Report authors, Dan Peart, Penny Rumbold and Emma Fukar from Northumbria University, reflect on the findings of a literature review on student engagement through partnership, part of Advance HE's 2022-23 member benefits.
What constitutes a partnership? How do we measure the benefit of partnerships? Who benefits from partnership? Can the benefit extend beyond a select few? Is partnership a good thing?
Advance HE defines student engagement as “the extent to which students are motivated, passionate and curious about their programme of study, the HE provider community they live and work within and its immediate environs”.
One way to try and foster such engagement is to work in partnership with students. The Framework for Student Engagement through Partnership was published in 2019 and outlines four key areas of focus: (i) learning, teaching and assessment, (ii) subject-based research and enquiry, (iii) curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy, (iv) scholarship of teaching and learning.
The aim of 'Student engagement through partnership: a literature review' was to provide an update on research that investigated student outcomes in these key areas. In that process though, we kept coming back to the questions posted at the top of this blog. Below are some of our thoughts on these questions.
What constitutes a partnership?
Is collecting student module evaluation feedback partnership, or just a courtesy? Or is it consultation? If that feedback informs a change does this promote it to partnership? Or do students need to be actively engaged in initiating, delivering and/or evaluating a project for it to be considered a partnership? Do staff and students need to have equal responsibility? These questions prompted our decision to try and identify the level of partnership for each retrieved article (see Table 2 in the review), which highlighted the breadth of what may contribute as partnership.
How do we measure the benefit of partnerships?
There are some student outcomes which we can quantify eg attendance, retention, progression, satisfaction, assessment grade. Others are more difficult eg learning, belonging, pride. So when things are important, but difficult or not possible to quantify, how can we measure the impact of partnerships objectively? This prompted our decision to categorise the literature based on the impact that could be deemed from the results (see table 1 in the review). Category 1 includes research that compared an outcome to a pre or control measure to try and evaluate the impact of the partnership. On the other hand, research in categories 2 and 3 reported outcomes from the partnership without reference to a comparator, making it more difficult to measure the impact.
Who benefits from partnership?
We were also interested in knowing if any outcomes were specific only to the partner themselves, or if there were broader benefits for the wider cohort. Or even if the partnership could include a full cohort rather than a few partners. This is reflected in categories 1 and 2 observing wider benefits, and category 3 more individual benefits. One thing that we overlooked slightly whilst writing the review is the potential benefits for staff. Whilst this wasn’t explicitly searched for, it was commented on where it came up.
Can the benefit extend beyond a select few?
We are by no means the first to ask this. It features regularly in the published literature. But how do we provide equal opportunity for all students? This was another motivation to categorise the research in the way that we did.
Is partnership a good thing?
From a staff perspective are we, as academics, not the experts and know what is best for our students? From a student perspective does partnership constitute progress or compromise on key issues? Or are these cynical questions and could we of course all benefit from working together in partnership? This was not a focus of the review, but such conflicting arguments were identified and acknowledged.
What do you think?
In this blog we provide more questions than answers, and we do not profess to answer them all in the review. But we hope to have at least provided some context for the approach that we took. Do you have different questions about partnership? Or would you have come up with different answers to us?
Daniel Peart, Penny Rumbold, Emma Fukar from Northumbria University are the authors of Student engagement through partnership: a literature review.
The full report is available for Advance HE members: 'Student engagement through partnership: a literature review’. Find out more about joining the project webinars and summits.