colleagues at Deakin on a project that used a SaP approach exploring how assessment practices and resources could be more inclusive. There were 6 staff involved and 5 student partners. Through the project we hosted a series of participatory design workshops with students (called CoLabs), with our five student partners acting as the facilitators and the staff taking notes and observing. After the workshops completed, we then worked in student-staff pairs to analyse the data, which was very useful as the data could be seen both through staff and student perspectives.
What obstacles to partnership did you encounter? How did you overcome it?
This was the largest SaP project I had ever participated in! Typically, projects I’ve been involved in have been groups of 4 or 5, with a mixture of students and staff, but this project was 11 people total. I think the size our group brought benefits and drawbacks. For example, we had great diversity on our team, with staff coming from research and professional backgrounds, and our students from various disciplines and points of view. However, finding times to meet as a group was incredibly challenging, and even when we did meet, making sure each of the 11 people had a chance to truly speak and contribute was difficult.
We took the approach of video recording all of our meetings, in case someone couldn’t attend, and kept an ongoing chat open through MS Teams. But I think in the future, we’d also adopt a buddy system, where each student and staff member are in a stand-alone pair, and that way everyone has that ‘one’ person they can reach out to.
What lessons did you learn or what benefits did you see from engaging in student-staff partnerships?
In the project discussed above the student partners brought an expertise that would have otherwise been missed. For example, because of their own lived experiences as students, during workshops if a student said something like “I really struggle with discussion forums” the student partner would immediately be able to get their on their level, perhaps by saying something like, “I know, it’s so complicated! Like when it’s not clear in the instructions to start a new thread or respond to an existing one?”. Similarly, when we wrapped up the project and drafted a few example resources or recommendations, the student partners helped guide us about what social media platforms would be a good way to reach students, as well as the tone or style of those resources moving forward (e.g., funny, formal, etc.).
What takeaway message do you have for teachers who want to try out student-staff partnerships?
I just think it’s important to be reflective about what we as teachers/researchers know and what we don’t know. It’s a bit like when you’re at a dinner party with non-university workers and someone who knows nothing about education or your discipline says something that you know is uninformed, or even incorrect. It’s upsetting, right? Well, that’s the feeling that students have when we make assumptions about their preferences or ideal learning environment. It takes a bit more time and energy, but it’s important that we acknowledge when we need a student perspective to help us – and more often than not, they are thrilled to be asked!