Reflecting on Students as Partners

StudentsSeveral conferences I’ve attended in the last few weeks have had the theme of students as partners and as the SADL (Student Ambassadors for Digital Literacy) project ends it’s first year I think it’s timely to reflect on what we’ve learnt, what worked and what we could do differently.

First what worked?
Recruitment went well and our project managed to grab the interest of students and in many cases keep them interested for the year. However we do really need to understand why a few students didn’t engage with us and why they just attended one or two sessions. Did it not meet their expectations? Were they too busy? Was it not relevant? Our end of project survey has some useful data here. Last week at our first NetworkEDGE seminar, Stephen Downes urged us to not just talk to the successful students but those who drop out.

The format of the sessions seemed to work well in terms of interactive workshops. We gained a lot from students but hopefully they learned from us too. They said they found out about all sorts of resources (mainly in the library but also online tools and apps) they didn’t know about and their ability to evaluate and manage information improved. The digital footprint workshop also was very revealing for students and led to many of them taking steps to improve their online identity.

Finally we seemed to spend the year trekking the length of the country talking to other universities about SADL with many conference presentations and a HEA workshop at LSE on digital literacies where we even got two students to present. And the involvement of the Students’ Union was really important and helped give us credibility with students, plus the Education Officer, Rosie Coleman’s invaluable advice.

What worked less well
In terms of what we would do differently, I think the role needs more clarity and ambassadors need to be more visible to students and staff in their department. The students tried to act as peer mentors but many found doing this informally was hard. As one student said, this sort of stuff is useful but your friends don’t want to hear about a great referencing tool when you are in the pub!

Blogging was another aspect of the project that worked less well. We thought a public blog would be a great way students could share their reflections with their peers but in fact the students were reluctant to blog and commented that few of their peers would be reading the blog. We need to rethink the blog although many projects suggest getting students to write encourages them to reflect. So a blog can be a great personal tool but I think as a tool for sharing with their peers Moodle seemed to be the preferred medium.

The notion of project planning was also quite hard with an exploratory project. It challenged my way of thinking about a project plan and encouraged the whole team to be more dynamic and experimental. Yes at times we weren’t quite sure if things would work or what we were doing next, but I hope that the flexibility made us more successful. So as we start planning next year I know that we need some clearer ideas about what we want the students to do but we must stay open minded if we are to work with students as partners. With that in mind I would like to invite several of this years student ambassadors to attend project meetings and so we can really understand their digital literacy needs.

I also feel privileged to have got to know some of LSE’s undergraduate students. They have the brightest of minds and inspired and taught me a lot this year, so thanks to them all and do watch our videos made by the students about their experiences on SADL.

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