The practical wisdom of… students? Co-creating a practical resource for HE teachers with students as partners

In 2020, shortly before the pandemic and the UK lockdowns, the Oxford Centre for Staff Learning and Development (OCSLD) at Oxford Brookes University began a project to develop and publish the practical wisdom of teaching in HE for our staff and readers internationally. We invited HE teachers to complete an online survey which investigated what resources they currently used—and also wished they had—to inform their teaching practice. Our respondents were mostly UK-based colleagues, but a few were based in China, Italy and New Zealand. Respondents had a wide range of HE teaching experience, reporting between 5 and 50 years with an average of 19.97 years (SD = 9.99). Most respondents were from humanities and social sciences disciplines, with a smaller number from STEM disciplines.

We found:

  • Three main sources of information were used by respondents, each of roughly even popularity: peers (including those in different institutions), organisations (including institutional educational development units, as well as external organisations such as SEDA) and artefacts (such as journal articles and webinars).
  • Respondents wanted to learn more about topics such as digitally-enabled teaching practices, student engagement, and assessment and feedback.
  • With regards to what type of teaching development resources they wished were available, respondents frequently noted wanting resources which had clear practical applications, were easily digestible, quick to read, and free to access.

Additionally, we noticed something interesting about whose perspectives our respondents were most interested in. In one of our survey questions, we provided a list of writer types (e.g. academics, students/alumni, etc.) and asked our respondents to indicate (a) whether they were already reading content by that writer type, and (b) whether they would like to start reading (or read more) content by that writer type. Their responses are summarised in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Current and desired reading habits by writer type.

Right away, we saw that there was a strong interest in the perspectives of educational developers and academics in the same discipline (and to a slightly lesser extent, academics in other disciplines): a clear majority indicated that they were already reading content by these writers and still wanted to read more. This was interesting to see, but nothing particularly unexpected. However, we also noticed that there was a relatively large proportion of respondents (25.7%) who were not already reading content by students and alumni but wanted to start—in other words, there appeared to be an unmet demand for content written by students and alumni.

Having identified a niche, we set out to create a resource which was highly practical, easy-to-read, covered a range of disciplines, and provided insight into the perspectives of academics and educational developers who teach. Importantly, we also wanted it to be an equal platform to showcase the expertise of learners – both current students and alumni. We felt that their expertise and ‘experiences of study’ stories were under-reported in the teaching development literature. When their voices were present, students and alumni were often positioned as consumers with the emphasis on reporting student satisfaction.

In the months that followed, we partnered with three student developers to create and shape what this resource would be. Our student developers contributed as equal members of the team, advising on business and marketing strategy, and pitching content and design ideas. We are now extremely pleased to launch our innovative staff-student publishing initiative Teaching Insights, a free-to-read online magazine that aims to be a source of practical ideas to create exceptional student experiences. Our first issue is on the topic of improving student engagement and features a range of articles spanning five sections:

  • The Bigger Picture: An introduction to current debates.
  • In Conversation: Staff and students from multiple disciplines discuss and reflect on their experiences.
  • Alumni Reunion: Former students and their teacher in dialogue about what’s made the difference.
  • Recipes for Success: Practical, bite-sized insights from staff and student contributors.
  • Peer Review: A guest panel of staff and students responds to reader-submitted questions.

We hope you enjoy reading the first issue of Teaching Insights. If you would like to contribute to our next issue on meaningful assessment, please visit our Contribute page.

Kat Kwok, Jackie Potter, Sumaiya Shaikh from Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, Oxford Brookes University and Jane Pritchard, now at Centre for Teaching and Learning, University of Oxford

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