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13 October 2022

‘Harder than it seems’: 2022 Student Voice Australia workshop recap

The recent 2022 Student Voice Australia Symposium brought together staff and students from higher education institutions across Australia to examine the role of students as partners. We recently spoke to Dr Mollie Dollinger about a crowdsourcing workshop she ran at the symposium with Aidan Cornelius-Bell from UniSA about dealing with potential challenges when implementing a students as partners project.

How did you end up doing a workshop at the 2022 Student Voice Australia Symposium?

I have to admit, it was a little daunting when Aidan Cornelius-Bell (UniSA) and I got asked by Student Voice Australia to host a workshop for their annual conference in 2022. Student Partnership, also known as ‘students as partners’ had blown up in recent years, with many calling it a phenomenon, and new scholarly articles coming out each week conceptualising the practice and evidencing its benefits. As active researchers in the space ourselves we knew that much of what there was to say about students as partners had already been said – so what would we host a workshop on?

We turned to own practice as academic developers as we often help others to implement students as partners in their teaching and learning designs and/or service areas. We discussed how we often witnessed similar challenges faced by students and staff around navigating power imbalances and providing inclusive yet motivating spaces that foster collaboration.

What was the approach of your workshop?

We decided to entitle our session ‘Harder than it seems’ and use vignettes and a crowdsourcing approach to have our participants read and reflect on several stories of partnership where students and staff faced barriers to success. Our stories reflected what many in the field have come to know as the common challenges such as scaling the opportunities to include more (and new) student partners, the divide between paid and unpaid roles, and situations where staff struggle to let go of pre-determined outcomes. We also wanted to tackle the age-old issue of engagement, or maintaining enthusiasm in the project, for both students and staff.

What were the major the outcome of the workshop?

After putting participants (who included a range of students, academics, and professional staff) into the Zoom breakout rooms to discuss the vignettes, we brought everyone back together. We stressed that there were no right answers and that today the binary of ‘novice’ and ‘expert’ was irrelevant, as everyone was an expert in their own lived experience. The group discussed and ultimately landed on a set of provoking questions, rather than answers, for people engaging in students as partners to reflect on:

  1. How do we frame student expertise in partnership projects? We know students are not experts in everything (i.e., video production, learning design), so how do we design partnership projects that champion their expertise in their lived experiences as students?
  2. How do staff and students design and situate partnership projects that support a process with uncertain outcomes? In other words, how do we provide a structure for the project (e.g., weekly meetings, set timelines, etc.) without jumping to pre-determined outcomes?
  3. What does the term ‘student partner’ really mean? Why does it matter to keep the integrity of this term and not just use it for every student leadership role?
  4. How do we support scale in partnership? How do we balance bringing in new students to the realm of partnership, while still being grateful and respectful to past student partners who have helped improve the university?

Where can Deakin staff learn more about students as partners?

You can learn more about what’s happening at Deakin in this space by visiting the students as partners at Deakin webpage. I would also suggest attending the National Students as Partners Roundtable, a free event which will be held online from 22 to 23 November, 2022.

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