Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change: Issue 2

Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change: Issue 2

1 Editors’ introduction

2 Preface

What does partnership produce?

3 Opinion pieces

Peer assisted study sessions improve academic achievement. Why don’t more institutions make use of them?

Perspectives on changing the environment for change

The case for the ‘usual suspects’

4 Case studies

Advancing Healthcare Sciences through Staff, Student and Service User Partnerships

Improving student writing: working in partnership to develop the Student Academic Literacy Tool (SALT). (Project Report)

“Bridging the gap: Staff-student partnership through an undergraduate researcher scheme”

“The same but different: researching and enhancing PGR employability and experience in Art & Design”

Using Augmented Reality to engage visitors and students at the Manchester Metropolitan University

5 Research Articles

Student-led development and evaluation of a community pharmacy-based cardiovascular risk assessment

EQAL to the task: stakeholder responses to a university-wide transformation project.

1 Editors’ introduction

Simon Walker, University of Greenwich

Sarah Knight, Jisc

Mark Kerrigan, Anglia Ruskin University

Our second issue is characterised by a strong sense of the enormous value gained by enabling students to become partners and by providing them with the opportunities to collaborate with staff in research and projects; they are obviously empowered and have demonstrable impact on the curriculum, their peers and their own development as co-creators of learning. Some of the articles discuss a range of innovative teacher/student approaches, explicitly or implicitly including the role of technology, and demonstrate how they have made a difference. Others report on how some institutions are responding to individual initiatives by investing in projects and rolling them out across their organisation. In the UK, there is currently a healthy debate about what to include in the forthcoming Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). It could be argued that the initiatives featured in this journal demonstrate institutional commitment to developing and supporting excellence in learning and teaching and, as such, should be recognised and featured in the metrics, however challenging it may be to capture the real impact through data alone.

Two of three opinion pieces offer perspectives on the way students can act as guides and mentors for their peers and for staff; the third sees the most committed students as the best ambassadors for change:

The author of one of these opinion pieces advocates the much more widespread adoption of peer-assisted study sessions, in which second- and third-year students facilitate informal, problem-solving sessions for new undergraduates, because the activity promotes the collaboration of staff and student leaders, with positive impact upon academic achievement. Since the barriers are not insurmountable, it may seem strange, the author notes, that such curriculum enhancement is not more universal in Higher Education.

Another suggests that the successes achieved by the ‘Changing the Learning Landscape’ programme in delivering sustainable, affordable change in Higher Education arose from agile, integrated adjustments rather than from rigid, large-scale management processes; the programme aimed to help institutions to understand that agendas for technology-enhanced learning must embed and extend good practice and widely encourage, with appropriate support/coaching, both staff and student willingness to engage and the involvement of students in partnership as e-pioneers, staff mentors and co-designers of curriculum.

Contradicting current received wisdom, the voice of a ‘novice student change agent’ recommends that, rather than targeting the entire student body in quest of participants for partnership projects, the highly-motivated ‘usual suspects’ should be happily engaged as ambassadors of change, since other students are more likely to follow their lead and their passion will encourage others to join in; the author’s opinion as a participant on a university representative scheme also gains credence from both an illustration from marketing and a real project she proposed and carried out.

A variety of articles/case studies provides fascinating insights into the dynamics of partnership:

Three-way partnerships between staff, students and service users are described in a case study which presents approaches to the integration of user views into two Healthcare Science undergraduate programmes; enrichment of student learning and the provision of engaging curriculum activities from patient input are two valuable outcomes, as are greater researcher understanding and the building of lasting relationships with a small group of patients who themselves have become more knowledgeable about their condition.

As one way of fulfilling Robert Gordon University’s aim to ‘empower students to shape their learning experience and that of their peers’, pharmacy undergraduates have been working with stakeholders to support academic staff by embedding simulation into the curriculum as a pedagogically-robust adjunct to work-based placements; to this end, the creation of a student-led ‘learning enhancement team’ has led to improvements in staff-student negotiation and development of action-research projects to enhance aspects of the curriculum.

One case study focuses on the partnership of an academic researcher and a postgraduate researcher, who present two Birmingham City University Art and Design projects, one to achieve understanding of the aspirations of postgraduate researchers in relation to employability and the doctoral experience, the other to enhance the postgraduate researcher experience through peer mentoring; of particular interest in this paper is the way in which the original partnership, having achieved a truly non-hierarchical collaboration, was challenged by the introduction of a third partner with a different status and attitude.

The remaining papers in this issue explore the processes and outcomes of change, with real confirmation of the value of a productive working partnership between students and staff in creating the tools which can positively influence both teaching and learning:

A paper describing the benefits to students and the positive changes to pedagogy derived from the Students as Researchers Scheme at York St John University confirms the value of staff-student partnerships: students perceive gains in learning and engagement, acquisition of transferable skills, opportunities to network and growth in confidence, and greater clarification about possible future career paths; staff are empowered to lead innovative projects with the potential to influence institution-wide pedagogic change, such as in feedback practices and development of e-portfolios.

Manchester Metropolitan University’s decision to overhaul at once both its undergraduate curriculum and its administration led to the ‘Enhancing Quality and Assessment for Learning’ (EQAL) project, which involved students as partners; a case study portraying this complex transformation, which was intended to simplify institutional structures and processes and personalise student experience, provides a clear insight into the perspectives of all the various stakeholders and assesses the largely positive outcomes of the project.

Development of a literacy tool to improve undergraduate awareness of the features of academic writing and self-assessment of their own use of them has also significantly enhanced staff feedback on written work; psychology students partnered staff in the design of the tool, gaining ownership of the co-created outcomes, and helped to achieve its implementation in their own discipline whilst also promoting it beyond, both within and outside their institution.

A paper describing Manchester Metropolitan University’s implementation of user-friendly and interactive ‘Augmented Reality’ digital display highlights its benefits, in engaging visitors to the University and in enhancing the curriculum; students and staff are now collaborating to implement and extend the use of AR across the institution, exploring, for example, its value in a ‘flipped classroom’ approach.

As you will readily see from this summary, creative and versatile minds are challenging traditional methods, harnessing the enthusiasm of staff, students and stakeholders and achieving sustainable change in an affordable way. Furthermore, readers will be interested in the growing body of resources that support this change. Our second edition is published alongside the newly-launched online guide ‘Developing successful student-staff partnerships’, available at: http://bit.ly/jisc-partnership.

This new guide, developed through the Jisc Change Agents’ Network, is intended as a toolkit to help staff to improve the student digital experience at their institution. It provides a collection of effective practice resources, guidance, reflection points and tools to help build strong and productive student-staff partnerships to develop the institution’s digital environment.

2 Preface

What does partnership produce?

Ellie Russell, The Student Engagement Partnership

Of the interconnected concepts explored in this journal, partnership is arguably the driving force behind the others: it is partnership that fosters innovation and helps to bring about meaningful change in Higher Education.

The notion of ‘students as partners’ is derived from the insight that learning has to be a partnership. Whilst Higher Education providers might deliver high-quality and stimulating teaching, a fantastic learning environment with plenty of up-to-date resources and a thriving and involved student community, what ultimately generates learning success is the engaged effort of students.

Taking it a step further, adopting a partnership approach in student engagement and student voice means giving students greater or equal responsibility in the decisions, policies and activities that make up the wider learning environment or the institution as a whole. Traditional student voice seeks student views on their learning experience and makes changes in response to their feedback. Partnership asks students to co-design, co-produce and co-evaluate their environment, moving beyond learning and teaching to encompass the whole institution.

As the NUS ‘A Manifesto For Partnership’ (2012) suggests, “Although the practices around student engagement may be long-standing in some cases, student engagement as a policy priority is relatively recent… We are now moving beyond a narrow focus on the validity of various systems of student influence and representation and instead describing concepts linked to student identities and the potential of individuals to influence their environment.” As a result, new ideas and approaches are being applied to existing student engagement practices, such as course representation systems, whilst new practices are emerging that support the concept of students as partners. Causing effective partnership working to happen has often required innovative practices to be developed, so that students and staff may be brought together in a variety of ways wherein enhancements are identified, thus prompting further innovations in the process of designing and implementing new interventions and producing changes that build dynamic and inclusive learning communities.

The skills and mind-set of exchanging constructive feedback in support of reflection and improvement can have a professional value to both students and staff, but it is the outcomes of these exchanges that are truly exciting and valuable: enhanced learning, improved curriculum, more cohesive academic communities and institutions. Partnership working between students and staff should be purposeful; as Healey [_et al _](2014) describe, partnership is “a way of doing things, rather than an outcome in itself”. If partnership isn’t simply an end in itself, then we should expect it to produce something, and amongst the things that a partnership approach should produce is the understanding of students and academics as individuals. Students, academics and professional staff should all have an explicit role to play in enhancing students’ understanding and students and academics should also gain understanding of each other’s perspectives through working together in ways that foster dialogue about knowledge and learning. The learning/teaching infrastructure within which students and staff are operating does not stand still, so partnership should also produce such changes to curriculum, quality and learning environments that students and staff may thrive. As institutions seek different ways to fulfil their missions, there should be student partnership in activities like policy development, student service delivery, widening participation and community and employer engagement, which will usually be achieved primarily through students’ unions or similar student representative bodies and institutions working together.

This journal and other opportunities to explore the conceptual and practical aspects of partnership, innovation and change in Higher Education are important because, though engaging students as partners is a very popular concept, there is significant challenge in making it a reality. Partnership thus may easily become a buzzword – something everyone agrees with without really knowing what it looks like in practice. Partnership can be between individual staff and students, between collections of students and fewer staff, as in an academic course, between collections of staff and students, as in project teams, or between the students’ union and the institutional leadership. It is therefore likely that a whole-institution approach to partnership will involve multiple kinds of activities at different levels, tailored to the intended outcomes of the partnership. Developing and sharing – at all levels in institutions – authentic activities which students and staff recognise as ‘partnership’ are how we shall ensure that the notion of ‘students as partners’ has meaning and creates innovation and change.

Reference list

Healey, M., Flint, A. and Harrington, K. (2014) [_Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. _]York: Higher Education Academy, page 12. Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/engagement-through-partnership-students-partners-learning-and-teaching-higher-education (Accessed: 23 August 2015).

NUS (2012) A Manifesto For Partnership. London: National Union of Students, page 2. Available at: http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/resources/a-manifesto-for-partnership (Accessed: 23 August 2015).

3 Opinion pieces

Peer assisted study sessions improve academic achievement. Why don’t more institutions make use of them?

Paul Brack

Loughborough University

It is now almost twenty years since the first Peer Assisted Study Session (PASS) in the UK was held in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Manchester. PASS, also known as Peer Assisted Learning (PAL), now exists in many forms, the most common consisting of a series of group learning sessions, provided for students just beginning at university and led by students in the second or third year of their degree programme. These leaders, variously referred to as mentors or student leaders, act not as teachers but as facilitators, helping their groups to discuss and solve problems themselves in an informal, friendly environment. In this way, PASS/PAL helps to embed staff-student partnerships at the heart of the university learning experience. It works alongside more formal teaching, such as lectures or tutorials with members of academic staff, to assist students to become confident and independent learners.

Numerous published studies demonstrate that attendance at PASS/PAL leads to an improvement in academic performance across as diverse a range of disciplines as nursing, medicine, law, accounting, economics, English, microbiology, chemistry and mathematics (Duah et al, 2014). As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to serve as a PASS/PAL leader. It was clear to me and my fellow leaders that, by participating in the scheme, we increased our confidence and deepened our understanding of the subjects discussed, and the feedback from the students who attended the sessions suggested that they reaped similar rewards from the programme.

During the past two decades, the majority of Higher Education Institutions (HEI.s) have at some time or another dabbled in PASS/PAL, with varying degrees of success. Some, such as the University of Manchester and the University of the West of England, currently have hundreds of PASS/PAL leaders running sessions for thousands of their fellow students, whilst other institutions have barely any. Why is this?

Various objections to PASS/PAL are typically raised, but the majority tend to be founded on two things: misconceptions about the nature of PASS/PAL and perceived logistical problems.

One of the most common misconceptions is that PASS/PAL is a remedial intervention for struggling students. This is not the case: PASS/PAL is designed to target high-risk material (identified as being so ideally by staff in partnership with students), not high-risk students. Another misconception is that student leaders are to act as teachers. The truth is that PASS/PAL leaders act as facilitators of discussions about course materials which have already been delivered by an academic. These objections can be easily overcome by staff and student champions working in partnership with one another and with organisations such as the RAISE network to communicate the true nature of PASS/PAL to their peers.

Logistical problems are rather more difficult to resolve. PASS/PAL programmes are often started by individual, highly-motivated staff champions, working in partnership with a group of student leaders. Whilst this is sufficient to get a scheme up and running, adequate resourcing is essential if the scheme is to be perpetuated or expanded to other parts of an institution. Though the operation of a successful PASS/PAL programme is not hugely resource-intensive, it does still require the support of administrators, academic staff and student support tutors to ensure its smooth running, and this undoubtedly requires ‘buy-in’ by senior leadership teams at departmental, school and university level. Given the amount of competition for resources within a HEI, such support can be difficult to obtain without a clear driver for the adoption of PASS/PAL within a particular course. However, once the value of PASS/PAL has been demonstrated in one department, this example can serve as powerful leverage for further support.

Another major issue is that of space: there is a finite supply of teaching rooms and, in the majority of HEI.s, these are in heavy demand during term time. Though timetabling additional sessions can therefore be difficult, creative solutions, such as holding PASS/PAL sessions in social spaces, have been employed to overcome this problem (Chilvers, 2013). Student champions of PASS/PAL can work effectively in partnership with staff champions and the HEI itself to ensure that the provision of space for this type of student engagement activity is a high priority.

Participation in PASS/PAL improves academic achievement. This we know. The barriers to its implementation across the entire Higher Education sector are largely the result of misconceptions (easy to correct) and perceived logistical challenges (not insurmountable). In many ways, then, it is odd that there has not been a more complete adoption of PASS/PAL by UK HEI.s. It is my hope that it will not be long before this is corrected and that PASS/PAL will then occupy a far more prominent place in the UK Higher Education sector than it does at present.

Reference list

Chilvers, L. (2013) ‘Facilitators and Barriers to the Development of PASS at the University of Brighton.’ Journal of Pedagogic Development, 3 (1), 27-29.

Duah, F., Croft, A. and Inglis, M. (2014) ‘Can peer assisted learning be effective in undergraduate mathematics?’ International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 45 (4), 552-565.

_Perspectives on changing the environment for change _

Peter Chatterton, Daedalus e-World

Lawrie Phipps, Jisc


Change initiatives, generated by funding councils and agencies or internally in institutions, have not been a rare occurrence in Higher Education over the last ten years. The authors have been involved in change projects at all of these levels and, most recently, in the Changing the Learning Landscape programme. This differed from many of those that came before, as it was about enabling HE providers to bring about change in their strategic approaches to technology in learning and teaching. It was led by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, in partnership with Jisc, ALT, HEA, and NUS.

Fit for purpose

The successes achieved in this programme did not occur because of expensive technology, increased numbers of staff or large capital investments. Emphasis was placed on institutional commitment and individual engagement. The management of change was rapid and agile, lacking onerous and rigid management processes. It was designed to help institutions understand that agendas for TEL/digital literacies must move past the ‘usual suspects’/innovators, scale-up/embed good practices and respond to student demands for greater ‘consistency’ in TEL practices. Because there has generally been much less clarity about how best to achieve this, the agile approaches, regular coaching and action learning sets and support based on feedback and need helped the CLL partners deploy resources to best effect.

It was also recognised that professional change management is required in some instances – for scaling-up/embedding good practices by means of such approaches as change academies. Other institutions are focusing on permutations and combinations of approaches – for example, staff capabilities and development, students as change agents, enhanced support, improved communications and culture change.

More persuasive arguments for TEL required

Common to many projects was a need for more effective persuasion of both staff and students to deploy or adopt TEL. Whilst such strategies as ‘Let’s celebrate successes!’ can work, communication should be more sophisticated, with better understanding of different stakeholder motivations, needs and ‘blocks’, and should also, in particular, address the question ‘Why should I engage?’.

Centrally-based professional services could be more effective in bringing faculties, departments and programme teams to an appreciation of the potential benefits of TEL in addressing such important issues and opportunities as improving NSS scores, changing drivers and needs, bringing in efficient ways of working/learning, improving assessment and feedback, improving student engagement, enhancing contact with students and developing new opportunities for research-led teaching.

Students as change leaders and innovators

Students can be powerful advocates of change and leading institutions are incentivising staff and students to create partnerships focused on enhancing the student experience – for example, with students as e-pioneers, students mentoring staff and students as co-curriculum designers/researchers. Students who come up with ideas for exploiting technology can also enter a Jisc competition to win significant funding and support to develop those ideas, such as, for example, mobile apps. Furthermore, students might well, in unleashing their creativity in the use of technology, gain authentic learning experiences by working with employers to address real employer (and sector) challenges and thus enhance their own employability skills.  

Cutting through the rhetoric

Staff often have difficulty in understanding and making sense of top-level strategies: what do phrases like ‘outstanding learning’ or ‘ready and able graduates’ actually mean to a senior faculty lecturer with both a teaching and research load? Feedback indicates that some level of translation would be helpful, giving, for example, ‘principles’; these are solid and can be acted upon – and later evaluated for impact – and should be incorporated into all strategies, policies and plans, at central and local levels. Jargon in education is creating an artificial barrier to the engagement of staff who want to do a good job, but feel disenfranchised by management speak.

Do TEL professional support staff have the right change skills?

Just as the ‘usual suspect’ academic innovators like to maintain their innovations’ momentum, most TEL support staff, in our experience, focus their work and skills on supporting these ‘usual suspects’ and pay less attention to the wider group of academics and managers who, it could be argued, need a different type of support to adopt the innovations that the ‘usual suspects’ have created. The skills required for such TEL support staff are perhaps those more associated with coaching, communications and persuasion, as well as change leadership.

Going Forward

As we move forward with the TEL agenda, against a backdrop of shifting educational priorities and funding issues for both students and institutions, it is essential that we find efficiencies of cost and effort to support change. The Changing Learning Landscape model started us on a more agile and responsive approach. What has emerged is the need for us to find complementary activities and resources to enhance that even more. One aspect for development that has emerged as a result of this programme, and the currently-running Transforming the Digital Student Experience Project, is the need for a ‘live primer’ to the canon of literature generated in the TEL area from Jisc, LFHE, ALT and many other sources. This resource, available to all institutions, would enable them to start the change journey with greater focus on the available learning and aligned with their own strategic priorities.

Note: Individual institutions have not been named in this article, for confidentiality reasons.

Reference list

Slater, J. (2013) Changing the Learning Landscape. ALT Occasional Paper. Available from: http://repository.alt.ac.uk/2310/1/ALT_Occasional_paper_CLL_Project_2013.pdf (Accessed: 1 August 2013).

Cullen, P. (2013) CLL 2012-13 Year End Report. Available from: http://www.lfhe.ac.uk/en/programmes-events/your-university/cll/impact/ (Accessed: 1 August 2013).

Chatterton, P. (2015) How do you change the learning landscape? Challenges in the strategic use of technology to support the student experience. Jisc. Available from: http://repository.jisc.ac.uk/5891/1/JR0018_CLL_REPORT_6.0.pdf (Accessed: 1 May 2015).

The case for the ‘usual suspects’

Theodora Petra Negrea, University of Bradford

Many times, in the context of student engagement, we come across the idea of how we should include the entire population of students when encouraging staff-student partnership initiatives (Bcap.jiscinvolve.org, 2015) and not limit ourselves to including the so-called ‘usual suspects’, namely the students who always get involved in co-curricular activities and who have a high level of motivation and engagement with their course (Department for Business Innovation and Skills, 2011). This short piece of writing aims to contradict this view and show how focusing on a limited number of highly-motivated students can end up having a domino-effect and bringing in the students who would normally not engage in such activities. This is a story told from the perspective of a novice student change agent that will, I hope, give staff and students equally a new perspective on how to build successful staff-student partnerships.

The first project I took part in was one I personally initiated. Being part of a representation scheme within my university, I am the link between staff and students and must represent students’ views on meetings and mediate complaints. This has been a very satisfying role for me in my first year and I am happy to be able to build on it next year, this time as a Faculty Representative. What I learnt as part of this role is that student feedback comes in all forms and shapes. It is simply a matter of receptivity on the part of Student Representatives to be able to bring it all together in such a way that it can be presented succinctly at a meeting and dealt with accordingly. Sometimes, however, the best way to deliver feedback is to come forward with a direct solution.

It was during the first term that I realised that many students were dissatisfied with the virtual learning environment of our university. Information was hard to find: lecturers had completely different ways of laying out the content. This encouraged me to put forward a proposal for a new Blackboard structure. The resulting project went very well. Staff were supportive and eager to listen to the student perspective. While still in the initial phases of the project, I was able to attend an amazing Networking Event organised by Jisc in Birmingham (Can.jiscinvolve.org, 2015). It was there that I was introduced to this concept of ‘the usual suspects’ and how change agents should avoid including only them in their initiatives. At that time, this idea did not seem right and, as I later discovered in the following stages of the project, those ‘usual suspects’ proved to be more than enough to start a new ‘engagement revolution’.

To prove why we as change agents should actually focus on these usual suspects in order more effectively to engage the entire student population, I shall refer to an idea taken from the field of marketing.

Marketing professionals recognise the impact of the so-called ‘Alphas’ (Ahonen et al, 2004) or, as Rogers (1962) refers to them in an innovation theory context, innovators or early adopters. These are individuals who, because of their reputation, manage to influence other individuals into either joining a trend or buying a new product. They are the ones whom a well-known brand will often integrate into the launch of a product in order to gain the trust of customers. Examples include celebrities, bloggers or ‘popular’ personalities and friends. Based on the psychological idea of social learning (Bandura, 1977), the field of influencer marketing recognises that targeting these individuals has a broader impact than trying to communicate to the entire population of potential customers. Identifying their motivation and making them passionate about the product results in a domino-effect, where others wish to be integrated in that new social trend and therefore acquire the product. Marketers learnt to aim narrow in order to impact widely.

Equally, the idea of change projects should be centred on those students who easily get involved in new projects, simply because their passion and commitment will be the main factor influencing others to join. From my experience, students much more easily get involved in new projects that are informally promoted by other students than they do through a general promotion strategy. As part of my first project, students joined our team after finding out about the initiative and seeing how passionate we were as student change agents.

Of course, there are many more reasons why we should encourage the motivated students to join projects. They are the best ambassadors of change, through their motivation to succeed. In addition, new skills are given to those students, skills that they will later implement in new projects. And finally, encouraging the entire student population has the risk of being an untargeted action that does not take into account individual needs. We, as change agents, should aim narrow, rather than wide. It is through a focused approach that positive change can happen and that staff-student partnerships will become the new educational trend.

Reference list

Ahonen, T., Kasper, T., Melkko, S., (2004) [_3G Marketing: Communities and Strategic Partnerships. _]Wiley-Blackwell

Bandura, A. (1977) Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bcap.jiscinvolve.org, (2015) ‘Student Engagement and Retention: Easing the transition to HE: Building Capacity.’ Available at: http://bcap.jiscinvolve.org/wp/student-engagement-and-retention-01/ (Accessed: 2 June 2015).

Can.jiscinvolve.org, (2015) CAN networking event 17 &18 March 2015 | Change Agents' Network. Available at: http://can.jiscinvolve.org/wp/events/can-event-march-2015/ (Accessed: 2 June 2015).

Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2011) Higher Education: Students at the heart of the system. (Online), [CM 8122, _]London:[ _]The Stationery Office.[]

4 Case studies

Advancing Healthcare Sciences through Staff, Student and Service User Partnerships

Vivien Rolfe, University of the West of England


The National Health Service (NHS) scientific workforce comprises approximately fifty different disciplines, and 2011 saw the publication of a Department of Health report outlining the intended streamlining of scientist training as part of ‘Modernising Scientific Careers’ (MSC) (Department of Health, 2011). This initiative attempted to unify the delivery of undergraduate-level education through a core ‘Healthcare Science’ Bachelors programme. Central to the reforms, and therefore an integral part of curricula, is the involvement of service users in the delivery of programmes, as healthcare science workers are integral to some 80% of all patient diagnosis and therefore need to understand the perspectives of everyone that their work impacts upon (Department of Health, 2010).

Service user involvement is already embedded within other areas of healthcare and medical training, but for Healthcare Science the concept is new and academic teams designing and delivering these new programmes are having to adjust rapidly to the new requirements. At undergraduate level, the ‘practitioner-level training programme’ (PTP) has replaced older iterations of training; Healthcare Science ‘Physiological Sciences’ replaces the former ‘Clinical Physiology’ (BSc Honours) as the primary training pathway for physiologists. Biomedical Scientist training is now delivered via Healthcare Science ‘Life Sciences’ Bachelors programme, although, in this instance, other training routes still are valid through the pre-existing and professionally-accredited Biomedical Science degree pathway. Developed programmes are having to comply with the MSC curriculum requirements alongside the specifications of their relevant professional bodies regarding service user and carer involvement, with the Health and Care Professions Council, for example, including service user as a standard of education and training in 2014 (Health and Care Professions Council, 2014).

In the Healthcare Science undergraduate scheme, students complete a professional portfolio of work-based competencies to fulfil the requirements of the PTP. These are challenging undergraduate programmes, unique in that they offer around fifty weeks of work-based training integrated into three years of study. It is interesting to note that of eighty Healthcare Science programmes that were validated in twenty-three Higher Education Institutions at the outset of the MSC initiative (NHS Networks 2014), nineteen courses have subsequently been closed (UCAS, 2014). This may reflect some of the challenges in delivering these programmes, where planning and integrating work-placements are often the responsibility of academic teams; a lack of awareness within schools and colleges results in low levels of recruitment and, from the NHS workforce perspective, an inclination to hold on to older and more established training pathways.

The idea of service user involvement covers a broad range of activities. It may be referred to also as public or patient involvement (PPI), carer or lay involvement. At the University of the West of England (UWE), the initiative is referred to as service user and carer involvement, public involvement and patient engagement (SUCI PIPE), which reflects the diverse group who chose to participate across programmes within the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences. Those taking part in education settings will share their experiences, whether as a patient, family member or carer, or more generally as member of the public. In this paper, individuals will be referred to as ‘service users’. For Healthcare Science, where activities are in their infancy, new ways of working are being established. In the present institution, a three-way partnership between student, service user and teacher is an emerging paradigm, with open exchanges during teaching delivery and feedback following these sessions. The partnership is built on trust and the process for involvement includes financial and administrative resource.

This case study presents the approaches taken in one Higher Education institution to embed service user involvement into two undergraduate programmes, namely Healthcare Science ‘Life Sciences’ (BSc Honours) and Healthcare Science ‘Physiological Sciences’ (BSc Honours). The study draws on existing literature relating to service user involvement, outlines resource and infrastructure requirements for consideration, the approaches adopted to integrating involvement in programme governance and delivery, and reports on the challenges and benefits perceived at these early stages of implementation. Finally, recommendations for future research are proposed.

New tripartite partnerships in a changing curriculum

These tripartite partnerships are new to Healthcare Science, although they are more established as approaches in other medical and health-related areas and are therefore embedded within curricula. In mental health, service user consultations were held to improve the planning and management of health services (Peck et al, 2002). Service user involvement in mental health is also well established in terms of contributing to education opportunities and shaping curricula to ensure that teaching sessions genuinely relate the concerns of users (Bailey, 2005). In medicine, shared decision-making between patients and clinicians reflects a change in practice approaches and research is helping the academic community to understand these approaches and the tools required to support service users in making these decisions (Elwyn, Laitner, Coulter et al, 2010). Patients are proactively involved in surgical decisions, such as selection of the best aortic valves for replacement (Korteland et al, 2014). Therefore, patient involvement and the recognised importance of such positive contributions in medical education is widely acknowledged (Lucas and Pearso, 2012).

For healthcare professions like clinical physiology, the involvement of the service users in teaching can be logically reasoned, since the professionals directly interact with patients in care settings and may work with patients over time to monitor the progress of new medical devices and care interventions. However, for the biomedical scientist trainee, the links are more tenuous and initial discussions between the service user and academic team require an open mind to scope out the very purpose and importance of considering the broader perspective and how this may relate to working in a laboratory. In these subjects, technology and medicine advance rapidly and it is therefore desirable to establish a sustainable approach to form a continuing and collegiate partnership with a group of service users. The intended outcome is a longer-term relationship, and this is a different approach from what might be considered as patient consultation about the planning and management of services, which might employ the opinions of others on a short-term basis to inform decisions (Peck et al, 2002).

Resource and infrastructure

Figure 1 presents all facets of consideration for the establishment of service user involvement within academic programmes and represents the perspective of teams making these adjustments for the first time.

At our institution, we are fortunate to have a central ‘Service User and Carer’ office to provide a contact point for volunteer service users and to oversee the process of enrolment (http://hls.uwe.ac.uk/suci/suci.aspx). Faculty decision-makers need to consider the financial resourcing of activities and to think about the nature of the ‘contract’. At UWE, to provide flexibility for our service users who may need to balance their volunteering alongside other commitments, they are paid hourly, on a ‘casual claim’ basis (Pollard and Evans, 2013). Other expenses, such as travel and subsistence, are fully reimbursed. Administrative services are required to oversee this work and to support the booking and contacting of patient and public members. For the recruitment and selection of volunteers, we are fortunate in our institution that a vibrant community of individuals already exists and can be emailed out from their records, managed centrally by the ‘Service User and Carer’ team. The selection process needs consideration, for example, if subject-specific teaching is required such as someone with a given condition, then recruitment will need to be more targeted and perhaps enlist the help of local patient groups. The service users will range from those being quite experienced in working with the university on health education programmes to those who are quite new. We therefore offer induction and training, and newer partners are able to shadow those more experienced.

Figure 1. Embedding service user involvement in academic programmes: areas for consideration and responsibility.

Faculties and academic teams will need to ensure that processes for service user engagement are effective and inclusive and that access to campus buildings is satisfactory. For teams approaching these new modes of working for the first time, the impact on workload is not to be underestimated and, in particular, training and discussions will need to take place for academic staff who will be required to adapt their practices and modify their teaching sessions. Service user involvement represents a cultural shift in working, particularly for the two programmes under consideration in this paper which are traditionally not located in medical or healthcare departments, but under the jurisdiction of physiology or biomedical science subject teams unfamiliar with these approaches.

Considerations for academic teams

Following the models adopted in other health-related courses at our institution, for Healthcare Science we adopted a holistic approach to involving service users in programme governance and teaching delivery as illustrated in Figure 1. Some of these requirements are newly set by the professional bodies (Health and Care Professions Council, 2014) that suggest involvement could include the interviewing and selection of students for programmes; developing teaching approaches; programme planning and development; feedback and assessment; quality assurance, monitoring and evaluation. What is critical at the outset are some open discussions between academics and volunteers to agree what specifically is required, to manage expectations of their involvement and to ensure their views are dealt with in an ethical manner by academic teams. Programme teams will need to carry out evaluations and compile records of their service user engagement for the submission of audits and annual reports, potentially to both the university and professional body.

At our institution, the approach was to identify a number of service users and to hold a series of workshops to scope out a strategy for implementation. We evolved a two-year scheme to phase in service user involvement in areas of programme governance and teaching delivery. Areas of involvement now include: contribution to student interviews and selection; input into curriculum development; participation in the running of teaching sessions and in student feedback; involvement in validations and panel visits. Our longer-term intentions are to involve them in practice settings and to gain their input into quality assurance evaluation as part of annual programme reports.

PPI in Physiological Sciences

Healthcare Science staff within the physiology disciplines directly interact with patients to undertake functional tests, utilising advanced technologies, for example in the study of sleep patterns, heart function, the gastrointestinal tract or sensory systems. In physiology, patients might experience the long-term use of devices, such as cardiac pacemakers or the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine used to manage sleep apnoea. As part of the Physiological Sciences at UWE, patients are involved in the following areas:

  • Student recruitment and selection to programmes.
  • Programme governance (curriculum development, quality control and professional accreditations and events).
  • Delivery of sessions in the classroom or mock clinical settings.
  • Assessment and evaluation of students in practice settings.

One such example has been the involvement of service users to provide the voice of a patient simulator within a clinical skills suite. The individual brings his or her own experience and personality to a medical scenario that the student physiologist has to explore. The student interacts with the simulator as if to perform a physiological test such as an ECG. Clinical sessions like this may involve small groups of 6-8 students. The students are videoed and the patient and academic provide feedback at the end of the session. Such approaches provide ‘real life’ experiences for students that are important precursors to real clinical settings, and developing empathetic approaches will be central to their professional development as budding physiologists. Future clinical sessions aim to integrate students across all academic levels to emulate an even more diverse and professionally-relevant experience.

In other teaching sessions, service users bring their perspectives to classroom settings. (For example, a pacemaker patient discussing the diagnosis of her/his condition and the follow-up care of the device may raise the importance of having clear communication channels and the need for reassurance from the physiologist that the device is working effectively.)

PPI in Life Sciences

Patients and members of the public on the Healthcare Science programmes have participated in classroom activities from the outset, when the first cohort of ‘Life Science’ students began their studies in 2011. The suite of Life Sciences programmes includes training pathways in microbiology, immunology, cell pathology, blood science and genetics. The occurrence of direct interaction between service users and laboratory scientists is less obvious at first glance, but, owing to technological advances and with the move towards more patient-centred healthcare care and diagnostics, is growing in importance. Technology advancement is driving growth in point-of-care testing (POC), where diagnostic capability is brought to the patient’s bedside to offer rapid monitoring of disease conditions. The self-testing market, such as home blood glucose and coagulation monitoring, is also growing as the site of care is shifting from hospital locations to the community. Service users make valuable contributions to areas of research, partly by bringing personal experiences of their condition to inform the development and utility of devices and partly by promoting openness of publicly-funded activities (Oliver, Liabo et al, 2014).

For Life Sciences, where direct patient contact is limited in the workplace, staff, students and service users have worked together to define what the rationale is behind having a human-centred approach. Some preliminary activities have included patient involvement in teaching sessions and in training prior to students’ attending their work-based placement, ‘pre-placement training’. Discussions have included:

  • having a conversation about sample results that may upset students.
  • the importance of having perhaps only one chance of getting a blood sample from a patient, so it had better be a good one!
  • the development of home diagnostics with service users who have to take their own blood sugar measurements.
  • empathising with the patient and family and ensuring the sample is dealt with respectfully and effectively.

The academic teams also considered how to involve patients in assessment and feedback, as part of coursework and examinations. A patient may provide valuable feedback to a student completing a direct observation of practice (DOP), where the student completes a practical task or procedure in the workplace and is assessed by the NHS trainer and possibly even the patient. Drawing on the experiences of the volunteers and holding initial planning discussions may lead to new thinking on how their perspectives can be embedded.

The impact of partnerships to date?

These new three-way partnerships are an enriching experience for all concerned. Evaluations of one of the classroom sessions where patients were invited to participate showed that this had big impact on students’ awareness of the importance of service users in their practice development and engendered a new level of respect for a broader range of perspectives. Sessions also prompted students to think about adapting their practices:

“I do have a lot more respect for the patients and their stories”

“Become much more aware of patient and public involvement”

[“A patients main concern is feeling forgotten or not truly informed and practitioners need to take more time to communicate with patients”

The service users also gained from the sessions but in different ways – some finding it informative, some simply enjoying the company. From an academic and educational perspective, the opportunities to hear unique stories enriches the student learning experience, and patient input is invaluable in providing relevant and engaging curriculum activities.

For a new team endeavouring to embed service user involvement in programmes, the understanding of new academic requirements and the establishment of new working processes has taken time. The involvement of other healthcare subject disciplines from our institution has been fundamental in providing opportunities to build on existing good practice. Effort is required to build lasting and strong working relationships with a small group of service users in order to implement and maintain the requirements of professional bodies, rather than their merely being part of a one-off consultation. The academic team needs to establish processes for recording service user data and impact for the purpose of auditing and reporting. Figure 1 separates monitoring from the need to evaluate critically the process and experiences in order to identify pitfalls and enhance progress.

Benefits to both service users and academic teams have been reported elsewhere in relation to healthcare research. In a systematic review, researchers gained a greater understanding of their subject area and the service users became more knowledgeable about their condition. Successful engagement requires preparation and training to ensure service users can participate, and researchers would confirm that there are challenges to find the time and money to make the work effective (Brett et al, 2014).

Future direction and evaluation

The nature of academic delivery in health and medical programmes has changed to involve service user perspectives and, for newly-developed Healthcare Science programmes, these requirements are providing fresh challenges. There is little reported in the academic literature regarding service user participation in Healthcare Science, but our experience suggests that patients provide many fresh perspectives that enliven teaching sessions. Technological solutions, such as patient-simulators that are voiced by the public and video recording of student-patient interactions, provide good opportunities for reflection and assessment. Academic teams are working to form new three-way partnerships that are mutually beneficial to all involved: to the students, in gaining new perspectives to enhance their practice; to the academic teams themselves, in being able to deliver patient-centred training to professional standards; to the patients, who undertake these roles out of interest or simply for pleasure.

Our team is planning a programme of research to evaluate the perspectives of those involved – patients, academic staff and students. This will provide insight into the successes and challenges that we face in evolving our educational practices and developing effective processes for managing these partnerships. A fourth group of stake-holders will also be included, namely trainers within the NHS settings, as our future direction will include public and patient involvement also in the clinical practice settings.

Further work is required to understand how to manage effectively these new relationships; as observed previously, different groups do not always recognise each other’s expertise (MacPhee et al, 2009), so a key question is: How can people with diverse perspectives work effectively together to enjoy fruitful partnerships? As these partnerships grow in number and become established, there are wider questions to be asked: What is the impact of patient involvement on the practising healthcare scientist? What is the wider impact of MSC and the new Healthcare Science curriculum on delivering the goals of enhanced patient choice and a better healthcare experience?


Thanks go to Dr Kathryn Yuill and Dr James Willis in the Healthcare Science Team who provided feedback from students regarding service user involvement in their teaching.

Reference list

Bailey, D. (2005) ‘Using an action research approach to involving service users in the assessment of professional competence.’ European Journal of Social Work, 8(2), 165-17.

Brett J., Staniszewska, S., Mockford, C., Herron-Marx S., Hughes, J., Tysall, C. and Suleman, R. (2014) ‘A systematic review of the impact of patient and public involvement on service users, researchers and communities.’ Patient, 7(4), 387-95. doi: 10.1007/s40271-014-0065-0

Department of Health (2010) Modernising Scientific Careers: The UK Way Forward. Available at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_113275 (Accessed: 22 February 2015).

Department of Health (2011) An overview of Modernising Scientific Careers. Available at: [+https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/215897/dh_123911.pdf +](Accessed: 22February 2015).

Elwyn G., Laitner, S., Coulter, A., Walker, E., Watson, P. and Thomson, R. (2010) ‘Implementing shared decision making in the NHS.’ British Medical Journal, 341, 971.

Health and Care Professions Council (2014) Standards of education and training guidance. Available at: http://www.hcpc-uk.org/assets/documents/10001A9DStandardsofeducationandtrainingguidanceforeducationproviders.pdf (Accessed: 22 February 2015).

Korteland, N., Kluin, J., Klautz, R., Roos-Hesselink, J., Versteegh, M., Bogers, A. and Takkenberg, J. (2014) ‘Cardiologist and cardiac surgeon view on decision-making in prosthetic aortic valve selection: does profession matter?’ Netherlands Heart Journal, 22, 336-343.

Lucas, B. and Pearson, D. (2012) ’Patient perceptions of their role in undergraduate medical education within a primary care teaching practice.’ Education for Primary Care, 23(4), 277-85.

MacPhee, M., Weir, P., Davis, M., Semeniuk, P. and Scarborough, K. (2009) ‘Practice and academic nurse educators: finding common ground.’ International journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, 6(32). doi: 10.2202/1548-923×.1882

NHS Networks (2014) Accredited BSc (Hons) Healthcare Science Programmes for PTP. Available at: http://www.networks.nhs.uk/nhs-networks/msc-framework-curricula/ptp-1/accredited-bsc-hons-healthcare-science-programmes (Accessed: 22 February 2015).

Oliver, S., Liabo, K., Stewart, R. and Rees, R. (2014) ‘Public involvement in research: making sense of the diversity.’ Journal of Health Services Research and Policy. doi: 10.1177/1355819614551848

Peck, E., Gulliver, P. and Towel, D. (2002) ‘Information, consultation or control: user involvement in mental health services in England at the turn of the century.’ Journal of Mental Health, 11(4), 441-451.

Pollard, K. and Evans, D. (2013) Theorising service user involvement from a researcher perspective. In: Staddon, P., ed. (2013) Mental Health Service Users in Research: Critical Sociological Perspectives. Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 39-51. ISBN 9781447307334

UCAS (2014) UCAS Website. Available at: http://www.ucas.com/ (Accessed: 22 February 2015).

Improving student writing: working in partnership to develop the Student Academic Literacy Tool (SALT). (Project Report)]

Sue Becker, Luke Kennedy, Holly Shahverdi, Nadine Spence

Teesside University


The project began after Sue Becker had spent several years delivering a first-year core module during which students submitted their first piece of assessed writing at the University. Sue observed high levels of anxiety amongst successive cohorts as they had little knowledge of what was expected of them in their first piece of extended writing at university level. Students’ lack of preparation for the transition to university and unfamiliarity with academic writing style led to recognition that support for improving academic literacy needed to be embedded in disciplines as part of the first-year experience (Hathaway, 2015). As a way of supporting students to recognise and improve their writing styles, Sue had started to run a diagnostic academic writing test and provided targeted feedback to students as part of a formative assessment in their first term. Unfortunately, the highly-specialised nature of the test meant that both students and tutors on the module required extensive guidance and support to understand the technical aspects of academic writing identified in the diagnostic test. In May 2014, Sue was awarded a research grant as part of a cross-subject collaboration with the English Language Unit to develop strategies to improve student writing. A key dilemma in beginning the project was ensuring that the resources produced would be useful and accessible, as students often find tutor feedback too abstract (Hulme and Forshaw, 2009). In order to produce an effective and useful tool, it seemed appropriate for the tool to be created in partnership with current undergraduates who would be the primary users.

The current project aimed to improve student writing by working in partnership with students to produce a set of materials which would make the key features of a good academic writing style accessible and identifiable to students spanning a range of ages and abilities.

Partnership work

The decision having been taken to use research funding to employ student researchers on the project from the outset, the underpinning model of partnership working used for the project embraced the three key principles of effective partnership working, namely engagement, awareness and enhancement (Cook-Sather et al, 2014). In addition, a key driver behind the success of the project has been to enable whole-team ownership, with student research partners recognised as co-creators of the resource. Ownership of student-created intellectual property is often a point of tension between staff and students, since the traditional model of ‘student as research assistant’ provides the student with little visibility or publication credit. Indeed, as learning in Higher Education moves increasingly towards problem-based approaches, with students designing original studies and interventions, student ownership of the learning experience will increasingly provoke wider discussions of the ownership of the outputs of that experience (Silvernagel et al, 2009).

At the start of the project, three student researchers representing each level of undergraduate study were recruited. All had had experience of having their writing assessed by standard academic writing diagnostic tools, as part of a first-year Psychology module. All came to initial meetings with clear ideas of what was needed to design a tool that was accessible for students. The student researchers were encouraged to take equal ownership of the project and of the tool which they were developing. They were supported and guided by Sue Becker, who project-managed development of the tool, giving structure through a regular timetable of meetings and tasks, but enabling the student researchers to have the space to work through problems independently. In the early stages of the project, the student researchers needed to find a way of working collaboratively and meshing their individual writing and working styles.

We started by brainstorming ideas in preliminary meetings as to how to make the existing academic writing tool more generally accessible to students. Following this the team worked on developing the tool separately as a prototype booklet. Although at this stage, we felt that we did identify as a team, because we were developing our ideas individually we had differing ideas of what to expect throughout the course of this project. This became clear when we compared the three prototype as each booklet reflected our own individual expectations of structure and content. As a result, we thought it best to work as a group on one booklet as opposed to three separate approaches. This change of approach continued as redrafted our initial efforts into a single prototype and helped us to begin working as a team and develop a rapport and three people who did not initially know each other became friends and felt we were beginning to take ownership over the tool.

On a practical level, student researchers were embedded into the wider research culture of the department by being given access to staff facilities and allocated a private workspace in the ‘research village’, where they worked amongst the community of postgraduate and staff researchers. This positioning of student researchers alongside ‘professional’ research staff was key to encouraging a sense of ownership and equity in the team, as this tacit support and acceptance gave the students an increased sense of the value of the project to the department. Over the course of three months, they grew in confidence and the draft version of the SALT balanced academic concerns about the importance of particular details of style and accessibility for novice writers. As the project has progressed, the student research partners have increasingly taken a lead in updating the wider Psychology team and promoting the tool through marketing activities in local colleges and creating an online version of the original booklet. The partnership approach has resulted in a determination by student researchers to continue both developing their ideas beyond the time limits of the initial project funding and also enhancing and disseminating the tool they have produced.

The Student Academic Literacy Tool (SALT)

The Student Academic Literacy Tool comprises two main elements. The key features of academic writing are divided into four sections: grammatical accuracy, correct use of language, structure/development of text and the use of relevant source material. Each section includes a set of criteria designed to enable students to identify key features of each element which they need to incorporate into their writing. In order to assess how successfully they have met each of the criteria, the SALT includes a two-stage checklist, in which students first identify where they have included each criterion and then rate how accurately they have included these aspects. In order to enable students correctly to identify these key stylistic features and assess their own use of them in their writing, the second element of the SALT is a glossary, explaining each criterion in more detail and demonstrating, by means of short illustrative texts written by the student researchers, how these criteria appear in academic writing. To accompany the SALT, a tutor feedback template was also developed to enable individual students and tutors to work collaboratively, fostering dialogue about their respective perceptions of the student’s work. The structured nature of this also allows students and staff to identify clearly areas for improvement in written assessments.

Evaluation – Piloting the SALT

In order to assess the usability of the SALT, the tool was produced in booklet format. The pilot study included 160 first-year psychology students at Teesside University, in their study skills sessions. Student researchers led these sessions during induction week, each working with and supporting groups of approximately fifty student participants, producing evaluation materials and facilitating participant engagement. Using this cohort allowed us to explore the opinions of students, from a range of backgrounds and with varying levels of ability, who had no prior experience of studying on this course. Participants used the tool to assess two extracts of pre-written text. In addition, they completed a twelve-item evaluation questionnaire and annotated booklets with comments and suggestions.

When the results were analysed, it was found that students’ attitudes towards the tool were predominantly positive, with 61% indicating that they would definitely use the tool in the future. Amendments were made to the tool in accordance with the students’ comments and preferences. 26% of students felt that the introductory section was too complex and that, in parts, the language was still too technical. Amendments were made to this section by editing it, thus reducing the length of introductory information from two pages of text to three bullet-pointed paragraphs. The language used was also simplified as much as possible. Finally, 68% of students said they would be more likely to make use of the tool if it were available electronically. Holly, Luke and Nadine have developed and made accessible an electronic version on the University blogspace. As, unfortunately, the lack of interactive features on this platform renders it merely an electronic repository, efforts are being made to secure support for the development of an interactive version of SALT online by means of an app. Student researchers have also taken the lead in developing a mobile application for the tool. Furthermore, they have now added successful income generation to the list of skills they are acquiring, having entered the project into the JISC Summer of Student Ideas competition and been shortlisted to compete in the second round.

Impact and dissemination

The wider impact of the project has been to embed academic writing training and support within the first-year experience of Psychology students at Teesside University. Induction sessions have now been revised to include academic writing and study skills. In addition, the SALT is now used as part of the formative assessment for all level 4 study skills modules. The first piece of written assessment which students submit is now formatively assessed using the SALT during the first eight weeks of term, providing students with the opportunity to compare their self-evaluation with tutor evaluation, using a newly-developed tutor version of the tool. The SALT now sits as part of an embedded programme of writing skills support delivered by subject tutors and also includes a short series of workshops designed by English Language tutors to explore key aspects of language and grammar in more detail.

As a result of dissemination of the paper-based version of the SALT at University Learning and Teaching events, the tool is also being used to support writing workshops across science and computing subject areas, as well as being introduced in local sixth form colleges. The successful dissemination of the tool has been prompted by the recognition of its collaborative nature and the benefits of providing materials developed in partnership with students. The professionalism and creativity which Holly, Luke and Nadine have demonstrated in presenting the project and working with staff at both Teesside University and other North East Higher Education institutions has also led to wider interest by staff in the potential of working in partnership. For the academic year starting in 2015, plans are being developed for Holly and Nadine, who will be continuing in full-time study, to promote partnership working through the sharing of their experiences with staff from other subject areas at workshops and school events. Across Teesside University, the project is being recognised as an effective example of partnership working.

Lessons learnt

Ironically, the main lesson learnt by the researchers has been an increased awareness of the lack of confidence that many subject tutors express when asked to assess student writing. Although academic staff regularly mark and provide academic assessment feedback, which includes general comments on such aspects of writing as the level of formality, when asked to rate specific aspects of student writing, staff were initially reluctant to do so. The student research team worked with tutors to provide support and guidance on use of the tool to rate student writing and thereby increase tutor confidence in providing more specific and constructive feedback on aspects of academic writing style, instead of merely referring generally to, for example, ‘informality’. By working in partnership with students, Sue has recognised their positive impact when acting as leaders for change. In particular, students collaborating with staff to refine the application of specific and useful feedback at the start of the transition to Higher Education may well increase transparency and succeed in eliminating at last such unhelpfully vague comments as ‘Try to write more academically!’ Although student researchers were originally brought on to the project as ‘research assistants’, we now describe ourselves as ‘Team SALT’ in recognition of the equality of ownership. Institutional descriptions of the project nevertheless still stubbornly reinforce traditional staff-student models of project management by referring to the team as ‘Sue Becker and her student research assistants’.

Reflection – experiences of partnership work

Sue Becker[_ – When I began this project, I did so with the vague sense that in order to develop a tool which was useful to students. I needed to work with students to develop something which not only reflected what I thought might be useful but which actually reflected students’ needs. I was not sure what to expect from Holly, Luke and Nadine, apart from the enthusiasm and ideas they brought to our initial meetings. Over the last year, I have learnt that working in partnership means enabling students to take ownership of projects and that, in sharing control and ownership, the impact of partnership research goes beyond the quality of the output. I have watched Holly, Luke and Nadine grow in confidence and overcome barriers and challenges with a maturity and tenacity that I and many of my colleagues find inspiring. Looking back on our progress, a key driver for me has been to recognise that enabling student ownership does not pose a threat to my credibility as an academic; rather, in the act of ‘letting go’ of traditional power relationships in the research team, my student research partners have had the freedom to develop and realise their potential._]

Holly Shahverdi[_ – I applied for the student researcher position on this project in my second year of study. I was apprehensive as I had never been involved in any extracurricular activities at the University, but I was excited to share this journey with the rest of the team. Throughout the project, we have faced and overcome challenges and been pushed out of our comfort zones, and these experiences have equipped me with skills that I can apply to both my studies and to my life outside of university. _]

For me, this experience has helped me to grow as an individual and encouraged me to think about the potential barriers that exist for students in attaining a good standard of academic writing. But most importantly, I feel that I have worked with such inspiring people, and I know that I would not be the person I am today had I not had the courage to apply for this post.

Luke Kennedy[_ – When I received the invitation to be a part of this project, I was immensely grateful to Sue for the job opportunity. It granted me legitimate psychological work experience and I found myself impressed with the grounded and pragmatic approach utilised by Sue in the orchestration of the project; being asked to work in partnership with a staff member on student-centric issues evoked feelings of respect and equality. Before the first meeting, I felt somewhat apprehensive concerning how the relational dynamic between myself and my colleagues would affect our efficacy to complete the coming challenges. The end of the first meeting saw any hint of doubt resolutely dissolved; we were all equally fervent concerning the nature of the project and the ideas we developed as individuals, with the guidance of Sue transformed quickly into an efficient team plan. Herein, I was confident in the capabilities of the partnership to complete our initial objective and do so well. The experiences gained throughout the course of the project however, have shown me that working in partnership, we have grown and surpassed even my own expectations. Together we have conducted pilot studies and evaluated the feedback, presented at conferences, both of these tasks required the building of confidence as an imperative, speaking in front of people and taking control of other students are not tasks I am particularly comfortable with and consequently through necessity I have acquired new and invaluable social and leadership skills. I feel it appropriate to mention, that teamwork became a vital prerequisite for success for this project and consequently a fortunate bi-product of this process is that I no longer consider Sue, Holly or Nadine my colleagues anymore; they are my friends. _]

Nadine Spence[_ – When I initially found myself working on this partnership project I did not anticipate that it would help me as much as it has. I have been able to gain valuable experience working on a real study and developing the tool. Although within my degree I have found myself doing work with groups, the teamwork found in this project has much surpassed any teamwork I have been involved with prior. This has shown to me the effective ways in which students can work in partnership with staff. I feel the main thing I have gained throughout my time on this project is an increase in confidence. Some of the skills I have been able to utilise whilst on the project, such as piloting the tool and speaking at conferences, are skills I was not aware I had. Although, prior to doing so I was still unsure of my capabilities, being given the opportunity to do so has allowed me to see what skills and capabilities I have. I feel a lot of the confidence and capabilities I have gained through my time on the project have been down to working with and being encouraged by Sue, Holly and Luke, the experience I have gained through this project has been fantastic. _]

Reference list

Beckman, J. and Rayner, G. (2011) ‘Embedding academic-professional collaborations that build student confidence for essay writing: Student perceptions and quality outcomes. A Practice Report.’ The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 2(2), 83-90. Available at: https://fyhejournal.com/article/view/87/96. (Accessed: 30 April 2015).

Cook-Sather, A. Bovill, C. and Felten, P. (2014) Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching : a guide for faculty. New York: John Wiley & Sons Incorporated.

Hathaway, J. (2015) ‘Developing that voice: locating academic writing tuition in themainstream of higher education.’ Teaching in Higher Education, 20(5), 506-517. DOI:10.1080/13562517.2015.1026891

Hulme, J.A. and Forshaw, M.J. (2009) ‘Effectiveness of feedback provision for psychology undergraduate students.’ Psychology Learning and Teaching, 8(1), 34-38.

Silvernagel, C, Schultz, R. R, Moser, S. B and Aune, A. (2009) ‘Student-generated intellectual property: perceptions of ownership by faculty and students.’_ _[_Journal of Entrepreneurship Education, _]12, 13-33.

“Bridging the gap: Staff-student partnership through an undergraduate researcher scheme”

Emma Jane Sunley

York St John University


Internationally, university staff and students are engaged in working collaboratively on research projects to deliver change. Jarvis[_ et al_] (2013) outline staff-student partnerships in several University of Hertfordshire (UK) mini research projects that have the potential not only to enhance teaching and learning and raise the profile of research, but also to improve employability and allow students to develop a deeper understanding of their own learning. In addition, Sandover[_ et al_] (2012) consider two university case studies, in Western Australia and the UK, where student researchers are active agents of change in learning and teaching and enrichment of the student experience.

The Students as Researchers Scheme (SRS) at York St John University (YSJU) is an institution-wide initiative first introduced in 2006. Each year, it provides new opportunities for staff and student collaboration, on research projects which are both subject-specific and cross-disciplinary. So far, over 150 students have benefited from the scheme, which, in the context of a growing research culture at YSJU, provides opportunities for innovative staff-student partnerships to deliver change, in terms both of the student experience and of pedagogic practices. This mutually-beneficial partnership enables students to experience research first-hand, as co-creators rather than consumers of knowledge, and has the potential to develop such strong graduate attributes as improved communication, teamwork and initiative. Student evaluations of the scheme reveal that some projects enable students to achieve greater clarity about their aspirations and/or gain experience in their preferred area of work. The SRS also empowers academic staff to lead innovative research projects with the potential to influence pedagogic practices on an institutional scale. Qualitative data collected from surveys over the 2013-14 academic year will be used to support this project report, as well as the view that the SRS has a positive impact on student learning and engagement and that collaboration with academics can influence change in pedagogic practices, in line with strategies for learning, teaching and research. In addition, this report outlines plans to expand the SRS over the academic year 2014-15. []

Historical Context

The SRS was funded in 2006 through a HEFCE Teaching Quality Enhancement grant to enhance Research-Informed Teaching (RIT) and Enquiry-Based Learning (EBL). Bursaries of up to £1,000 for 130 hours of work were awarded to student research assistants to work alongside a member of staff on a research project. This enabled students to experience research with an academic first-hand and had the potential to inspire undergraduates to consider postgraduate study.

When the SRS was first introduced, eleven students were appointed to as many projects and this number has increased on average to twenty to thirty students per year working on between fifteen and twenty projects across the University. The scheme is coordinated by the Academic Development Directorate (ADD) and, in the 2013-14 academic year, was at its largest to date, with forty-five student researchers appointed to twenty-two projects across the Faculties of Arts, Education and Theology, Health and Life Sciences and the Business School, as well as the central Student Services department. This project report focuses on the SRS over the academic year 2013-14 and on how this staff-student partnership identifies and delivers change.

To have students as co-creators of knowledge rather than consumers can provide space for a deeper understanding of research processes and empower questioning minds. For example, Healey and Jenkins (2009) use six case studies to outline examples of undergraduate students working as partners with academics, engaged in active research and inquiry as opposed to more passive roles. John and Creighton (2011) describe how UK students are benefiting from undergraduate research opportunity programmes (UROP.s) by becoming creators of knowledge rather than just consumers and how significant benefits are made available to students in terms of acquisition of research skills, confidence and understanding of the research process.

Organisation and implementation

Dunne and Zandstra (2011:17), cited in Sandover et al (2012), devised a model which outlines the four main areas in the development of educational change where students can be integrated:

1.Students as Evaluators

2.Students as Participants in Decision Making

3.Students as Partners

4.Students as Agents of Change

SRS at YSJU may be accurately designated an example of ‘Students as Partners’. It could also be argued that certain aspects of the SRS cross over into other areas of Dunne and Zandstra’s (2011) model; for example, students’ end-of-project reflections may place them in the ‘Students as Evaluators’ category.

The SRS is managed by the Academic Development Coordinator and involves close liaison with staff project supervisors and student researchers. There is annual funding for between twenty and thirty research projects, with between sixty-five and 130 student hours allocated to each project. Recruitment to the scheme takes place twice a year at the beginning of each semester. Each request for a student researcher is reviewed individually to assess the variety of student tasks, project timeline and output opportunities. Advertising of opportunities is via email, website, posters, social media and word of mouth. Student applications to the scheme must be endorsed by their Head of Programme and students who meet the selection criteria are invited to an interview with the Academic Development Coordinator and the relevant staff project supervisor. For many undergraduate students, this will be their first experience of an interview which assesses their presentation and communication skills, as well as their enthusiasm for research. Students can apply for projects outside their programme of study. Those students who are appointed are employed on casual support staff contracts and must submit timesheets for hours worked. They are also required to attend an induction, meet regularly with their project team and present the research outcomes at an annual undergraduate research conference.

Set-up and management of the SRS requires a central contact in the Directorate, who is committed to offer support, advice and guidance for staff and students and whose work on the scheme involves continuous processing of timesheets, maintaining momentum and sustaining a sense of community amongst appointed students by keeping in contact with them. Activity for the person in this role tends to increase prior to and during recruitment, with advertising of project opportunities, interviewing of applicants and setting-up of contracts; there is again further activity, towards the end of the projects, for the evaluation process.

Project specifications

Many of the projects funded by the SRS have the potential to expand and make a significant contribution to the student experience and pedagogic change. This will be discussed in more detail later, with reference to student views and further discussion of two recent projects on enhancing feedback processes, an institutional priority across all programmes.

Examples of 2013-14 SRS Projects:

  • Learning, Teaching and Assessment in the Multilingual Classroom (Business School)
  • Music and Employability after University (Faculty of Arts)
  • Languages Students’ Perceptions of Audio/Video Feedback and Its Impact on Their Learning (Business School)
  • Action Research Study of Peer Mentoring of First Year Counselling Students (Faculty of Health and Life Sciences)
  • Environmental Sustainability – Developing Resources for Primary Schools (Faculty of Education and Theology)
  • The Grand Tour in the Twenty-First Century: Considering the Impact of Field Trips on Student Learning (Faculty of Arts)
  • What is Reading For? The Link Between Emergent Readers’ Skill Levels and Attitudes to Reading (Business School).

Discussion and Evaluation

SRS projects have annual funding and, after the end of the financial year (July), students are required to submit a reflection. End-of-project reflections outline any challenges encountered, how the student overcame these and how the scheme may have changed them or affected their aspirations. The information is gathered by the Academic Development Coordinator to identify recurring themes.

Key themes within the following sections are highlighted with supporting evidence:

  • Student Learning
  • Student Engagement
  • Networking
  • Personal and Professional Aspirations
  • Pedagogic Change

Student Learning

In these projects, students assist staff with various forms of data collection, recording and analysis. This includes quantitative data entry and coding (sometimes with specialist software such as SPSS) and analysis of qualitative data from interviews, surveys, focus groups and literature. Project reflections indicate that students have overwhelmingly benefited from the scheme. The main student learning benefits mentioned include the development of transferable skills, such as better communication and a deeper understanding of research processes:

“Taking part in this project really changed the way I approach my projects. I learned the importance of effective communication in order to gain clarification and understand the requirements and avoiding misunderstandings before and during a work project. Furthermore, it is also very useful for my own dissertation work. As I am currently conducting interviews for my own research, I can apply the skills that I gained from working as a student researcher into my current and future projects.”

“Being a Student Researcher has changed the way I view the research done by others, not only do I now understand more about the process, but also the work that goes into it.”

This corroborates findings presented by Sandover et al (2012), viz., that students acquired transferable skills and gained in confidence as a result of taking part in undergraduate research.

Student Engagement

On appointment to the SRS, students are expected to engage with their project team to discuss aims and project progress. They must meet with the ADD at an induction session, which provides an opportunity to find out more about the scheme, meet fellow student researchers and hear about the annual Undergraduate Research Conference (URC), at which, on project completion, they are expected to present. Many of the students commented that a positive aspect of being part of the SRS was that it enabled them to develop their level of engagement and teamwork skills:

“Being a student researcher has assisted me even further in being able to organise my time in order to prioritise and complete tasks, It has helped me learn how to communicate effectively and work collaboratively with another researcher to reach a mutual goal.”

“I have enjoyed being part of a small research team and meeting another like-minded student researcher as well as working with members of staff. I valued the flexible, accommodating, and collaborative nature of the dynamics of our team…”

Several of the students also commented that, as a result of working on the project, they had become more actively involved in the wider student community:

“Being a student researcher has enabled me to experience a more active role within the university. Working with teaching staff, as well as researching teaching methods, learning styles and the development of helping skills, has offered invaluable insights…”


The URC is a student-led conference which brings together a variety of students interested in research, including those recruited under this scheme and others keen to showcase dissertations. It also attracts those who have not yet actively participated in research but are keen to find out more. Within a friendly, supportive atmosphere, student researchers can present project outcomes via a case study presentation, workshop, poster, performance or exhibit. This conference also provides a networking space for students to share experiences, inspire others with their research and hear a keynote presentation from an experienced researcher. Students due to attend the conference appear keen to present and grateful for support from fellow students and ADD:

[_“… the opportunities to present are daunting but support from peers and the academic development directorate have been extremely helpful.” _]

The SRS also provides opportunities for students to attend external conferences relevant to their project. Over the last academic year, seven out of forty-five student researchers attended external conferences. Feedback from students who attended external conferences has been positive:

“Being a student researcher has metaphorically opened a number of doors for me, I have been provided with an insight into the world of lecturing and academia at the highest level and given the opportunity to present work at a national conference.”

In April 2014, one former student researcher attended the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR), at which 350 students presented their research by means of posters and oral presentations:

“Everyone there is at the conference because they want to learn more about research, and what other young academics are doing. Talking about your own research and asking others about their research may have you talking and discussing it for ages over dinner.”

Another student researcher attended the UK Association for Buddhist Studies (UKABS) conference in July 2014:

Academic conferences are a fantastic opportunity to immerse oneself in the rich and fresh research coming from a particular area of study … an exciting aspect of conference attendance is the chance not only to meet scholars at the height of their careers but also the chance to meet fellow students who are still sounding out ideas…”

The SRS also provides opportunities for students to build external relationships. One project enabled two student researchers to work with a local social enterprise to explore new ways in which sustainability can be taught to primary school children. One commented:

“I have conversed with many members of staff and pupils to gauge their feelings surrounding sustainability… As a consequence of these conversations and meetings, I have created and sourced many resources that are appropriate for children within years 4 and 5 to fit with the needs of the school as they start on their journey with the new national curriculum for 2014.”

Personal and Professional Aspirations

There is also evidence in project reflections that the SRS can have impact upon students’ approach to their aspirations. Several students commented that the scheme enabled work experience in their preferred area of work:

“On a personal level, the key outcome has been that of gaining valuable work experience in the field I aspire to work in.”

“Getting the opportunity to be able to go into a primary school as a student researcher has definitely assured me that working with children is a definite in my future.”

“… the skills I have gained as a Student Researcher are very easily transferrable to my ideal job. I feel that being a Student Researcher has given me a chance to experience this kind of career which I hadn’t been offered before.”

“The study was in education, I hope to be a primary school teacher once I have gained the necessary qualifications so this was ultimately a great opportunity for myself. The opportunity also helped boost my personal self-esteem and confidence, as it meant going into strange environments, meeting lots of new people of which I never would’ve done on my own …….It certainly motivated me and re-ignited my passion for university, learning and my career generally.”

Several students also commented that the SRS has enhanced their employability:

“My time as a student researcher has been a fulfilling and worthwhile experience as part of my degree studies…. This experience has also given me an invaluable experience of interviews and having to compose a CV, without which I would be in a far worse position to apply for jobs in an ever more difficult to succeed world of work. I would like to say as a final point that I feel I am more employable following this experience.”

Pedagogic Change

Although the focus of this project report has been on the ways the SRS can deliver change in the student experience, many of the projects have the potential for direct impact upon pedagogic practice. For example, two of the projects funded through the SRS in 2013-14 are directly linked to the YSJU Principles of Feedback devised to achieve some aims of the Assessment Strategy:

  • Project One: Languages students’ perceptions of audio/video feedback and its impact on their learning
  • Project Two: Development of a Feed Forward Tool for Assessment Feedback

The two projects recruited student researchers to assist in gathering views from students on various forms of feedback, with the expectation that this could inform decision-making on feedback to have impact beyond the discipline in which the projects took place.

Project One required a student researcher to conduct literature reviews, interviews and a survey of language students’ views on audio, video and written feedback. The results of the project will be shared with subject staff and are likely to influence the type of feedback given to students in future academic years. The student researcher and staff supervisor also presented their research at the Innovative Language Teaching Conference at the University of Leeds in May 2014.

Project Two required two student researchers to conduct literature searches on feed-forward tools to research how students can develop evaluative expertise, autonomy for their learning and judgement about their own work and the work of others. The scoping of a feed-forward tool in this research project aimed to assist students to gather and synthesise feedback in order to direct their future learning and development plans.

A third project, ‘Music and Employability after University’ assesses the role of technology, namely the Mahara e-portfolio, in the employability of Music students. This, as one student researcher commented, could have the potential to inform decisions about the role of e-portfolios for all University students:

“It appears that because the portfolio allowed the students to reflect on their previous work and track their development it made them realise how much they had grown as a person.”

Summary and Future Development

The YSJU SRS is a successful staff-student partnership underpinned by the University’s objective to develop its research culture and deliver an excellent student experience. The University is committed to the scheme, as it is seen to be a visible and innovative way to demonstrate a commitment to encouraging undergraduate research. Funding for SRS is therefore allocated to the Directorate from a central University budget at the start of the financial year. We are ever mindful of the need for such schemes to be sustainable and acknowledge that, for some institutions, undergraduate researcher schemes may operate on different models (e.g. voluntary student research projects or opportunities linked more closely to students’ academic record). By means of the establishment of a new network with other institutions, to share ideas about SRS and practice across the sector, we hope that we shall be able to facilitate a better understanding of what works.

Attrition is low: in 2013-14, owing to unforeseen personal mitigating circumstances in each case, only two of forty-five students did not claim any hours on their projects; in 2012-13, three out of thirty students did not complete. Generally, the students recruited are very engaged throughout and evaluation has suggested that the experience is highly valued, for such reasons as a close working relationship with an academic member of staff and the chance to do ‘real world’ research whilst being paid at the same time to do so. Students have indicated in recent project reflections that the scheme helps develop transferable skills such as communication, teamwork and better understanding of research processes. Anecdotally, there is the suggestion that student involvement in the scheme has influenced personal and professional aspirations in the longer-term, beyond graduation. Further research into the influence of the SRS on those students who engage with it would provide valuable data about longer-term impact.

Future development of the SRS over the 2014-15 academic year includes the creation of an online blog for student researchers, overseen and facilitated by ADD. Students and staff supervisors will be granted guest editing rights to post entries on project updates. The aim of the blog is to enhance further the sense of a student researcher community, maintain momentum and record project progression. The use of reflective logs in student researcher schemes can assist students to record their own learning and their developing employability skills (Jarvis[_ et al_], 2013).

New technologies, in the form of Open Badges, will also be scoped for integration, in order to reward student researchers with a virtual badge on fulfilment of certain requirements: induction attendance, submission of blog posts, project reflections and conference presentations. It is anticipated that students will be motivated to collect these virtual badges, which can be displayed on Mahara e-portfolios and shown to academics and potential employers to demonstrate achievements.

Over 2014-15, ADD has planned a meeting with several other UK HE institutions with student researcher schemes, to network and share best practice. A further development will be to explore how undergraduates can work alongside postgraduates on research, and scope ways to encourage more staff-student conference presentations.

Reference list

Healey, M. and Jenkins, A. (2009) Developing undergraduate research and inquiry. Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/developingundergraduate_final.pdf (Accessed: 22 August 2014).

Jarvis, J., Dickerson, C. and Stockwell, L. (2013) ‘Staff-student partnership in practice in higher education: the impact on learning and teaching.’ Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences, 90, 220-225.

John, J. and Creighton, J. (2011) ‘Researcher development: the impact of undergraduate research opportunity programmes on students in the UK.’ Studies in Higher Education, 36 (7), 781-797.

Sandover, S., Partridge, L., Dunne, E. and Burkill, S. (2012) ‘Undergraduate researchers change learning and teaching: A case study in Australia and the United Kingdom.’ Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly, 33, 33-39.

York St John University (2014) Principles of Feedback. Available at: http://www.yorksj.ac.uk/add/add/pedagogic-practices/assessment-and-feedback/principles-of-feedback.aspx (Accessed: 15 August 2014).

York St John University (2014) Students as Researchers Scheme. Available at: http://www.yorksj.ac.uk/add/add/student-engagement/students-as-researchers-scheme.aspx (Accessed: 15 August 2014).

“The same but different: researching and enhancing PGR employability and experience in Art & Design”[—]

Jacqueline Taylor, Sian Vaughan

Birmingham City University


This paper reflects on the experience of two related projects undertaken through staff-student partnership that aimed to understand and transform the Postgraduate Researcher (PGR) experience in our Faculty. Our research project was undertaken in the 2012/13 academic year at Birmingham Institute of Art & Design (BIAD), now part of the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at Birmingham City University (BCU). Based on the findings of this first project, we identified the need to enhance provision and in 2013/14 developed a second project, in which we could put this into practice through developing and implementing research peer mentoring for our Art & Design PGRs.


Art & Design encompasses five academic schools within BCU: Architecture and Design, Art, Fashion and Textiles, Jewellery and Visual Communication. Our students are working across a range of disciplines from Fine Art to Typography, Ideas Management to Antiquarian Horology, Landscape Architecture to Art Education, all rooted in a diverse range of cultural, socio-political, philosophical, artistic, professional, practical and theoretical contexts. The research student cohort in Art & Design at BCU is one of the largest in the UK and growing quickly (a 41% increase from 2012/13 to 2013/14). For the staff partner, recently completing a Masters in Education led to the conclusion that the PGR experience was generally missing from discussions about Learning and Teaching in HE. Yet there are increasing external drivers for more explicit consideration of PGR employability by research and funding bodies (RCUK, 2011; Vitae, 2012), as well as the revised QAA Code (2012) requiring both PGRs and HEIs to demonstrate an awareness of employability and to develop relevant skills. Moreover, the growing numbers of ‘practice-led’ students and practitioners undertaking doctorates might have meant that PGR career aspirations were not necessarily located solely within academia and this possibility did not appear to be sufficiently recognised in PGR provision. For the student partner, a practice-led student approaching the end of her doctorate, considerations of employability were of fundamental importance.

Our institution provides internal funding streams to encourage staff and students to work together in equal partnership to enhance the student experience. This mechanism enabled our partnership of a Researcher and a PGR student to examine employability and the PGR experience with the aim of informing the enhancement of provision. The partners had in common the experience of being a PGR at BCU, though discussion and reflection revealed that their experiences were different – one having completed in 2007, the other due to complete in 2013; one an Art Historian, the other a Fine Artist engaged in practice-led research. Their PGR experiences were the same but different and this informed a partnership where the dynamics were fluid rather than hierarchical.

Pedagogy exists differently at doctoral level; in this programme of study there are few taught elements, no formal curriculum and lots of independent study, culminating in a single point of summative assessment. There appears to be an assumption that supporting the wider student experience beyond the contribution to knowledge is not required, or at least not a priority. This is assumed because those undertaking a PhD have completed a Masters Degree and (particularly the case in Art & Design) students are often established professionals or have held, prior to their study, or hold, whilst undertaking it, senior positions in their field.

We do not believe that the PGR experience has been considered in the same way as it has at Undergraduate or Masters level. In this context, it was our belief that it was strategically important to gain a better understanding of the motivations and aspirations of Art & Design research students. We felt that an awareness of our PGRs’ career aspirations and a better understanding of why they undertook doctoral study could both inform how our institution supports their employability skills development and also enhance their student experience more generally. We also believed that it would inform how we might demonstrate meeting the requirements of research and funding bodies.

The first stage – a research project

The research project enabled us to combine our current student and staff member / former student perspectives and function equally as participant-researchers. Entitled ‘Investigating and increasing the employability of research students in Art & Design: understanding the student experience’, the project was funded through the 2012/13 Student Academic Partners scheme from the Centre for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) at BCU. Through this research, we aimed to[* *]examine the career aspirations and employment histories of our PGRs in Art & Design. We also wanted to ascertain how former students perceived the impact of their research degree on their careers and how both current and former students viewed their skills development as PGRs.

We carried out qualitative research, using two in-depth questionnaires, one for current students in the 2012/13 cohort and one for former students who had completed their research degree since the year 2000. In designing the questionnaires, we examined other similar surveys, such as the HEA’s biennial Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Destinations of Postgraduate Students survey. We did not feel that the PRES had a particularly strong focus on researcher development or professional skills and, interestingly, it has since had a major redesign to address this issue (Bennett and Turner, 2013). The AHRC survey instrument was particularly useful in articulating a list of skills and asking which of them were developed during study, which were important in current employment and which should have been given greater emphasis during study (Innes and Feeney, 2012). This was the model that we adopted. Our final questionnaires were tested using a cognitive interviewing approach in relation to clarity and navigability. We used email as the primary mechanism to contact students (and, where possible, gathered data from the questionnaires online), but also posted hard copies of questionnaires for those who did not have email or expressed the preference. For current students, we asked the 48 students of the 2012/13 cohort and had 16 responses, making a 33% return rate; for former students, we had contact information for 69 of the 71 students who had completed since 2000, and had 21 responses, making a 30% return rate. Although response rates were good, a rigorous statistical and quantitative analysis was never our primary aim and this level of return has provided substantial qualitative information.

Our findings highlighted a requirement for a holistic view of the doctoral student experience beyond the research project and of the complexities of identity for PGRs in Art & Design. We produced a seventy-page formal report, with twelve recommendations for enhancing provision that we disseminated to senior management within our Faculty. We also produced a more succinct Executive Summary document, which we disseminated to staff currently supervising PGRs in Art & Design and also distributed more widely across the University.

Our research confirmed that not only are the numbers of PGRs in Art & Design growing at BCU, but that the demographics of these students are also changing. There is significant increase in numbers of predominantly full-time students and students seem to be embarking on doctoral study at a younger age. It is difficult to draw general conclusions about our PGRs’ aspirations on the basis of age, mode of study or discipline, as both current and former students identified a highly-individualised mix of personal, financial, strategic and opportunistic motivations for study. For example, somewhat paradoxically, youth, maturity and having/not having children are all cited as deciding factors in the timing of undertaking a PhD. However, overall, the majority of reasons provided by both current and former students for undertaking doctoral study were strongly career-related and focused on academic work.

The growth in practice-led PhDs does not seem to have led to more explicit aspirations for careers outside HE, but rather to careers that combine different roles inside and outside academia. This reflects the concept of the portfolio career path recognised as distinctive in the career trajectories of graduates in Art & Design (Ball, Pollard and Stanley, 2010) and the practitioner-lecturer as a common model in Art & Design HE (increasingly employed through fractional posts). Our students do not perceive that different skill sets are developed or used in and out of academia. The skills they recognised and used are generally similar and thus by implication transferable.

A key recommendation from our report was that our Faculty should support the wider PGR experience by increasing opportunities for students to share experiences with peers. As participant-researchers, we have discussed together the personal benefits derived from having reflected on our own doctoral experiences as a result of undertaking this research. Respondents providing additional comment outside their formal questionnaire answers have also been positive about the personal and professional development benefits they have gained from reflecting on and sharing their doctoral student experience. In particular, current students have expressed a desire for more opportunities to share experiences with peers and socialise as a community.

The second stage – implementing peer mentoring for PGRs

Through the research project, we identified a need to enhance provision by enabling more opportunities for peer-support and sharing of experiences. In response, we developed in 2013/14 a second project, the Research Mentoring Initiative (RMI), within which we could develop and implement research peer mentoring for our Art & Design PGRs. This project was again funded by CELT, this time through the larger Interdisciplinary Projects scheme. We thus continued our collaboration and, additionally, brought in a third partner, the Research Training Co-ordinator for our Faculty, in order to link our work to and embed it within strategic planning and provision for our PGRs.

The project piloted peer mentoring between Art & Design PGRs at different stages, ranging from recently-completed MA students and a BCU staff member contemplating a PhD to those nearing completion and recently-completed early career researchers (ECRs). The RMI aimed both to provide PGRs and ECRs with personal and professional development support (complementing existing skills training and the supervisory relationship) and to enhance the employability of participants through knowledge exchange.

Having advertised the RMI, we formed from the applications nine cross-disciplinary partnerships across the Faculty’s five academic Schools, paired according to researchers’ reasons for wanting to be part of the scheme, their career aspirations, their skills and their experience, rather than their subject specialisms. Mentors were each given a small honorarium and participated in the mentoring ethics training that we developed. Each partnership received twenty pounds in vouchers for an independent café in Birmingham city centre to facilitate off-campus meetings. Apart from this, mentors and mentees were encouraged to develop and document their partnerships as they best saw fit, reflexively and organically in response to their needs.

In line with our aims, we attempted to engage our participants as co-researchers in the RMI as a pilot scheme and as an action research project that would test the potential of mentoring for PGRs and could inform the development of a continuing and embedded peer mentoring scheme. We were frank with them about our intentions and deliberately non-directive as to the format and operation of the mentoring partnerships, so as to allow them both to individualise and test out experiences of mentoring.

To foster a closer-knit and more visible PGR community, we set up a Professional Development Network as an online platform that included blog posts by PGRs, ECRs and staff and an active Twitter profile. We also ran four events across the academic year, including a cross-faculty symposium examining ‘spaces for doctorateness’. These events were well-attended. We had a range of participants, including PGRs, research support staff, academic staff, senior Faculty management from our own and other Faculties, and external partners from cultural organisations and creative industries. We explicitly framed these events as networking, training and learning opportunities for all attendees.

As a pilot, the RMI has had beneficial impacts for its participants and beyond. Evaluation reports from all nine of the partnerships were positive; they articulate the benefits and impact that participants perceived. In particular, we received very positive feedback from participants in relation to the psychosocial benefits on their PGR experience and their professional development. One mentee went as far as to say: “I don’t know what I would have done without the mentoring scheme.” The events and online platform have fostered an enhanced sense of community across the PGR cohort in Art & Design, something a colleague has described as “developing a necessary ‘connectedness’.” It has also had an impact more widely across BCU: it has created an opportunity not just for PGRs but also for research-active staff and PhD supervisors to hear about PGR experiences and professional development in the different Faculties. This sharing of experiences prompts reflection and opportunities to learn from each other’s academic practice as part of a shared endeavour. As with the former project, we are currently in the process of finalising a Project Report with recommendations to be distributed across the University. We are also engaged in discussions with Faculty Management on how to sustain and extend our pilot project to a larger cohort.

The RMI pilot has not been without its challenges. Matching potential mentors and mentees is akin to facilitating a dating service: making matches depends on shrewd consideration of a variety of factors, but the success of any individual match is not guaranteed, as that depends on a certain chemistry or spark between those involved; mentoring relationships can and do become difficult if attitudes and values do not match (Berk, 2010; Bell-Ellison and Dedrick, 2008; Fletcher and Mullen, 2012). As with romantic match-making, however, there is always an underlying hope that the match might be a life-changing experience.

Reflections on the staff-student relationship

Undertaking these two projects within the framework of a staff-student partnership has been crucial to their success. We are fortunate that our institution funds and embeds a partnership approach to working with students to enhance provision (Millard et al, 2013). Throughout these two projects, we have used our staff-student partnership to develop and apply institutional research, thereby securing the engagement of the wider PGR student body as well as having an inside view of current student experience. Establishing a non-hierarchical ethos, in which the experiences and ideas of both partners have been equally valued, enabled us to foster a positive and productive dynamic. In both projects, our non-hierarchical partnership visibly demonstrated, and thus facilitated, a sense that PGRs were important and equal members of an academic research community. However, with the addition in the second stage of a third partner, a staff member, the established dynamic within the initial collaborative relationship was challenged and the incomer also found it challenging. The different levels of seniority of the two staff (and thus an inherent sense of hierarchy between them) and the fact that the incomer was part of the student partner’s supervisory team rendered the staff-student partnership more complex and difficult to navigate. The process of staff-student partnership is a process of experiential learning in which mutual, reflexive knowledge exchange enables innovation. As with any form of learning, it is a practice that requires practising. The challenges notwithstanding, we have enthusiastically self-identified ourselves as change agents and participant-researchers.


Drawing on our experience of both projects, there seems to be a clear requirement to foster a more holistic approach to the PGR experience beyond the production of the individual research project. Traditionally, PGR provision has focused primarily on the role of the supervisory team to support academic progression strategically and on additional research skills training, which may or may not include professional development and career management, depending on the subject discipline and institutional practice. Our research into our PGRs’ career aspirations has shown that employability is not an additional consideration and that professional development should not be assumed to be targeted at either the inside or outside of academia. Rather, our research indicates that provision needs to take into account the fact that our PGRs have much more nuanced aspirations both in and out, something we have identified as para-academic and more akin to a portfolio career path.

This reflects the complexity and multiplicity of PGR identity in Art & Design in which academic, industry and practitioner roles are often entwined and PGRs may have multiple and yet conflicting identities which must be negotiated – student, staff, practitioner, researcher, creative. This complexity can be troublesome to navigate, compounding the problems of isolation and trepidation that characterise the PGR experience, regardless of discipline. Such difficulty is exacerbated by the implicit assumption that, because our PGRs are often highly-regarded creative professionals and the majority have a Masters degree and can therefore be viewed as experienced students, support is not a priority. That fact raises questions about the potential misapplication of andragogy when dealing with PGRs and the need to employ emotional intelligence in holistically considering their experiences (Knowles, 1984; Mortiboys 2005). The positive response to the psychosocial benefits of the RMI suggests a need for greater attention to wellbeing and the PGR experience.

The complexity of Art & Design PGR identity and their nuanced professional aspirations means that our PGRs are an extremely individualised group who cannot easily be categorised. The challenge is in enabling individualised provision within a supportive cohort identity and ‘community of research practice’ (Wilson, 2014). We were able to pilot this and put it into practice through the reflexive mentoring partnerships facilitated by the RMI. Establishing peer mentoring as non-hierarchical, organic and shared, allowing for mutual concerns, can benefit both partners in a process more equally collaborative than the traditional concept of the mentor as guide/adviser. Together with events that foster a wider research community, it can increase opportunities for students to exchange knowledge/experience with peers and to socialise; it also facilitates learning within the partnership and the research community. The benefits to staff and students derive from the recognition that they are the same but different: enabling both elements of this non-dichotomous duality can create positive change.

Reference List

Ball, L., Pollard, E. and Stanley, N. (2010) Creative Graduates Creative Futures. London: The Creative Graduates Creative Futures Higher Education Partnership and the Institute for Employment Studies.

Bell-Ellison, B. and Dedrick, R. (2008) “What do Doctoral Students Value in their Ideal Mentor?” Research in Higher Education, 49 (6), 555-567.

Bennett, P. and Turner, G. (2013) PRES 2013: Results from the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey. York: Higher Education Academy.

Berk, R.A. (2010) “Where’s the chemistry in mentor-mentee academic relationships? Try speed mentoring!” The International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching. 8 (1), 85-92.

Fletcher, S. and Mullen, C. (2012) SAGE Handbook of Mentoring and Coaching in Education. London: Sage Publications.

Innes, P. and Feeney, D. (2012) Career Paths of AHRC funded PhD Students: Final Report. London: DTZ.

Knowles, M. S. (1984) Andragogy in Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Millard, L., Bartholomew, P., Brand, S. and Nygaard, C. (2013) “Why Student Engagement Matters.” In: Millard, L. et al (eds.) [_Student Engagement: Identity, Motivation and Community. _]Farringdon: Libri publishing, 1-15.

Mortiboys, A. (2005) [_Teaching with Emotional Intelligence. _]London: Routledge.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) (2012) QAA Code for Higher Education, Part B – Chapter B11: Research degrees. Gloucester: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

Research Councils UK (2011) The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers. Available at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/policy/vitae-concordat-vitae-2011.pdf] (Accessed: 31 July 2015).

Vitae (2012) Researcher Development Framework (RDF) and Employability Lens, 2012. Available at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/images/news/employerslens_image_web.jpg/view] (Accessed: 31 July 2015).

Wilson, M. (2014) “Discipline Problems and the Ethos of Research.” In: Wilson, M. and van Ruiten, S. Handbook for Artistic Research Education. Amsterdam: ELIA, 203-17.

Using Augmented Reality to engage visitors and students at the Manchester Metropolitan University

Dee Vyas, Manchester Metropolitan University


In 1990, Boeing researcher Tom Caudell first coined the term ‘Augmented Reality’ (AR) (Caudell and Mizell, 1992) to describe a digital display that blended virtual graphics with a physical reality. AR allows the virtual world to integrate with the real world, using interactive media aimed at engaging the viewer. Traditional passive material becomes immersive, enabling content to be viewed on a mobile device. The learner is now encouraged to participate and focus on the learning outcome rather than spending energy on learning how to use some form of technology. Vygotsky (1978) states that human consciousness is associated with the use of tools and artefacts. AR allows the combination of using a technology and the learner’s creativity to develop this form of consciousness, to provide a seamless integration with the real world.

Large companies, such as Mercedes, Argos and IKEA, currently use AR as a method of engagement with the public for retailing purposes. This engagement forms the principal aspect of the study and thereby determines its feasibility for further development. The use of AR within Higher Education is currently under development. Two examples of AR in this context include the Kendall College prospectus and the deployment of AR to enhance teaching and learning for students in the School of Health Sciences, University College London, by supporting simulated practice, in which students are exposed to a variety of nursing activities in a clinical skills learning laboratory. 

A variety of apps and platforms to develop an AR experience are available, differing in terms of functionality and cost. Aurasma is gaining popularity in education as it offers an online, web-based interface that makes it simple to create an AR experience; we used this technology to develop AR at MMU.

MMU Recruitment & Admissions had previously used printed material, primarily as publicity for the Open Day, to advertise the programme for the event. AR then provided an innovative, interactive and immersive experience, accessible using most mobile devices, to engage prospective students. This, the first time AR was deployed at the university on such a large scale, proved successful and illustrated how it might be applied more widely there for the benefit of the University’s current students.

This novel application of AR at MMU aimed to develop a partnership with graduate students, using AR to create a postcard (Figure 3) which would provide rich opportunities for reflection on learning and achievement, whilst also improving their digital literacies. Using the postcard as an early example of student engagement, a student CV was developed which can be enhanced visually, by means of Aurasma, to highlight the skills of a student. Gaunlett (2011) states that making things for ourselves provides both self-esteem and social capital by connecting and collaborating.

The aims of this research were (1) to enhance engagement with potential students using innovative methods to demystify the process of applying for financial support and budgeting whilst studying at the university and (2) to encourage students to engage in creating their own interactive, media-rich CV, mixing real life with media-rich content to augment reality.


Use of AR at the Open Day event

To use Aurasma for creating augmented content requires creating (1) a user account with Aurasma, (2) an account name (channel) for content storage, (3) triggers for users to view the immersive content and (4) a video file (overlay) to create an augmented reality experience (Aura). Therefore,

Trigger + Overlay = Augmented Reality experience

Aurasma was chosen as the AR platform after research into and the testing of a number of platforms. It was important to determine such factors as the usability of the application, the cost of creating and hosting content and the limitations of the application. This would involve testing the quality of image required, the size of video to be used and accessibility for the end-user. Several Auras for testing the technology parameters were created to determine whether Aurasma would be a suitable choice.

To view an Aura using Aurasma requires the download of the Aurasma app to the mobile device, after which it is necessary to follow the account name (channel) where the content is stored. (There is unfortunately one limitation: no Aurasma app for Windows mobile devices is available.) A dedicated AR channel (mmuAR) for the University was created to enable users to view all content. Instructions on how to download Aurasma and join the channel were printed on the back of the postcard to facilitate viewing (Figure 1). Recruitment & Admissions (R&A) carried out the design for the postcard (Figure 2) and the overlay, which was created using the Videoscribe application.

[*Figure 1. *]Aurasma and mmuAR channel joining instructions.

Interactive content for the postcard to be used with augmented reality was developed, using University-based experts. Prior to the final mass printing of the postcard, it was essential that the augmented reality aspect of the postcard was tested and working.


Figure 2. Student fees and financial support postcard.

Use of AR with University students

When used creatively, video can become a powerful expressive tool. Creating the postcard for the student work involved initially filming six students at their Graduate Art Show. The videos were made without any rehearsal and the six students filmed were asked to talk about their field of specialism and their exhibition. Using images of their work on display, a postcard similar to that for R&A was created. The postcard in Figure 3 is an example of a student’s work.

Aurasma was used in a similar format for creating the Auras used for the Open Day event. The students filmed were asked to choose a trigger image for their postcard and to view the final interactive process to ensure the augmented reality was a true representation of their work. Instructions on how to download the Aurasma were once again printed on the back of the postcard. At the end of the interaction (viewing), an email generated by the application could be sent to the student, requesting further information about their work.

Figure 3. Graduate Degree student postcard.

Development of the Augmented Reality CV (ARCV) (Figure 4) included one of the students who had been involved in the creation of their student postcard. For the implementation, a number of images would trigger links to media-based content, highlighting the student’s professional career and specialism. The overlays incorporated her graduate show, current areas of development and an interview with her. At the end of each interaction, the viewer was redirected to a Twitter, Facebook or Flickr account to access further aspects of their work.

Figure 4. ARCV.

Results and Discussion

Use of AR at the Open Day Event

For the Open Day event, 1000 postcards were printed and distributed to visitors. Each visitor received an explanation of what AR was and how to view it using a personal mobile device. Though this was time-consuming, as the viewer had to download the Aurasma app and join the channel before being able to view the aura, it was a new method of highlighting the financial aspects of studying at university and visitors were overawed by a method so interactive.

Having not been informed (by the published material provided before the visit) of this interactive media, visitors were unaware of what to expect upon arrival. As the event was very busy, there was occasionally insufficient time to explain to them how to use the postcard.

Evaluation was carried out in two ways, respectively during and after the Open Day event. During the event, those attending were shown how this interactive medium worked. The reactions obtained included:

‘Amazing’‘Wow!’‘I haven’t seen this before’‘That’s great’

The second method involved a survey of those attending during the Open Day; the response obtained from this sample (size n=73) is shown below:

Figure 5. Was this the first time you had viewed Augmented Reality video?

The analysis highlighted the fact that this was the first time the majority of visitors had used AR. Having a larger sample size to provide feedback would provide detailed evidence of the effective use of AR; however, to obtain a detailed analytical breakdown of the number of times the Aura was viewed required a commercial licence with Aurasma and, for the initial implementation of this technology, the cost could not be justified.

The ease of setting up the interactivity was a major advantage of using Aurasma. Other AR platforms such as Metaio and Layar are available, but do not currently offer a free service to education. There have been content development improvements to many of these platforms, but the choice was heavily influenced by the fact that Aurasma had free access.

Like many new technologies, AR provides challenges as well as possibilities and one such challenge is the inflexibility of the content in AR systems (Kerawalla et al, 2006). Since the content and interactions are fixed, changes cannot quickly be made to meet institutional requirements. It might thus be more productive were MMU to regard AR as a concept rather than a certain type of technology.

Use of AR with University students

Augmented Reality is particularly relevant for education because it aligns well with Constructivist concepts and situated learning, where learning is unintentional rather than deliberate. Lave and Wenger (1991) call this process “legitimate peripheral participation”. AR is an active, not passive, technology; students are able to construct new understanding. The visual and interactive form of learning is now seeing AR appropriate to and used by such different disciplines as Biology, French, PE and Mathematics.

For many graduates, finding employment in today’s economy can be difficult. A traditional or chronological CV is the standard format advised for job application by many Careers Services at Higher Educational institutions. [Guardian Careers, _]however, states that the growing popularity of social networks has made a supplementary online presence for graduates vital in many industries, as many recruiters and managers are increasingly checking prospective candidates online. This is not to say that the traditional CV and covering letter are not still the standard methods of job application. Josh Tolan, CEO of _SparkHire, states, “This is why many candidates are using new and less traditional methods of applying for great jobs.

Since employers receive a large number of traditional CV.s from applicants, the standard job application method may not be sufficient to make an individual stand out. The inclusion of ‘buzzwords’, based on the job specification in the application, may likewise fall short of the self-presentation impact a candidate might hope to achieve: it is evidence, not the use of buzzwords, which will help a CV to be noticed.

A visual CV enables an employer to view the personality of the candidate and presents the person behind the formal achievements. A continuous online presence can be interlinked to other social media sites such as Facebook and Tumblr, providing a potential employer with further opportunities to view their skills. Jill Corbey, Business Development Manager at ThisCityAgency states:

In the last few years, social media has changed how things work on every level in the business world – but in terms of how students use social media to find a job, not much has changed at all. Although students may use social media to look for extra background on a recruiter, it’s clear that they aren’t interacting with them online.

The ARCV illustrated in Figure 4 was the first visual CV developed by a student in a Higher Education establishment; however, this form of media-based CV would not be suitable for all disciplines. This approach represents a departure from the traditional CV (based on a standardised and largely unchanged layout) that Careers and Employability centres at many universities currently offer.

We see AR as providing an opportunity for both learners and teachers to re-think the way they engage in learning and teaching with each other. Luckin and Stanton Fraser (2011) state that it can “bridge the learning gap between abstract descriptions and the real world phenomena”. This redefines the ability of the learner to engage actively with the content. We are aware of the current ‘wow’ factor and the fact that it can evaporate quickly. Sener (2007) suggests that a move towards students’ creating their own content increases student engagement and can result in products of lasting value.

In accordance with teachers’ belief that learning improves when students are interested, creative and inspired, student engagement can stimulate curiosity. A central role in the transformation of pedagogy is learner creativity and productivity (Leadbetter, 2006). However, adopting an approach where student-generated content is intended for consumption by others may generate concern for the validity and reliability of the content. The student is no longer simply a passive learner at the receiving end of a tool (Hilton, 2006).


Some recommendations for the implementation of augmented reality are:

  • It is important the development and deployment of AR within a university has strategic management support.
  • Senior management support must be provided to develop augmented reality as part of the student engagement experience.
  • The development of AR within a university involves all staff and/or students who want to develop the content and promote the use of AR.
  • Analytical data must be available to determine the effectiveness of AR implementation.
  • The development of a University Open Day app can enhance student engagement and be of major benefit to the student experience.
  • Staff should work in partnership with students to develop immersive media-based content for classroom and employability purposes.

Students and MMU academic colleagues are now collaborating to implement and extend the use of AR in classrooms across the University. Providing the opportunity to ‘flip the classroom’, whereby students gain first exposure to new materials outside the class through reading, audio or video using AR, is a new concept within Higher Education and requires further research to determine its success or failure. Based on the cloud service, the flipped classroom has the advantage of effectively combining modern educational technology with classroom teaching. AR provides an opportunity for the development of an immersive media-based experience that enhances student engagement outside the normal classroom. Augmented reality is able to combine factual learning with imaginative and creative thinking.

Reference list

Caudell, T.P., Mizell, D.W. ‘Augmented Reality: An Application of Heads-Up Display Technology to Manual Manufacturing Processes.’ Proceedings Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Jan 1992. Vol. 2, 659-669.

Gauntlett, D. (2011) Making is Connecting. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press

Hilton, J. (2006) ‘The future for higher education: Sunrise or perfect storm.’ EDUCAUSE Review, 41(2), 58-71. Available at: http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/erm0623.pdf (Accessed: 3 January 2007).[++]

Jisc. (2013) ‘Engaging learners in education and beyond, Employment and social media, How can your students use social media to get a job?’ JISC Inform, Issue 37/Summer Available at:

http://www.jisc.ac.uk/inform/inform37/EmploymentAndSocialMedia.html#.VD_Vpvkp9GY (Accessed: 13 January 2015).

Kerawalla, L., Luckin, R., Seljeflot, S. and Woolard, A. (2006) ‘Making it real: exploring the potential of augmented reality for teaching primary school science.’ Virtual Reality, 10 (3), 163–174.

Lave, J., and Wenger, E. (1990) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Luckin, R. and Stanton Fraser, D. (2011) ‘Limitless or pointless? An evaluation of augmented reality technology in the school and home.’ International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 3 (5), 510-524. Available at: http://knowledgeillusion.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/limitlessorpointlessarpaper2011ijtel.pdf (Accessed: 7 January 2015).

Sener, J. (2007) ‘In Search of Student-generated content in Online Education.’ E-mentor 4 (21) Available at: http://www.e-mentor.edupl/eng (Accessed: 10 February 2015).

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind and society: the development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Whitmell, C. (2012) Why a traditional CV isn’t always enough. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/careers/careers-blog/cv-writing-traditional-application[++]

(Accessed: 28 January 2015).

5 Research Articles

Student-led development and evaluation of a community pharmacy-based cardiovascular risk assessment

Christine Filion-Murphy, Lyndsey Hands, Lyndsey Hockham, Laura Kirkpatrick, Sinead McNamara, Alison Strath, Iain Rowe, Helen Vosper

Robert Gordon University


The pharmacy education context

Higher Education enhancement agendas are generally united in their aim to improve employability by supporting the development of curricula that promote acquisition of professional skills. The challenge for those involved in teaching is thus the provision of aligned curricula with opportunities for engagement with ‘real-life’ learning activities that are relevant to the workplace. Furthermore, there must be opportunities for students to be assessed in such ‘professional competencies’. This could be seen as a paradigm shift for undergraduate Pharmacy programmes, the delivery of which is now overseen by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). The most recent Standards for the Initial Education and Training for Pharmacists (2010) make it clear that such programmes will no longer produce scientists who may go on to become healthcare professionals; rather, they will now produce healthcare professionals whose practice is underpinned by a strong grounding in relevant pharmaceutical science. In medicine and other healthcare courses, the development of professional competencies is generally provided within the clinical placement component of the course. A combination of both a lack of funding and lack of opportunity for placement has become a challenge for pharmacy courses. Existing placement experiences tend to occur towards the end of the programme, and this ‘late and limited’ exposure to practice is recognised as being one factor with impact on the ability of new graduates to apply their knowledge and skills in workplace contexts (Smith and Darracott, 2011). Additionally, the lack of clinical experience makes it difficult for students in the earlier years of their course to contextualise their theoretical learning (especially the underpinning science), leading to an artificial segregation of the science and practice sections of the course. Lack of exposure to professional experiences within an undergraduate curriculum can also affect how the students develop professional identity – and this concept of ‘professionalism’ and the way in which it is developed throughout the course is another critical element of undergraduate education. Beyond these pedagogical aspirations, a number of more pragmatic drivers for change have particular significance in the Scottish context.

The Scottish context

The current UK model for most undergraduate pharmacy programmes is the so-called ‘4+1’ structure: after completion of a four-year degree course, successful students take up a one-year pre-registration place, where they will receive the bulk of their professional experience (Smith and Darracott, 2011). Success in the pre-registration examination permits entry to the professional register. Concerns about this fragmentation and the lack of clinical exposure throughout the undergraduate years have led to a move in England towards a five-year integrated programme, which is a particular problem for Scotland, where there are simply not enough traditional placement opportunities for the numbers of students currently enrolled on courses at the two Scottish Schools of Pharmacy – those unable to access Scottish pre-reg. posts have until now been able to find them in England, but once the integrated programme south of the border is established, these opportunities may disappear.

Furthermore, future pharmacists are seen as playing a central role in the delivery of the ‘pharmaceutical care’ model described within the Scottish Government’s ‘2020 Vision’ for healthcare (NHS Scotland, 2011). Pharmaceutical care is described as “a philosophy … for the responsible provision of drug therapy for the purpose of achieving definite outcomes that improve a patient’s quality of life.” In order to achieve this vision, it is expected that, by 2023, all pharmacists providing clinical care will be NHS-accredited clinical pharmacist independent prescribers. In this changing political and medical context, there is a clear need for the pharmacist’s developing role to be recognised as part of a multi-disciplinary team. The relationship between doctors and pharmacists is seen as critical and ripe for improvement.

It is possible that future political decisions may open up the clinical environment to pharmacy students, but there are no guarantees of this. If Higher Education Institutions are to produce graduates ready to meet the challenges of this new future, they must be more creative in their approach to the concept of ‘professional experiences.’ Simulation is one such approach and has the advantage that staff can add activities that support exploration of the links between science and practice (Vosper et al, 2013). Such activities also lend themselves well to assessment, as this level of control can ensure a reasonably equitable experience for all students.

Students as partners

That there is a need for curriculum review, as outlined above, also means that there is associated opportunity for innovation. As one of RGU’s aspirations is to ‘empower students to shape their learning experience and that of their peers’, involving students in curriculum design is a way of fulfilling this. This paper describes an initiative in which a group of undergraduate MPharm students developed, implemented and evaluated an existing teaching and learning activity (involving a community pharmacy-based cardiovascular risk assessment) to support the achievement of ‘professional’ outcomes. Management of cardiovascular risk by the pharmacist, in partnership with the GP or secondary care, is one of the tasks that falls well within the ‘2020 Vision’.

The RGU Pharmacy student partnership

The partnership described within this paper grew out of a Higher Education Academy Change Initiative which explored the strategic embedding of simulation within a pharmacy undergraduate curriculum as a pedagogically-robust adjunct to work-based placement. This involved working with stakeholders to produce a ‘compendium of effective simulation practice’ to support educators in planning curricula. Students were recognised as key stakeholders, but it soon became clear that they were ‘unequal partners’ because they lacked training in educational theory and practice. Summer studentships (funded by NHS Education Scotland) were based on the RGU in-house PgCert provision and focused upon specific enhancement initiatives (including the simulation project). This proved so promising (in terms of outputs/outcomes) that it was decided to form a student-led learning enhancement team, to be piloted in the session 2013-14. The summer studentships were used as the vehicle to recruit students to the learning enhancement team – the initial team was made up of the staff and students involved in the first studentships and numbers were built during the second wave of summer studentships in 2014. The team is well-placed to influence curriculum development, as members of staff leading the initiative have direct responsibility for teaching and learning development. In terms of impact, students are able to select enhancement projects which address areas that they believe to be key. Staff simply facilitate this activity. Achievements of this team include:

  • completion of a number of enhancement initiatives that have directly influenced the curriculum (including the cardiovascular risk assessment development described here).
  • a number of publications in peer-reviewed journals, as well as conference presentations (including, at the HEA national conference in July 2014, a one-hour discussion session which specifically explored the risks and benefits of student partnerships).
  • establishment of a student-led Patient Safety Chapter of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. This group has established a full programme of learning activities and events used or accessed by approximately 200 undergraduate students and has significantly contributed to the patient safety aspects of the curriculum.
  • The team has provided peer-teaching and support to other students, one example being the project described within this paper – part of the work was carried out by final-year project students (L Ho, LK, SMcN), supported by members of the student learning enhancement team (CF-M, L Ha).

Despite all these benefits, working with students in this way is not without its risks. Students’ challenging the curriculum can be problematic for some staff and students need resilience to deal with this. Furthermore, there is a significant time input required, which has the potential for negative impact upon academic performance. Some anecdotal evidence also suggested that student relationships were affected, as some peers felt that the team enjoyed special privilege. To deal with this, the team has worked with the HEA on the Students as Partners in the Curriculum Change Programme. The outcomes of this process have involved seeking ways to improve the articulation of the enhancement team with existing mechanisms such as course management teams and staff-student liaison committees. The students decided that the biggest challenge facing them as ‘partners in the curriculum’ was the issue of balancing power with responsibility; consequently, they decided that it would be better for students to have a degree of control in small areas of the curriculum. The suggested partnership model is therefore negotiation between staff and students to identify areas of priority development, followed by action-research projects to improve the quality of the curriculum in these discrete areas. The rest of the paper illustrates this approach by describing one such project and reflecting on its impact. All of the work was carried out by the students – staff (AS, IR, HV) merely acted in a mentoring capacity.


The cardiovascular risk assessment, already used as a teaching and learning activity in the module Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics-1, was just a single activity, with a brief introduction to the main technical skills involved. Student feedback was traditionally very positive, with students believing that it prepared them well for the examination. However, they often expressed concerns that they found it stressful because they felt they lacked the full range of skills to deliver an effective risk assessment. Staff and students felt there were opportunities to deliver an enhanced version which also offered opportunities for integration of practice and science.

Ethics and governance

The ethical issues surrounding this work were considered in association with the School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences governance procedures. []

Project phases

This action research project used a mixed-method approach. There were two initial data collection phases and the results of these were analysed to yield information that was then used to support the third phase: the development, implementation and evaluation of a teaching, learning and assessment tool.

Phase 1 involved revisiting the existing cardiovascular risk assessment, with a focus-group approach to explore the experiences of participants in a group context (group dynamics are an important element of teaching and learning activities). The structure for these sessions comprised questions concerning the strengths and weaknesses of the existing risk assessment, consideration of the drivers affecting the educational provision, ways in which it might be improved and identification of relevant stakeholders whose opinions should be sought in Phase 2. Those invited to participate in this phase included teaching staff involved in this module and members of the school Student Learning Enhancement. All sessions were recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Phase 2 comprised a series of structured interviews with individuals identified as key stakeholders in the development of an appropriate cardiovascular risk assessment-based teaching and learning tool. Participants included staff members involved in teaching, who had not participated in the original focus group, and two pharmacists, one of them with experience of running the risk assessment in a busy Glasgow pharmacy. A GP and a dietitian were also invited to participate. Interviews were based on a template developed by researchers during Phase 1.

A ‘realist’ thematic analysis approach was selected and, in determining the themes, attention was paid not only to frequency, but also to whether or not the data captured issues of importance to the research questions. The themes were independently identified by three student researchers (LH, LK and SM) and confirmed by the supervisor (HV). No discrepancies were identified. The results of the thematic analysis were used to formulate Phase 3: a teaching plan for Semester 2 activities. Evaluation of the implementation was carried out using thematic analysis of data from the University’s Student Experience Questionnaire (one of the strands of the University’s mechanism for collecting, reviewing and responding to student feedback). This data was supported and enriched by a module-specific online questionnaire that was made available, via email invitation, to all second-year MPharm students. This contained a mixture of ‘likert-scale’ responses, as well as opportunities for open-text responses, and the identities of the respondents were not known to the research team. A single reminder was posted via social media and the results were again considered by thematic analysis (CF-M and HV).

Results and discussion

Phases 1 and 2: Student-led development of an enhanced risk assessment

A full analysis of the data obtained in this project is beyond the scope of this paper, so the authors have chosen to present a selection of themes: these, the most commonly recurring themes, were also selected because of their saliency with respect to drivers for change for pharmacy education.

Relationship between pharmacist and general practitioner

“You have to be careful… sometimes you’ll refer a patient [and]… get a snooty letter back from the GP saying ‘What are you doing – this blood pressure is actually normal for [this patient]!’”

The reforms described in the Scottish Government’s 2020 Vision for health and social care are driven at least partly by a recognition that the pharmacist is currently under-utilised. Effective change will require the building of new relationships between some healthcare professionals and the strengthening of existing ones. The relationship between pharmacist and GP is recognised as being one of the most critical in terms of delivering on this new ‘pharmaceutical care’ model. Interestingly, there is relatively little information in the literature exploring this relationship. The few studies that are available indicate that this may in fact be one of the barriers to change: there seems to be little enthusiasm by General Practitioners for any expansion in the clinical services offered by pharmacists. A study by Bryant et al (2009) gives some insight into what might be responsible for this inertia. The results of this study indicated that GPs were very happy with what they perceive to be the ‘medicines management’ role of the pharmacist, but did not support the involvement of pharmacists in screening for chronic conditions or selecting suitable medication for a patient, possibly reflecting concerns that pharmacist involvement in clinical care is driven by desire to increase footfall; indeed, the study by Bryant suggests that one of the main issues underpinning GP reservations is their concern about commercial pressures that may influence pharmacists’ clinical decision-making - whilst almost all the pharmacists polled believed that they could give unbiased advice on the use of medicines, only around 40% of GPs agreed.

One of the arguments in favour of broadening the pharmacist’s role is that it can reduce time burdens for GPs. This view was not shared by the participants in the Bryant study and, indeed, was echoed in the results of this study: there was a concern that much of the work done within pharmacies is simply duplication and increases GP workload (Horgan et al, 2010). However, many of the problems concerning pharmacist-GP relationships could be resolved if such services were to be developed in collaboration, with the articulation of clear referral pathways and effective sharing of information. In Scotland, the introduction of the Chronic Medication Service (a system which permits patients with long-term conditions to register with a community pharmacy, entering into a shared-care arrangement with their pharmacist and GP) offers increased opportunity for such collaboration:

“We’re getting better now [in terms of our working relationship] with the C[hronic] M[edication] S[ervice]…”

Interestingly, the barriers are not one-sided: pharmacists themselves also expressed reluctance to take on a more clinical role, owing largely to concerns about a lack of clinical knowledge, but also about environmental factors, such as lack of appropriate space, privacy etc. (Bryant et al, 2009). This is interesting in the light of growing awareness of the relevance of human factors in health care: task performance is a product of the environment, and that includes the physical space itself, the equipment and the people within that space. Understanding of this environment is key to optimising performance and this is something which has relevance for all healthcare professionals, as recognised in the Human Factors in Healthcare Concordat (National Quality Board, 2013).

Recommendation 1: It should be clear that the pharmacy-based risk assessment is actually risk estimation.

Recommendation 2: Learning and teaching activities based upon risk assessment should include a multi-disciplinary perspective and consider how information may best be shared with other healthcare professionals.

Recommendation 3: Learning and teaching activities should include exposure to the Chronic Medication Service.

Recommendation 4: Education about human factors should form part of clinical training.

Recommendation 5: Opportunities for shared learning experiences with medical students should be explored.

Addressing the mismatch between ‘ideal’ and ‘real’ clinical environments: the value of simulation

The existing teaching in this module involves student participation in a simulated risk assessment. The focus groups in Phase 1 considered the strengths and weaknesses of using simulation to support the development of clinical competencies. Although simulation is not new to UK pharmacy courses, there is little consistency in its use, and there is very little evidence in the literature to support its value in terms of delivering course outcomes. There is a greater body of evidence for US pharmacy simulation (Seybert, 2011), but most of that which is described involves the sort of high risk/rare scenarios involved in medical education, but with the inclusion of a pharmacist on the healthcare team. The cardiovascular risk assessment is different, in that it involves routine (‘everyday’) tasks. In the initial focus group discussions, one student with ten years’ work experience in a community pharmacy suggested that one of the problems with the existing simulated risk assessment was that – while the clinical scenario was realistic – the environmental aspects were less so. Reflections on this aspect of the work have been published as part of another study (Regan et al, 2014), but essentially it was suggested that unrealistic environments deprive the student of the opportunity to experience the reality of practice, meaning s/he is not well prepared for the workplace.

A key educational issue arising from the Francis Report into the failings at Mid-Staffordshire Hospital was the notion of equipping students with the skills and resilience that would allow them to stand up to poor practice behaviours. However, part of this involves students’ and new practitioners’ ability to recognise when the environment has deviated so far from the ideal that patient safety is compromised. Furthermore, lack of exposure to anything other than ‘gold standard’ environments can impact on job satisfaction and morale.

Recommendation 6: Teaching and learning activities should explore the mismatch between ‘ideal’ and ‘real’ environments.

Recommendation 7: Teaching and learning activities should explore both positive and negative behaviours with respect to the cardiovascular risk assessment.

Giving advice about lifestyle modification

“[We are taught lots around actual treatments but] there’s less training, I have to say, in the lifestyle advice and motivational interviewing type stuff.”


“A lot of what [dietitians] do is around behavioural change, so… in other words, negotiating with the patient and working with them.”


At the moment, there are limited opportunities for community pharmacists to make prescribing decisions, so the largest part of the strategy to reduce risk will involve lifestyle modifications. This will include attempting to support patients in healthy eating and weight management. This is not as straightforward as it might sound: there is an acknowledged lack of training to support weight and diet management in primary care, so much so that there are professional groups who believe it should not be managed in this way (McClinchy et al, 2013). There are some contributory factors to this situation, not least that practitioners (despite their education concerning environmental and genetic factors) can display a judgmental attitude which suggests that they believe the patient’s behaviour to be the primary cause of obesity and related problems. It is also true that eating and activity behaviours are complex, often with strong a psychological component. Management can also be acutely affected by the patient’s lifestyle – working patterns, childcare, physical limitations and support networks being only a selection of the pressures that may exist. Consequently, as the GP interviewed in this study observed, it is critical to make advice specific to each patient. Another issue is that many initiatives aimed at improving health tend to consider weight management rather than healthy eating. This focus is a response to the clear link between obesity and cardiovascular risk. However, while a reduction in weight will reduce risk, this benefit will be sustained only if the patient adopts a healthy diet. Many weight management interventions deal with short-term weight loss and do not address barriers to healthy eating.

Recommendation 8: Teaching and learning activities should include exploration of what constitutes a cardioprotective diet and how this may be explained to the patient.

Recommendation 9: Strategies for assessing patient understanding should be built in to the simulated cardiovascular risk assessment.

Non technical skills

“And I think quite a lot of it comes down to communication skills… if you don’t have a motivational interviewing skill [then it won’t work]”GP

Part of the ‘2020 Vision’ for healthcare enshrines the concept of patients as ‘co-producers’ of the health outcomes in terms of the management of their own condition. ‘Co-production’ is defined as “active dialogue and engagement between people who use services and those that provide them, putting the service user on the same level as the service provider.” Achieving this level of interaction will require the pharmacist to have a number of the so-called ‘soft skills’ such as communication, conflict resolution and adaptability. Some US studies have shown that pharmacy simulation-based teaching and learning activities are effective at developing such non-technical skills, as well as improving critical thinking skills. There is some (albeit limited) evidence to suggest that this may improve clinical performance. However, for this to be effective, it is important that assessment of soft skills is not tacit. Learning outcomes need to be clearly articulated and effective feedback must be given. This feedback should be couched in terms of the learning outcomes and should be diagnostic, in that it allows students to understand for themselves the difference between their performance and that articulated in the learning outcomes. Strategies for addressing the gap need to be considered – thus effective briefing and debriefing should be part of the process (Fanning and Gaba, 2007).

Recommendation 10: Non-technical skills training with opportunity for effective debriefing should form part of the risk assessment simulation.

p<. Table 1: Recommendations underpinning development of new cardiovascular risk assessment | |
p<. 1: It should be clear that the pharmacy-based risk assessment is actually risk estimation.

2: Learning and teaching activities based upon risk assessment should include a multi-disciplinary perspective and consider how information may best be shared with other healthcare professionals.

3: Learning and teaching activities should include exposure to the Chronic Medications Service.

4: Human factors should form part of clinical training.

5: Opportunities for shared learning experiences with medical students should be explored.

6: Teaching and learning activities should explore the mismatch between ‘ideal’ and ‘real’ environments.

7: Activities should explore both positive and negative behaviours with respect to the risk assessment.

8: Activities should include exploration of a cardioprotective diet, and how this may be explained to the patient.

9: Strategies for assessing patient understanding should be built in to the simulated cardiovascular risk assessment.

10: Non-technical skills training and effective debriefing should form part of the risk assessment simulation.


Developing the new risk assessment

If all the recommendations were to be accommodated, it was clear that much more time would need to be given over to the risk assessment. This was considered to be appropriate – most of the second-semester courseworks were already devoted to the cardiovascular system and the lectures dealt with the science underpinning the factors that contribute to risk. Seven coursework sessions were available within the module, although it was noticed that many of the new elements could be considered as ‘professional skills’. It was decided that this would offer an opportunity to develop teaching sessions integrated with a second-year professional module, which would also support the students in integrating their science and practice knowledge. An outline teaching plan was developed as outlined in Table 2.

Table 2: Outline plan for Semester 2

p<. Activities | |
p<. Week 1. Introduction to the risk assessment covering: value and limitations; patient history; near-patient testing; risk algorithms; practical skills; non-technical skills; checking patient understanding; referral pathways;

GP-pharmacist relationship.

| |
p<. Week 2. Development of non-technical skills covering:

human factors; concepts of ‘good’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘poor’ professional behaviours. Students to film a short consultation – clips to support online forum activities that will underpin the development of a rubric to support achievement in the risk assessment itself.

| |
p<. Week 3. Failing in safety.

In this week, they have the opportunity to run a full risk assessment on a member of teaching staff. Teaching staff will also explore student understanding of the science underpinning the ‘clinical decisions’ students are making. Effective debriefing will help the students to refine their understanding (as well as improve their rubric).

| |
p<. Week 4. Finalising the rubric and planning approach for Week 5.

| |
p<. Week 5. Risk assessment for real! | |
p<. Week 6. Opportunity for reflection; preparation for summative assessment which will involve watching videos produced by the students and answering questions concerning the risk assessment and also exploring the underpinning science.

| |
p<. After a three-week gap for consolidation, the students will take their summative assessment.


Phase 3: Implementation and evaluation

Staff delivered the student-developed teaching plan as it stood. Engagement with the activities was incredibly high – attendance for the coursework sessions and participation in the online forum was 99%). Anecdotally, staff reported students as actively engaged (and happy!) throughout the sessions. The response rate for the module-specific questionnaire was only 12%, with the timing most likely to be the main factor – most students were on vacation at this point. However, the response rate for the Student Experience Questionnaire was much higher (52%). The SEQ contains sections for each module, so there was a significant amount of qualitative data available for this module.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that students found the courseworks challenging but useful in supporting their progress through the module. Staff felt that student input was very powerful: essentially, weeks 2-6 of the activities involved students in collaborative work with staff to devise the specific learning outcomes. Not only that, they were supported in visualising what good achievement in the outcomes ‘looks like’, which staff felt had the potential to promote a deeper approach to learning. Performance in the module was not significantly different from that of previous years, with the vast majority (94%) passing the module first time. The main themes arising from the data are discussed below:

Pace and structure of the module

A number of the questions dealt with ‘organisational’ issues, such as the pace of delivery and the distribution of content within the module. The authors also considered questions about feedback to fall within this theme, as opportunities for reflection and feedback were specifically built into the new structure of the module and the design was intended to allow adequate time for students to use the feedback from the formative assessments to prepare for the summative elements. 69% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the module was well-paced, allowing adequate time to prepare for the summative assessment. Of the remaining respondents, it is possible that their difficulties with the pace and structure stemmed from a difference in understanding of the overall aim of the collected activities. One respondent felt that “ having lots of different [elements] made it quite hard to keep on top of.” This is interesting when compared with the response from a student content with the pace and structure: “every week we collaborated and expanded our knowledge in the courseworks…” and with that of another who reported feeling that the “group work for the cardiovascular risk assessment was focused on… doing the risk assessment with a patient.” It was the aim of the teaching team to use the cardiovascular risk assessment as a scaffold round which to build the teaching and learning activities required to deliver effectively on the learning outcomes. Perhaps not all students understood this completely and so this is one area for future development.

Figure 1 shows the results obtained for the statement ‘I felt that I received timely and constructive feedback from the formative assessment which allowed me to improve for the summative.’ 82% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed. While the response rate was low, the results are supported by the comments seen in the Student Experience Questionnaire: the comments regarding feedback were frequent and positive, which was very encouraging, given how low feedback scores (measured using instruments such as the NSS) are across the sector. For those students who felt the feedback was inadequate, it is again possible that this is down to a lack of understanding of (or, indeed, to discomfort with) the approach. One respondent commented: “ We had a risk assessment which was confusing, pupils were unaware of what was going on some weeks and were unsure what was actually asked of us for this assessment.” The reality was that, while the module-level outcomes were pre-defined, the ‘micro-level’ outcomes for achievement in the cardiovascular risk assessment were to be negotiated by the students themselves, and consequently were not available in their final form until quite late in the module. This was a deliberate approach, designed to promote deeper engagement with assessment criteria, but, as it is quite different from anything else the students will have encountered previously, it may therefore possibly provoke a degree of anxiety.

Figure 1. ‘I received timely and constructive feedback on my work’ (SA=strongly agree; A=agree; n=neutral; D=disagree; SD=strongly disagree)

Use of simulation

Three questions addressed the use of simulation as a teaching and learning activity. Students were asked if they felt that simulation was a helpful method of learning, if they felt that simulation allowed them to contextualise lecture content and whether they would like to see greater use of this approach to learning. With the exception of one respondent, all students responded positively to these questions (either agreeing or strongly agreeing). This reflects the responses seen in the Student Experience Questionnaire. With regard to expanding the use of simulation, students came forward with a number of suggestions for how this might be done. These included the addition of related consultations, such as smoking cessation, as well as of more complex cases.

Simulation allowed the students to practise within the safe confines of the course. Specifically, they remarked on the value of the preparatory sessions that allowed them to identify and plan to deal with some of the potentially difficult aspects of the risk assessment. The reality is that risk assessment is judgmental, with patients’ having to reveal very personal information, such as waist circumference, weight and diet. Simulation provided the opportunity to test different ways of communicating with the patient, allowing ‘acting out’ of examples of poor behaviours. These vignettes acted as focal points for discussion which supported the students in developing more positive approaches. Similarly, defining the indicators of good, acceptable and poor behaviour was[_ “a great approach to learning as it made [students] realise how pharmacists should speak to their patients,” ]as well as[ “putting into perspective ways in which as a pharmacist we can maximise patient care._]”

Students were asked which mode of delivery best suited their own learning style (Figure 2). Interestingly, simulation scored most highly at 38%, which suggests that it may be useful route for promoting student engagement, in addition to the established benefits in terms of achievement of learning outcomes described in the introduction.


Figure 2. What is your preferred type of learning activity? (Sim=simulation; PBL=problem-based learning; Tut=tutorial; Video=video case study; Lec=lecture)

Staff behaviours

The delivery style of this module depends very much on staff acting as facilitators of student learning. Student perception of the effectiveness of ‘staff as facilitators’ was explored through a number of questions, including ‘I felt comfortable in sharing my thoughts, experiences and opinions during lectures and coursework sessions.’ 69% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with this statement (Figure 3). This reflects comments from the Student Experience Questionnaire and seems high: anecdotally, staff often report that students seem to feel very uncomfortable with sharing ideas within a group, especially given the large MPharm cohort (even small group teaching is likely to involved thirty-five students or more). It is possible that this comfort stemmed from the staff behaviour towards the students. Many comments related directly to the demonstrable interest by the teaching staff in their students and to their efforts to seek engagement:

“…they seemed to care very much that we learned well and even though the module was set up slightly differently this year they made sure we understood what was happening at every point.”

“…[lecturers] have a great way of getting the best out of their students. Coursework sessions were very relaxed, interactive, with the lecturers going round to each bench and addressing any concerns or questions we had.”

It also appeared that the students were aware of the difficulties relating to the delivery of a new module and found that the engagement and commitment of staff served to heighten their own. The various ways in which teaching staff made themselves available for students, to support them in directing their own learning, was frequently noted. Merriam (2001) describes states such as this as ‘an adult classroom’ within which exists ‘a spirit of mutuality between teachers and students as joint inquirers.’


*Figure 3. * ‘I felt comfortable sharing my thoughts, experiences and opinions’ (SA=strongly agree; A=agree; N=neutral; D=disagree; SD=strongly disagree

Enhancement of future delivery

One of the free-text sections invited student suggestions for improvement. Some of these suggestions have already been discussed (such as the introduction of additional simulations). One frequently-recurring theme (also mirrored in the Student Experience Questionnaire) was the lack of an obvious relationship between these activities and those which had been delivered in Semester 1 (primarily centred upon disorders of the central nervous system and mental health). One option may be to include aspects of these conditions in the more complex scenarios suggested earlier.


This has been an extremely interesting and rewarding piece of work, which has had impact on a large number of students (and staff). Our results suggest that students feel challenged by such an approach, but feel sufficiently supported to meet that challenge. The students who developed the teaching and learning materials also appeared to gain additional benefits: for example, the two videos created by final-year project students (LH, LK, SM) were intended to be examples respectively of excellent practice and of poor practice, to allow students to explore this in more detail. However, on reflection, the students decided that they hadn’t achieved quite the distinction they’d hoped to achieve: there were elements of good practice in the ‘poor’ video and vice versa. Recognition of this may well have arisen as a result of their increased knowledge of cardiovascular risk.

It is estimated that this student-led activity has had direct impact on over 150 students in this academic session and will continue to do so, as the activities will run again in the next academic session. Many of the students also expressed a belief that the activities were highly relevant to their future careers and commented on the value of the approach in helping them to understand the links between practice and the underpinning science. Finally, some of the students involved in this engagement are in the process of applying for professional recognition with the Higher Education Academy (at Associate Fellow level) and are considering pharmacy teaching as another career option – this was an entirely unanticipated effect and shows the value of meaningful student engagement beyond the enhancement of the taught provision.

Reflections on the student partnership

This project is an example of how engagement with a small number of students can have an impact on many. It also provides an example of how meaningful engagement and mitigation of some of the associated risks can be simultaneously achieved. The staff involved have found the process incredibly rewarding as illustrated by the following quote:

“It has been a privilege and pleasure to work with the group of pharmacy students involved in delivering the enhancement projects. Their enthusiasm and engagement is exemplary and demonstrates their commitment to the benefits that result from students being co-creators of teaching, learning and assessment resources. Key to the success of the various projects that this wonderful group of students have been involved in is their openness to new ideas and their readiness to embrace a novel role in the development of educational strategies and materials. They have also been prepared to work in collaborative partnerships with staff requiring mutual respect and trust and recognition of the importance of establishing shared values and goals.”

The students involved expressed similar opinions, but also talked about how their input had additional benefits in terms of helping them understand more deeply the principles of curriculum design and the concept of barriers and facilitators with respect to change:

“…working in a partnership with academic staff members increased my overall understanding of how our curriculum was designed. So often, as a student, I have felt that I had little to no control over the courses I undertook. This was an excellent way to see how much our input has modified the course along the way and how much effort goes into the planning and execution of our learning activities.

A further advantage of this model is the small-scale nature of the individual projects – the approach resembles that of quality improvement in healthcare: change can be explored without risk to the curriculum and successful initiatives can be scaled-up to increase the impact. 

Reference list

Bryant, L.J.M., Coster, G., Gamble, G.D., McCormick, R.N. (2009) ‘General practitioners’ and pharmacists’ perception of the role of community pharmacists in delivery of clinical services.’ Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy 5, 347-362.

Fanning, R.M., Gaba, D.M. (2007) ‘The role of debriefing in simulation-based learning.’ Simulation in Healthcare 2(2), 115-125.

General Pharmaceutical Council (2010) ‘Standards for the initial education and training of pharmacists.’ Available at: http://www.pharmacyregulation.org/education/education-standards (Accessed: 20 September 2014).

Horgan, J.M., Blenkinsopp, A., McManus, R.J. (2010) ‘Evaluation of a cardiovascular disease opportunistic risk assessment pilot (‘Heart MOT’ service) in community pharmacies.’ Journal of Public Health 32,110-116.

McClinchy, J., Dickinson. A., Barron, D., Thomas, H. (2013) ‘Practitioner and patient experiences of giving and receiving healthy eating advice.’ British Journal of Community Nursing 18(10), 498-504.

National Health Service Scotland (2011) ‘A route map to the 2020 Vision for Health and Social Care.’ Available at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Health/Policy/Quality-Strategy/routemap2020vision (Accessed: 20 September 2014).

National Quality Board (2013) ‘Human factors in healthcare. A concordat from the National Quality Board.’ Available at: http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/nqb-hum-fact-concord.pdf (Accessed: 20 September 2014).

Regan, K., Harney, L., Goodhand, K., Strath, A., Vosper, H. (2014) ‘Pharmacy simulation: A Scottish, student-led perspective with implications for the UK and beyond.’ Pharmacy 2, 50-64.

Seybert, A. (2011) ‘Patient simulation in pharmacy education.’ American Journal of Pharmacy Education 75(9), Article 187.

Smith, A., Darracott, R. (2011) Review of pharmacist undergraduate education and pre-registration training and proposals for reform. Report to the Medical Education England Board.

Vosper, H., Brown, A., Mackenzie-Fraser, M., Goodhand, K., Joseph, S., Diack, L. (2013) ‘Simulation as a tool for supporting teaching, learning and assessment in an undergraduate pharmacy programme.’ Compendium of Effective Practice in Higher Education: Volume 2. The Higher Education Academy, York, UK. Available at: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/retention/Compendium_2_rc_ja_Final.pdf[+ +](Accessed: 20 July 2014).

EQAL to the task: stakeholder responses to a university-wide transformation project.

Peter Bird, Rachel Forsyth, Mark Stubbs, Nicola Whitton

Manchester Metropolitan University


UK Higher Education is going through a period of major change and institutions within it are being forced to respond. Some of those responses are evolutionary; others are revolutionary. A case study is presented of a UK university change initiative that was unprecedented in scope and scale for the institution concerned and for the sector. Following Pettigrew (1985), an account is presented of the context, content and process of change. Using Farbey et al’s (1993) stratification of stakeholders, a summary is provided of different stakeholder perspectives and, following reflection, some lessons learned are offered to those contemplating change on a similar scale.

Research Design

This article is based on documentary evidence and interview data gathered from a number of sources during the course of the EQAL programme. These include:[]

  • stakeholder interviews conducted by two independent consultants within the first year of the curriculum change (Smith and Lessner, 2012);
  • evaluation data from the JISC SRC project which included interviews with students about their perspective on curriculum input (Bird et al, 2012);
  • internal documentation such as emails, minutes of meetings and proceedings of internal conferences.

Context for the Change

In 2009, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) was the largest campus-based undergraduate university in the UK, with a total student population of more than 37,000. It offered over 1,000 courses and qualifications, the majority of which had a strong professional bias. Like many similar UK institutions, it had evolved through a series of mergers and expansions over many decades to become a large and diverse organisation teaching a wide range of subjects across several campuses. About half of its annual budget was devolved to its eight faculties, with administrative, financial, estate, student support, library and technical services managed centrally.

Impetus for change came externally from government policy that was seeking to make students more informed consumers of higher education (Browne, 2010). The senior team and the University’s Board of Governors were keen to see improved performance against external measures of student experience. Despite a genuine and sustained commitment to enhancement, and many small adaptations to policies and procedures, there had been, between 2005 and 2008 (Unistats, 2014), no substantive improvement in National Student Survey (NSS) outcomes or other measures of student experience such as progression rates. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor Student Experience (DVC SE) was given Executive-level responsibility for transforming this situation.

At the time, the DVC SE was overseeing two projects that would ultimately become very significant for the change initiative:

  • The first was a four-year project funded by the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) as part of its Curriculum Design and Delivery programme. The Supporting Responsive Curricula (SRC) project was established in 2008 to investigate, for four pilot areas (Law, Accounting and Finance, Physiotherapy and Creative Digital), how the institution could be made more responsive to the needs of various stakeholders, particularly students, employers and professional bodies. Workshops involving a wide range of university staff and representatives of the Students’ Union were convened to explore how the University could better meet stakeholders’ expectations. Cornford and Pollock (2003) have described the importance of lateral relationships in university organisation (between professional and academic staff and between staff and students) as well as the significant role of campus systems in facilitating these relationships. The workshops were set up to explore these links explicitly. They revealed complex interdependencies and varied practice specific to campuses, disciplines and cohort characteristics. This complexity and variety made it almost impossible to propose any kind of standardisation of good practice to address specific areas of student dissatisfaction.
  • The second was a wide-ranging review of the institution’s learning technology platform; a review which sought to draw lessons from use of the previous system and developed, through focus groups with students and staff, scenarios for an improved situation. Meetings with students revealed a desire for consistency in information provision and a set of unmet information needs: students were finding it difficult to navigate their courses and expected better information, for instance on when work was due, when classes were scheduled, which books to buy and how to contact tutors. They also expected to be notified in reasonable time of any changes to their teaching or assessment schedules (Lrt.mmu.ac.uk, 2010).

At the same time, colleagues in the Science and Engineering faculty undertook a detailed analysis of the NSS results, an exercise which revealed that students’ responses to questions in the category of ‘organisation and management’ were having a strong negative effect on overall satisfaction, as measured by Question 22 in the survey (Fielding et al, 2010). The Dean, who also had Pro-Vice-Chancellor level responsibility for Curriculum Innovation (PVC CI), worked closely with the analysis team and formed a strong view that organisational complexity was a limiting factor for the ‘organisation and management’ score.

After the PVC CI discussed with the DVC SE his conviction that “complexity was difficult to organise”, the DVC SE challenged a diverse group of staff present at an SRC workshop to identify what would need to change for a step-change improvement in student experience for the whole institution, not just the four pilot areas, and asked them to highlight any barriers to that change. Discussions revealed that complexity of the curriculum structure was at the root of many of the difficulties experienced by staff and students and was causing increased work for administrative and academic staff and dissatisfaction amongst students. Participants identified quality assurance processes as a constraint on course development: whilst these processes were considered robust and safe in relation to standards, they required a huge amount of work from administrative staff. Course leaders described how they had become experienced in producing paperwork which conformed to ‘standard’ requirements yet still enabled enormous diversity in the organisation of provision. The SRC project baseline report (Johnson and Bird, 2009) reported broad agreement that curriculum change was needed, but that this was hampered by:

  • overly bureaucratic processes;
  • competing demands on staff;
  • conflicting time cycles in different parts of the University;
  • unclear lines of responsibility for curriculum change;
  • lack of sense of personal ownership;
  • inertia, owing either to the scale of the task or to the existence of long-established and effective ‘work-arounds’ in some areas.

In summary, key drivers within the context for the change initiative can be identified as:

1.pressure from the highest level for a step-change improvement in external measures of the student experience in response to the UK Government’s “informed HE consumer” agenda;

2.regular discussion with students, at both faculty and institutional (Students’ Union) levels, which highlighted the need for consistency in information about content of modules and in associated assessment methods;

3.open comments from students in the National Student Survey which indicated clearly what kinds of changes they would welcome;

4.two senior leads, the DVC SE and PVC CI, who felt that course organisation and management had become unnecessarily complex and were having negative impacts on the student experience and on the time academic staff had for their students;

5.emerging internal recognition that step-change improvement required carefully-orchestrated, systemic change.

Content of the Change

In spring 2010, with top-level support and direction from the DVC SE and PVC CI, the University set up the EQAL Programme – “Enhancing Quality and Assessment for Learning”. The goal was to make a step-change improvement in student satisfaction by refreshing the entire undergraduate curriculum whilst simultaneously re-engineering administrative processes and creating a seamless personalised experience that wrapped the University’s information and online resources around each learner. In short, EQAL set out to:

transform the quality of academic life by

  • simplifying structures and processes;
  • delivering integrated organisational support;
  • delivering a seamless, personalised student experience;
  • reforming and streamlining quality assurance processes.

The ambitious deadline was to deliver a brand new, technology-supported first year for September 2011, with the new second year starting September 2012 and the new final year September 2013.

The change programme was organised as four major work strands, coordinated by the University’s new Business Improvement Team. Scoping began in February 2010, with a benefits-mapping exercise in which each strand identified high-level benefits, outcomes and interdependencies. Work proceeded quickly to map project outcomes on a timeline that would deliver a new first year for September 2011. The need for ground rules for a new curriculum was identified as the first major deliverable (D1) and was taken in response to continued student feedback that there were too many assessment points – up to twenty in a year for some students. After consultation with student representatives and faculties, the PVC CI proposed a new undergraduate curriculum framework that changed the size of undergraduate modules (from twenty to thirty credits), set limits on, for each module, the number of learning outcomes (max. five) and summative assessments (max. two) and limited the amount of optionality in level 4. Finally, a new set of graduate outcomes and guidance for embedding employability was included in the curriculum planning.

In June 2010, Academic Board, the University’s principal academic decision-making body, approved the new curriculum framework. The implication of the Board’s decision was that every undergraduate module had to be re-written, reviewed, approved and set up in supporting systems. With over 800 modules in each year of study, the scale of the task was daunting. The changes would affect every undergraduate tutor and every member of administrative and support staff who worked with them – an unprecedented level of change for the institution. The challenge was compounded by the existing system of drafting module specifications in Microsoft Word, critiquing paper copies at review events and then manually entering relevant data from the specifications into all the computer systems that needed them, such as student records, timetabling and library reading lists. A new system to capture and upload module information was identified as the second major deliverable (D2).

Rapid prototyping produced a module capture form that allowed only data entry which complied with the new curriculum framework (i.e. it had space to specify five learning outcomes and two summative assessment elements) and validation rules were added to ensure constructive alignment of assessment strategy and intended learning outcomes (i.e. the form would not submit without an explicit mapping of how the assessment elements covered each of the learning outcomes).

The third major deliverable (D3) was a revised module-approval process that could accommodate appropriate scrutiny and approval of over 800 modules simultaneously. The process incorporated specialist input from the Library and Centre of Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) and took advantage of the module capture form’s automatic validation rules (i.e. to ensure constructive alignment of assessment with intended learning outcomes) to establish a workflow that included Standing Panels for internal and external scrutiny and sign-off by external examiners. These Standing Panels were also to include student representation.

The fourth major deliverable (D4) was personal timetables. Staffing for the university’s timetabling function was increased, the full suite of Scientia timetabling software was installed and faculty timetabling champions were identified to coordinate collection of planned teaching activities for the new modules.

The fifth major deliverable (D5) was consistent rollout of the assessment handling functionality in the student records system so that became a central, definitive source of all assessment information for the university.

The sixth major deliverable (D6) was standardisation of the support students would receive from face-to-face information points across the university.

The seventh major deliverable (D7) was a Core+ VLE for all programmes and modules with new advisers to support embedding technology-enhanced learning in the curriculum. Based on Moodle, the Core+ VLE was driven by the student records system and aggregated data from a range of other systems (such as coursework submission deadlines, library reading lists, provisional marks, past examination papers and a personal timetable) to ensure that each student received a seamless, personalised online experience. A companion smartphone app was subsequently developed.

The eighth major deliverable (D8) was academic engagement with all the other deliverables to design, prepare and deliver the new undergraduate curriculum.

The ninth major deliverable (D9) was a revised, data-driven, continuous-monitoring improvement process and supporting system to ensure the step-change was followed up with continuing improvements.

The tenth major deliverable (D10) was a student engagement monitoring process and supporting system to facilitate interventions for improving student retention, progression and success.

In summary, the key content of the change comprised:

1.refreshed and standardised undergraduate curriculum

  • D1 New curriculum framework
  • D2 New module capture system
  • D3 New Standing Panels for module approval
  • D8 Design, preparation and delivery of new undergraduate curriculum

2.seamless, personalised student information

  • D4 Personal timetables
  • D5 Centralised assessment handling
  • D6 Standardised face-to-face support
  • D7 Core+ VLE and Technology-Enhanced Learning Advisors

3.fit-for-purpose management information

  • D9 New data-driven Continuous Monitoring and Improvement process
  • D10 New Student Engagement Monitoring process

Process of the Change

The EQAL Programme was established as a top-down change initiative championed by the DVC SE and managed through monthly board meetings attended by the PVC CI, the Registrar, the Director responsible for library, IT and technology-enhanced learning, a PVC without portfolio (who provided senior support to particularly challenging areas, such as personal timetabling) and leaders of the four key work strands. The EQAL board and strand leaders received programme and project support from the Business Improvement Team (e.g. tracking benefits, risks, expenditure, progress, deliverables and interdependencies). Strand leaders already had management responsibility for the area concerned (e.g. Head of Quality, Head of Technology-Enhanced Learning, Head of Planning and Management Information, Assistant Registrar) and convened networks of contacts appropriate to the delivery of their particular deliverables. As key champions for EQAL, the DVC SE and PVC CI provided face-to-face briefings in faculties and met with Trade Union representatives.

Four case studies were set up to pilot particular employability developments in Law, Physiotherapy, Accountancy and Finance, and Digital Marketing. The leaders of these case studies worked with students and staff to develop specific initiatives to embed employability into the curriculum.

Initially, many academic and administrative staff were sceptical about the change to thirty credits and concerned about the impact on individual workloads and academic freedom: some tutors expressed the view that thirty-credit modules forced them to combine curriculum areas which they felt should be separate; others felt constrained by the limited number of assignment elements, which they feared would compromise their ability to stage support and teaching effectively. Trade Union representatives were concerned about workload and a hidden agenda of curriculum rationalisation leading to workforce reduction. The DVC SE and PVC CI explained the rationale for change and sought to clarify that the change was about making more time available for students, not reducing headcount, and tried to be clear about which items were open for consultation and which were fixed.

To ensure strong communication with faculties, EQAL champions were identified in each faculty to cascade project information, track progress on the ground and provide a sounding board on faculty opinion. The champions revealed the dominant concern to be about workload, as tutors worried about delivering the old curriculum whilst simultaneously developing the new against very tight completion and review deadlines. Concerns about the locus of decision-making were also present, with one faculty champion reporting that “[a]cademics were not opposed to the principles of EQAL, but they felt that they weren’t always part of the decision-making and discussion.” (Smith and Lessner, 2012). Some academic staff were also sceptical about the ability of central services to deliver the promised systems (module capture forms, timetabling and Core+ VLE) in time for them to prepare their new teaching. These concerns were fed back to the EQAL Board and events, demonstrations and briefings were held to reassure colleagues that the project was on track and a ‘Learning and Teaching’ conference, organised to support EQAL, became an annual feature.

Sensitivity to workload impacts was factored into system and process-design decisions. For instance, the original multi-page module specification was cut down through consultation and rapid prototyping to a bare minimum single page. Seeking ways to minimise any burden introduced by new working methods was a feature of the EQAL change process and this always included inputs from a wide range of relevant stakeholders to ensure a 360o view of the process was considered.

New staff recruited to support timetabling and the Core+ VLE provided key contact points between the faculties and central services, which was very important as EQAL’s data-driven approach to providing students with personalised information placed a new emphasis on ensuring that central systems matched the situation on the ground in faculties. Encouraging growing awareness of the need for faculty activities to be reflected accurately in central systems was a key characteristic of the EQAL change process.

Another characteristic was regular effort to highlight tangible signs of progress: internal newsletters, a blog and staff briefing events were used to remind staff of significant achievements, such as approving over 800 modules on schedule or over 30,000 students engaging immediately with the new Core+ VLE.

A feature common to all the deliverables has been the notion of programme and module leader ownership: the module capture form was designed for module leaders; the Core+ VLE has been set up to reflect module and programme leader roles automatically and the new Continuous Monitoring and Improvement system is designed to reinforce the role of module and programme leaders in the quality enhancement process. The notion of reinforcing module and programme leader ownership through major deliverables has been an important part of the EQAL change process.

In summary, the EQAL change process sought to:

  • demonstrate obvious support from the highest level;
  • use professional programme and project management to maximise chances of delivery;
  • improve project-faculty communication through designated EQAL champions;
  • involve students throughout the process at both faculty and institutional levels (Students Union) through a partnership approach;
  • respond to concerns about workload by minimising the burden imposed by deliverables;
  • respond to concerns about feasibility through regular demonstrations of progress;
  • encourage accurate reflection of faculty activities in central systems;
  • reinforce module and programme leader ownership for quality of provision.

Perspectives on the Change

Like any university change process, particularly one involving major curriculum change (see, for instance, Hannan and Silver, 2000), some stakeholder views will be positive, some will be negative and many will change over time. Independent interviews undertaken with a range of EQAL stakeholders in 2012 reflected the beliefs, emotions and aspirations of those caught up in the throes of a significant, but as yet incomplete, process of change. Perceptions captured were inevitably coloured by role, ability to see the wider picture and the degree of impact EQAL had on their working practices – for some, a sense of frustration and loss of control was predominant; for others, there was a feeling of relief at having achieved goals on the edge of possibility. Overall, there was a broad understanding and acceptance of the aims of the initiative and satisfaction in working together to achieve an improved student experience. To give a more complete account of the EQAL change initiative, key findings from those interviews are presented using Farbey et al’s (1993) stratification:

  • Strategic Apex: Directorate / Executive
  • Middle Line: Heads of Department
  • Operating Core: Academics
  • Champions: EQAL Faculty Champions
  • Support Staff: Administrators
  • Technostructure: IT/TEL etc.
  • Students – the recipients of the changes

This staff perspective is complemented by views from the student perspective in quotes from the student union and an overview of changes in external student experience data.

Directorate / Executive Perspective

Although the context for the change was pressure from the Board of Governors for an immediate step-change improvement in external measures of student experience, the DVC SE regarded EQAL as a fundamental, systemic intervention:

[_“…a multi-faceted and medium-term project” _] DVC SE

Even under considerable and high-level pressure to show immediate gains in student satisfaction with course organisation and management, the DVC SE reminded the EQAL Board at regular intervals that tackling these ‘hygiene factors’ was a precursor to making more academic time available for activities with real academic value, such as formative feedback. He also stressed that the programme had to strike the right balance between ambition and feasibility:

“The process has been evolutionary as much as revolutionary … it unfolds as … first-year students progress on through their degree programmes” DVC SE

Executive members of the EQAL Board were also keen to stress that the intention was not to stifle academic creativity, exercise control over academics or initiate significant re-structuring and reduction of academic staff. Standardisation and automation of processes were clear aims, but so was recognition of the need for academic decisions to be made by programme teams within the new curriculum framework (of thirty-credit modules and two assessment elements):

[_“We needed a greater degree of standardisation and consistency about the way the curriculum was assessed. We stress, however, that creativity remains important; the university is noted for the quality and variety of assignment types and we don’t want that to change. Academic staff are in charge of their own destiny and retain control over the planning and delivery of the curriculum” _]PVC CI

Head of Department Perspective

Heads of academic departments and central services played an important role in ensuring their staff were able to engage with the EQAL changes. Key service heads were involved directly as strand leaders in the EQAL Board structure and offered a unique perspective on the changes, the way they had been coordinated and their impact on staff and students:

“EQAL bundled a number of changes together and gave them momentum. Taking issues to the EQAL Board was helpful because it meant that decisions were made by, and had the backing of, a key group of senior staff.” Deputy Registrar

Most disagreements occurred over deadlines which had to be imposed because of the interlocking nature of the different strands of the initiative. … You needed to be clear in your own mind where you could be flexible and where you couldn’t, then be completely honest with the faculties concerned… More and better communication would be my watchword if I were to do this again.” Head of Quality

Heads more closely involved with EQAL shared the DVC SE’s view that it was a medium-term programme laying important foundations for the future:

“When the institution has full oversight of each programme’s and [module’s ] performance, it will become easier to identify key trends or themes, and plan strategically.” Head of Quality

Academic Perspective

At the start of the process, academics had been suspicious about EQAL, fearing a stifling of their own creativity but also suspecting that the university would use the programme as an opportunity to reduce the number of taught modules and consequently engineer a staff reduction (Braverman, 1994). The trade union in particular voiced a strong anti-EQAL message when the programme was first announced:

“UCU finds the proposals, as currently described, unacceptable as they could potentially result in changes to the terms and conditions of some academic staff and potentially have a serious impact on staffing levels and they do not establish a sufficient reason for the changes that are being suggested” UCU representative

Although the EQAL proposals had been crafted to address issues which academic staff had identified as problematic during initial workshops (e.g. that the quality assurance system was too labour-intense and cumbersome and that tutors would also like to see NSS scores improve to reflect hard work and commitment which was sometimes undermined by University systems that weren’t student-friendly), the DVC SE and PVC CI had to work hard to reassure academics that EQAL would tackle these issues directly while retaining academic decision-making in programme teams. Their efforts were not always successful, and with 1,500 academic staff, it was sometimes difficult to reach everyone. However, module leaders overcame initial scepticism and used the module capture forms to enter over 800 modules each year. Presentations from fellow academics involved in early pilots helped to make the case for engagement: for instance, the mostly positive view given by a tutor about his experience of piloting over summer 2010, particularly that the form had not stifled his creativity, helped convince colleagues to enter their modules.

EQAL Faculty Champion Perspective

As key communication points between the EQAL programme and faculty academics, the EQAL Champions provided a rich perspective on the change initiative.

Many tutors were sceptical about the module size of thirty credits and felt it too inflexible, which was also a view held by some of champions:

[_“I don’t like the 30-credit unit size; it’s too big and prevents a diverse curriculum, reduces student choice and requires lumping things together which don’t naturally fit.” _]EQAL Faculty Champion

Concerns about the impact on workloads of absorbing the EQAL activities on top of existing responsibilities were particularly strong and some questioned whether the timescale had been too ambitious:

“Lecturers who have high teaching loads, and consequently a large volume of marking, they would have a large number of [modules] to re-write for EQAL at the same time as teaching and marking to undertake their normal workload. This has created a lot of pressure on tutors.” EQAL Faculty Champion

“The workload was considerable for everyone and impinged on periods of leave. It also coincided with the new timetable regime and the continuous improvement plan (CIP). The time frame meant that staff were under considerable pressure…. People support the idea of EQAL but were not given the timeframe to do it properly… The timing undermined what might have been a better process.” EQAL Faculty Champion

However, many staff recognised considerable benefits in the EQAL changes:

“… reducing summative assessments to two, where some may not initially like it, it means using a better variety of assessment types, better use of formative assessments and different methods of assessment. The requirement is for two summative assessments so teams can be more creative with formative assessments.” EQAL Faculty Champion

There was also gratitude for the support provided by CELT and the new Technology-Enhanced Learning Advisors in designing and subsequently implementing the new modules.

In terms of embedding employability skills, the process supported programme teams to embed employability explicitly, leading to a number of enhancements for students. For instance, in Law, students have been able to take up more pro-bono opportunities than was previously the case:

“…the increased involvement of the legal profession, both in providing placements and in attending at more practitioner talks facilitates the students’ experience as it gives students greater confidence that they are equipped to enter the profession through their increased familiarity with it” EQAL Faculty Champion

Administrative/Support Perspective

Administrators through the institution were affected by the change, but those involved with quality assurance processes saw unprecedented work peaks as several hundred modules came forward for review simultaneously:

“I often worked over my scheduled hours. I don’t think anyone envisaged at the outset just how much work it would actually cause.” Faculty Quality Administrator

However, administrative staff also recognised the benefits their hard work would bring for students:

“… It is also beneficial for students who will have a standard experience across the institution. Faculties are now part of one institution; previously, crossing faculties in your choice of [modules] could have felt as if you were changing institutions.” Faculty Quality Administrator

And senior colleagues identified a fundamental shift in focus in the approach to quality:

[_“I think the major driver for the Academic Standards and Quality Enhancement team has been the potential to improve the student experience. Before 2010, there was considerable variation from [module] to [module] in the assessment burden placed on students (and therefore on staff). Now we have a standard of two assessments per 30-credit [module] in the new Undergraduate Curriculum Framework. We also needed to reduce the impact of burdensome processes on academic staff so that they could spend more time creating a positive learning experience for students.” _]Head of Quality[]

Those involved in pedagogic support found new interest from academics in revisiting academic practice as they redesigned their modules:

“… there is a bit of a buzz about assessment at the moment. People are asking us if we are assessing students in the most appropriate way. [EQAL] helps us think about assessment as an ongoing rather than just a summative activitySenior Lecturer, CELT

IT/TEL Perspective

Delivering a seamless personalised student experience required datasets to be gathered from a number of different computer systems so they could be “wrapped around the learner”. For everything to be aggregated, those datasets had to be complete and tagged consistently with student, programme and module codes. Completeness, accuracy and consistency of data required academic and administrative colleagues to build an understanding of how the information they entered affected the student experience:

“There is a better understanding now of the connection between basic aspects of the curriculum and the student experience… it doesn’t matter how good teaching and learning is, it will be dragged down if the basics aren’t in place, like knowing where you are supposed to be, what assignments will be set and when the submission dates are. I think that understanding of this is beginning to grow across the institution now.” Head of Department, Learning & Research Technologies

The Core+ VLE had been shaped very strongly by students’ information needs and it was particularly pleasing to see the take-up, not just for accessing study information and undertaking assessment, but also for collecting feedback on students’ experiences of their programme and modules:

[_ “[The Core+ VLE] instantly became a great success, with the site getting over 400,000 hits a day at its peak. Further proof of students' enthusiasm was their response to a survey on what they liked best about their studies and what didn't work as well: more than 10,000 took the trouble to reply, leaving nearly 60,000 comments! _]” Head of Department, Learning & Research Technologies

Student Perspective

With a population of over 37,000 students, it is challenging to capture the diverse ways in which EQAL changes will have been felt, so this section presents views from Student Union representatives, quotes from individual students and a summary of changes in student experience data ante and post EQAL. Reflecting the partnership culture of the project, students were consulted in a variety of ways: through direct contact between student representatives and members of the EQAL board, focus groups and individual interviews, as well as through follow-up surveys after attendance at employability events.

The Student Union representatives recognised both the rationale and scale of the project:

“I appreciate why MMU has done EQAL – for a more positive student experience. These things just take time; it’s such a big university. On the whole, the university does listen to the student voice.” Vice President, Student Union

They noted how decisions taken with EQAL had been informed by real student experience:

“I sit on different committees within the university. We talk about the timetable changes, for example. The Student Union does a lot of research… some of our research has informed the EQAL process – for example, on timetabling.” Vice President, Student Union

Although Student Union colleagues were aware that the Moodle Core+ VLE had been designed in response to scenarios for an enhanced student experience, they were surprised by how quickly the student community adopted Moodle:

“Moodle is now used uniformly and has been a big success. It was unexpected to see how successful Moodle was. All information students need about their course is now available [on Moodle].” Vice President, Student Union

Embedding employability activities more explicitly into the curriculum was also popular with students:

“We’ve met a lot of people in the industry so [we’re] getting our name out there and getting all their details, being able to email our CV’s and seeing if there’s any jobs. Networking is very important at this stage.” Third-year student

Whilst personal timetabling and new modules were introduced a year at a time, Moodle was rolled out to all years in September 2011 and aggregated as much study information as possible: deadlines, provisional marks, reading lists, past examination papers and course timetables if personal ones weren’t available.

[_“…they’ve made so many changes to the timetable now it’s so much better, so I think they listened to us over the past two years” _][*Third-year student *]

“…they’ve changed like the actual times of lectures to fit round people when they can’t get there” [*Third-year student *]

This meant that impacts of EQAL could be seen in National Student Survey results from 2012 onwards.

The chart reveals a marked improvement in scores for the Organisation and Management aspect of the NSS post EQAL.

Changes in the areas targeted by EQAL are as follows:

  • NSS 2012: organisation and management up 7%; assessment up 6%; learning resources up 6%; overall satisfaction up 6%
  • NSS 2013: organisation and management up 2%; assessment up 2%; learning resources up 1%; overall satisfaction up 3%
  • NSS 2014: organisation and management no change; assessment up 1%; learning resources up 2%; overall satisfaction down 1%

Reflection and lessons learned

The scope, scale and pace of the EQAL change was unprecedented for MMU and the EQAL Board has asked that a formal evaluation be carried out to reflect on what has been achieved and draw lessons learned. Neither EQAL nor its evaluation are complete, so these reflections and lessons learned are only initial observations.

The first observation is that large-scale change with the scope, scale and pace of EQAL is possible and can make a significant difference to external performance indicators. Ante EQAL, MMU was considered to be a conservative organisation, but, post EQAL, there is now confidence that the institution can make large-scale change. EQAL has also demonstrated to the sector that such large-scale change is possible.

In many ways, the process adopted for EQAL attempted to follow good practice: the Business Improvement Team supported a programme and project management approach that had regular and obvious support from key senior staff; key departmental heads were selected to deliver change in their areas of responsibility; project champions provided an important link between the project and stakeholders on the ground; project deliverables were designed and adapted in response to stakeholder feedback and were deliberately designed to reinforce local ownership of the quality of data, programmes and modules. Like most programmes, communication could have been more effective, particularly to dispel myths that formed about the constraining nature of the new curriculum framework.

Whilst formal evaluation may shed new light, specific critical success factors for EQAL at this stage appear to be:

1. Understand important dynamics
The EQAL change initiative was guided by a clear understanding that failure to address poor performance in external measures of student experience would become a major problem as the link between reputation and resources became stronger.

2. Set high-level goals
The Benefits Management approach adopted when planning and scoping EQAL focused attention on a key set of high-level goals, such as enhanced NSS satisfaction, which have subsequently been used to track progress in terms of realising intended benefits.

3. Understand where change is required
Detailed analysis of the NSS and findings from student focus groups focused attention on consistent delivery of a ‘seamless, personalised online experience’ that improved perceptions of course organisation by ‘wrapping study information around the learner’.

4. Leave academic decisions to course teams
EQAL deliverables were targeted on a framework in which course teams could express their creativity and expertise to create new modules and new learning, teaching and assessment experiences. For instance, the module capture form was precise about mandatory information but did not prescribe how course teams would deliver the module.

5. Be bold and plan holistically
Workshops pre-EQAL were quick to spot the interdependencies between curriculum, processes and systems, but, rather than submitting to holistic paralysis (“we can’t change anything because we’d have to change everything”), EQAL took the bold step of proposing simultaneous change to all areas as each could not be tackled alone.

6. Involve stakeholder groups especially students
The institution implemented processes that involved stakeholder groups at every step of the change. At both faculty and institutional level, a strong partnership approach was maintained with students, keeping them informed of changes but most importantly demonstrating that their feedback was being incorporated into new systems and processes.

7. Ensure you’ve got the right team to drive
Monthly meetings of a board comprising the DVC SE, PVC CI, Registrar and a Director of key services ensured that major decisions could be taken quickly. The choice of key departmental heads to lead work in their areas of responsibility ensured that EQAL was prioritised and embedded appropriately and was informed by real understanding of the challenges and dependencies.

8. Make ‘big asks’ as small as possible
Stakeholders’ concerns about the workload arising from trying to design a new curriculum while delivering the current one meant that EQAL deliverables really had to minimise the burden they placed upon academic and administrative colleagues. Asking only once for the bare minimum data set was an important design criterion.

9. Make it stick by reinforcing change
The EQAL Board was aware that the initial step-change improvement needed to be followed up with continuous, reinforcing change to realise the intended benefit of an improving student experience. Systems designed to provide seamless, personalised data were also designed with a view toward continuing collection of learning analytics data to drive continuous improvement, which was the final deliverable that made up the content of the core EQAL changes.

In many ways, these nine observations resonate with Kotter’s eight steps, although Kotter’s first four steps are more explicit about building a shared vision for the change (Establish sense of urgency; Create guiding coalition; Develop a change vision; Communicate vision for buy-in). Greater attention to this with faculty stakeholders may have helped to address some of the communication problems noted in the case study.

Accounts of the institution’s experiences through this major change will be of significant benefit to the sector. Recent findings by Christensen and Eyring, that change is much more palatable to the university community when ‘the innovation emphasis is on quality rather than mere cost reduction’ (Christensen and Eyring, 2011, p.387), resonate with the experience of EQAL. Despite reservations about the timing and purpose of the EQAL programme, stakeholders embraced the goal of improving the student experience and tangible, university-wide results were seen. The management promise that this was not a subtle staff reduction exercise held true.

Reference list

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Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change: Issue 2

  • Author: Daedaluseworld
  • Published: 2015-09-07 14:40:15
  • Words: 33495
Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change: Issue 2 Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change: Issue 2