RMIT University

Team Members: Andrea McLagen, Abena Dove, Sarah Firth, Alan Padgham
Supporters: Mick Healey, Cherie Woolmer

Project Description

About Us
The College of Design and Social Context is one of three colleges within RMIT University, based in Melbourne Australia. The College has 1,100 staff and 22,000 students, and includes a wide array of disciplines, from Education to Property, Construction and Project Management to Media & Communication. This project is sponsored by Pro Vice Chancellor Learning and Teaching, Professor Andrea Chester.

Forging partnerships to enable high-impact learning and teaching projects is a key objective of the College of Design and Social Context Strategic Plan for 2017, and we recognise students are an essential element in these partnerships. Over the past three years, our College has engaged students in a number of learning and teaching projects, but we have struggled to do this in a way that moved beyond tokenistic student representation. With the Students as Partners project we seek to learn from these experiences, working with students from the very initial stages as paid partners in the work. However, we do not yet have the principles, systems or tools in place to support this involvement.

As a College and a project team, we recognise the need to move beyond ‘gathering feedback’. Using design thinking techniques, the project aims are to: – Define and co-create an understanding of what partnership is and how best to facilitate it – Establish systems (or leverage existing ones) to help the College identify and engage a broad spectrum of students, and support students to become engaged at the level at which they wish – Co-create resources to support staff and students to craft effective partnerships – Test these ideas, tools and systems through two strategic projects within the College Our Students as Partners project will inform a process for how specific strategic projects within the College can integrate a “students as partners” approach. Two strategic projects have been identified to test the process and provide a space within which ideas can be iterated—tested and improved—to inform the project team’s work. These include a major College-based assessment enhancement project, as well as a university-wide initiative to develop principles to guide our transition to a new learning management system beginning 2018.

How this project aligns with the institute theme
Our project will be looking at engaging students in two areas identified by Healey et al (2014): Curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy, and learning, teaching and assessment. As in the model used by the Institute, the project will engage students in all aspects of the project planning and delivery. Students will be instrumental in the planning, creation, evaluation and communication of the project activities and tools.

How the team will benefit from attending
The Institute is an important networking opportunity for students and staff, an opportunity to learn first-hand about approaches undertaken at other universities and share experiences to-date, and to get feedback on our approach while it still in the formative stages. As staff members on the project team, we do not have any preconceived notions about how the this work will evolve; we will not begin to shape the project until we have students on board (Semester 1 begins in March). When the Institute occurs in May, the project will still be in its infancy. (Our College has committed to this as an ongoing initiative, past 2017.) In mid-April we will attend an RMIT student summit where we will start to build connections with the existing student governance and feedback groups within our college. The purpose of attending the Institute is to spend dedicated time with colleagues and students from across the globe on expanding our worldviews and considering what the College framework for partnership could be.

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 p.25.    

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