Working in partnership to investigate students’ digital experiences

The following case study was provided by the students participating in the Centre for Teaching and Learning's Student Experience Internship Scheme in 2023: Charlie Baxter, Dylan Holmes Cowan, Carmelo Radici, Samira Mohammed Ibn Moro, Evelyn Yang and Rachel Hu.

Who was involved in your partnership work, and how did everyone become involved?  

Our project group was made up of six students and six staff members. We found the internship on the Careers Service's Summer Internships Programme website, which was advertised to students by the University. In our interviews for the project, we all spoke about our interest in professional development and learning opportunities, our interest in the project topic, and our interest in working with a team of interns in partnership with staff. 

The staff on the project were mainly from the Centre for Teaching and Learning, although additional staff from across the University also worked on the project with us via their membership on a 'Project Advisory Group' that was set up for the internship project. We also met with staff from the Digital Transformations programme in project meetings whenever possible. 

What did you set out to achieve in your student-staff partnership work? 

We aimed to work in partnership with staff to investigate and communicate wider students' experiences at the University with using digital tools and digital skills to support their studies. This was done with an aim of understanding students' digital needs and informing the future work of the Digital Transformations programme, the Centre for Teaching and Learning, and the wider University. 

When and where did you work together? 

We worked with staff over the course of a 10-week internship in summer 2023, with a mix of coming into the Centre for Teaching and Learning for in-person collaboration and working remotely each week. 

How did you work in partnership?  

We established how we wanted to work together on the very first day of the internship, after attending a session run by the Centre for Teaching and Learning on the ethos of student-staff partnership work. Based on this session, we set a goal to work alongside each other and staff as colleagues, rather than as students and staff. 

We then spent the first week of the internship meeting with various staff members to learn everything about the context of the project that we could. This helped us both get to know who we were going to be working with and understand staff members' perspectives about what information would be helpful to learn from the project. 

Throughout this time, staff encouraged us to challenge them, seek clarification, and express our opinions on what we thought the project should aim to accomplish. Staff members, in turn, were receptive to our input and often emphasized that the ultimate decisions were ours, empowering us to take ownership of the project. 

Throughout the internship, we had regular meetings and discussions with staff members, where we contributed our insights and ideas, and staff provided guidance and feedback in return. These interactions allowed us to shape the project collaboratively, ensuring that it reflected both our expertise as students and the expertise of the staff. These meetings were with a variety of staff on a variety of subjects--how we would evaluate the project, if our research approach was appropriate, how we would communicate our survey to students, if we needed any support to analyse our data, etc. 

What did you learn from working in partnership?  

Before starting the internship, we all anticipated a directive approach from staff on the project's design and outputs. To some extent, this expectation was met, especially when drafting questions, where feedback from numerous staff could be overwhelming. However, we also found that our collaboration was marked by mutual respect and autonomy, which allowed the project to truly become our own. Challenges of course arose, notably the need for us to figure out how to work as a team of students and staff given our different working styles and time commitments. For example, we sometimes struggled when staff weren't as present as we would have liked them to be. It was also difficult to always ensure all our voices were being heard, even though we knew that staff wanted to hear what we thought. However, our personal growth throughout the internship was substantial. We deepened our understanding of digital skills, higher education, and refined our research skills. This experience bolstered our confidence in presenting, data analysis, and teamwork. And for some of us, it also ignited an interest in pursuing careers in digital education. 

What advice would you give to other students and staff who may wish to take a similar student-staff partnership approach? 

Reflecting on the successes and challenges of our internship, we think that the following are crucial aspects of successful student-staff partnerships of this nature from a staff-perspective:  

  • Treating students as staff members, rather than just interns--and consistently checking in on if this dynamic is holding true. Without this respect and autonomy, we don't think the project would have had such success in terms of the project outputs or our own personal and professional growth.  

  • Integrating students into staff members' working environment (as much as is feasibly possible), both digitally and physically. 

  • Spending time sharing the staff context for the project with students and demystifying Oxford terminology and processes (and dedicating time for students to do the same for staff). 

  • Involving students in scheduling meetings with staff to further foster students' active participation and role as colleagues. 

  • Having staff work alongside students on their project, rather than just checking in as the project comes along. 

  • Regularly checking in with students in one-to-one meetings about how everything is going for them. 


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