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13 September 2021

Getting started with Students as Partners

There’s growing interest in Students as Partners (SaP) in higher education – and for good reason as there are many benefits on both sides. Whether it’s your first time hosting a student partner or your hundredth, it’s important to be clear on your approach before starting a new SaP project. 

For the host team, student partners can provide insight into student needs and experiences by offering their unique perspective on projects. Students in turn gain valuable employability skills and create a legacy to support the next generation of learners. But while the benefits of partnership are many, knowing how to get started can be tricky. 

To help you get started, Deakin’s Students as Partners Framework sets out four broad approaches to establish goals for SaP projects. For example, your goal might be to get as many student ideas as possible when seeking feedback on a new policy. You could consider a ‘students as sounding boards’ approach and set up an online poll, or virtual discussion board, for students to submit feedback and ideas. 

If you are seeking more detailed input the project might benefit from focus groups with a specific cohort of students to understand their use of various support services. In this case you could consider a ‘students as influencers’ approach with focused support a smaller number 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. 

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?) 
  1. 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 partnerships with students in the first place – to respect and learn from the unique perspectives offered on the student experience. 

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 learn more about getting started with a students-at-partners project, listen to the Tales of Teaching Online podcast presented by Dr Mollie Dollinger, Lecturer, Equity-First Students as Partners. Or contact Mollie directly to chat all things SaP. 

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