Getting started with Students as Partners

Student partners
Teaching & Learning
Team Collaboration
It may be your first time, or it may be your one hundredth, whatever your experience is, it’s always a good idea to reflect before starting a Students as Partners (SaP) project.

There’s a lot of interest in students-as-partners these days – and for good reason. Partnering with students benefits both staff and students. Staff develop greater insight into student needs and experiences while students gain valuable employability skills and create a legacy to support the next generation.

But while the benefits of partnership are well known, getting started can be tricky.

Deakin’s Students as Partners Framework sets out four broad approaches to students-as-partners to help you consider how to approach a new partnership project. For example, maybe your goal is to get as many student ideas as possible to provide feedback on a new policy. You might take a ‘students as sounding boards’ approach and set up an online poll, or virtual discussion board, for students to submit feedback and ideas.

Alternatively, run focus groups with a specific cohort of students to understand their use of various support services. Rather than do this alone, we’d recommend you take a ‘students as influencers’ approach and hire a couple of student partners. Together, you can develop focus group questions, facilitate the session, and analyse the findings.

More information about the four approaches, and examples of how they might work, are available on the Students as Partners SharePoint site.

Graphic of four approaches to students as partners. 1. Students as sounding boards. 2. Students as influencers. 3. Students as decision makers. 4. Students as co-creators


Regardless of the approach you decide to take, it’s critical to reflect on two key questions before you begin:

  1. Am I truly open minded about what the outcomes or outputs of this project may be? (i.e. am I ready to share this project with student partners?)
  2. Do I have the time in my workload to support the students successfully in this project?

The questions are important because authentic partnership requires a commitment to the process of exploration and relationship-building with students, both of which can take time.

Finally, it’s important to remember why we engage in partnership in the first place – to respect and appreciate the expertise students have in what it’s like to be a student.

Successful partnership projects are mediated on the idea of reciprocal learning. Staff learning about students’ lived experiences, and students learning from staff about a discipline, project management, or how an organisation works. So before beginning, ask yourself, ‘What am I going to teach or share?’ and ‘What am I going to learn?’

To find out more, contact Dr Mollie Dollinger ( to chat all things SaP.

You can hear from Dr Mollie Dollinger first-hand and learn more about getting started with a Students as Partners project on our latest Tales of Teaching Online podcast episode.

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