The benefits from staff-student partnerships in pedagogical and institutional research : an evaluation research study

Huet, Isabel, Van Der sluis, Hendrik and Woodfield, Steve (2017) The benefits from staff-student partnerships in pedagogical and institutional research : an evaluation research study. In: Connecting Higher Education : International perspectives on research-based education; 27 - 28 Jun 2017, London, U.K.. (Unpublished)


The benefits of staff-student research partnerships or collaborations at the individual and institution level are widely reported (Healey, Flint, & Harrington, 2014; Little, 2012). The Higher Education Academy report “Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education” (HEA, 2014), focuses particularly on the benefits of staff-student partnerships in the UK for student learning and teaching enhancement. It reports that partnerships increase student engagement, sense of belonging to the academic community, and success in learning, that student engagement in collaborative work with staff is key to their learning gains and achievements and that for this reason it has been reinforced and promoted in many institutions worldwide. However, the evidence is frequently taken from “case-studies or anecdotal reports that students like it” [2:60]. The impact of these partnerships in terms of learning gains has not been extensively investigated. The partnerships in this study take the form of staff student collaborations in educational or pedagogical research that is shaped by the rationale of research-based education: students learn in a research or inquiry-based mode, constructing not only knowledge within a specific disciplinary field but also by developing a set of transferable skills. According to several authors (Brew, 2013; Dickerson, Jarvis, & Stockwell, 2016; Healey & Jenkins, 2009; Huet, I., Baptista, & Ferreira, 2013) learning in a research environment fosters the intellectual and practical capabilities of students, allowing them to become more independent, autonomous and critical learners, and consequently better prepared to succeed in their studies and adapt more successfully into employment and/or consider potential academic career trajectories. The Student Academic Development Research Associate Scheme (SADRAS) is a programme initiated in the academic year 2012-13 at Kingston University, to stimulate and support partnerships between students and staff. SADRAS encourages staff and students to undertake pedagogical or institutional research to improve the student academic experience at the university; it works to enable students, as part of a learning community, to actively contribute, for example, to course development and curriculum design, and enhance the learning environment. A key aim of the scheme is to instil the student partners with a greater sense of engagement and belonging through working closely with staff and to enhance their research skills and hence their academic persistence and proficiency. The scheme is also aligned with institutional policies to promote a research-informed education environment; foster participation and engagement among the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) undergraduate students; and develop academics skills amongst all students (Noakes, May, Sluis, & Gay, 2013; van der Sluis, May, Locke, & Hill, 2013). Beside the rationale for and the outcomes of engaging students in research-based education the paper will present the results of two evaluation research studies, conducted in 2013-14 (Huet, van der Sluis, & May, 2016) and 2016-17 (ongoing), with students and staff that collaborated as research partners outside the formal curriculum. The purpose of this study is to probe the expectations and perceived learning gains related to SADRAS from students and staff participating in the projects, with a focus on identifying the development of research competencies by students. The findings presented in this paper form part of a larger study that aims to evaluate the overall SADRAS programme. The data from 2013-14 reveal that staff and student collaborations supported by SADRAS have acted as change agents within the institution and have contributed to students’ learning gains, in particular to the development of their research competencies. Staff were both engaged and motivated in developing educational or institutional research projects that would benefit the student learning experience at the university. The opportunity for undergraduate students to work together on a research project resulted in positive experiences for both staff and students. The benefits of these collaborative projects and the opportunities to develop research competencies, which are transferable to the world of work, were clear to the students. For example, staff and students experienced the SADRAS projects as contributing to the students’ sense of autonomy, responsibility and independence, which, with the current emphasis on employability skills (Mason, Williams, & Cranmer, 2009), is an important finding of this research. Moreover, participating in ‘real research’ has stimulated the SADRAS students’ understanding of research approaches, methodologies and methods. Students developed competencies such as information handling, presenting information in different formats appropriate to the audience; and cognitive abilities such as evaluation and analysis. For most students participating in SADRAS was their first exposure to an important aspect of academic practice, which had sparked further interest in research, strengthened their confidence to succeed with their current studies, and stimulated their ambitions to continue with further studies in higher education. Building on these findings (Huet, van der Sluis, & May, 2016) the 2016-17 study will confirm the previous findings as well as explore further how students have been constructing knowledge in collaboration with each other and with staff. The authors believe that is of crucial importance to understand the difficulties/problems students face throughout their research journey, how they overcome the identified problems and how they perceive the impact of their work for the wider university and for improving the students’ learning experience. References Brew, A. (2013). Understanding the scope of undergraduate research: a framework for curricular and pedagogical decision-making. Higher Education, 66(5), 603–618. Dickerson, C., Jarvis, J., & Stockwell, L. (2016). Staff–student collaboration: student learning from working together to enhance educational practice in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 2517(April), 1–17. HEA. (2014). Framework for partnership in learning and teaching in higher education. The Higher Education Academy. Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership : students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. The Higher Education Academy. Healey, M., & Jenkins, A. (2009). Developing undergraduate research and inquiry. The Higher Education Academy. Huet, I., Baptista, A.V., & Ferreira, C. (2013). Developing Undergraduate Students’ Generic Competencies through Research Activities. In C. Nygaard, N. Courtney, & P. Bartholomew (Eds.), Quality Enhancement of University Teaching and Learning: theories and cases (pp. 87–102). Libri Publishing. Huet, I., van der Sluis, H., & May, S. (2016). Staff-student partnerships in pedagogic research: the benefits for students’ development of research competencies. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference of Educational Research and Innovation (ICERI) (pp. 3232-3241), Seville, Spain. Little, S. (Ed.). (2012). Staff-Student Partnerships in Higher Education. Bloomsbury. Mason, G., Williams, G., & Cranmer, S. (2009). Employability skills initiatives in higher education: what effects do they have on graduate labour market outcomes? Education Economics, 17(1), 1–30. Noakes, H. J., May, S., van der Sluis, H., & Gay, J. (2013). Speaking the same language. Widening Participation {&} Lifelong Learning, 15(2), 56–78. van der Sluis, H., May, S., Locke, L., & Hill, M. (2013). Flexible academic support to enhance student retention and success. Widening Participation {&} Lifelong Learning, 15(2), 79–95.

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