Reflections on EXciTeS

The Surrey Excellence in Teaching Symposium, ExciTeS, is a great opportunity to connect with colleagues and share experiences of innovation in learning and teaching. This year TEL presented at five sessions, representing the range and extent of our work. At the conference I reported on one of our projects – a student–staff partnership.

Our project was part of a scheme of student–staff partnerships run by the Department of Higher Education , the results of which will be published by Taylor & Francis in a book: Enhancing student-centred practice through student–staff research partnerships.

Our project’s focus was a module delivered by the School of Health Sciences, Concepts of Caring, which has a 6-week online component. The online part is blended carefully with the face-to-face sessions and aims to show ethical theory in practice with six case studies from each of the nursing professions.

The staff research team (me, Professor Ann Gallagher and Colin Loughlin) asked Barry Costello, a second-year paramedic student, to work with us to evaluate how the module’s online component affected student engagement.

To carry out the evaluation, Barry facilitated and analysed the results of two focus groups – one with students and one with staff. He then wrote the literature review and focus group analysis, and then Ann shaped these into the final chapter draft together with contributions from the rest of the team.

In the presentation itself, I introduced the project and Barry presented the results, with his superior PowerPoint skills. He gave a great presentation – the pitch was just right as he blended his own experiences of working in partnership with us with an academic discussion of the results. So what did we find? We’ll send a link to the book chapter when it’s published, but our main findings were that engagement in a blended module hinges on:

  • Communication: staff need to be clear about how the module will be taught and what to expect – both between themselves and when talking to students.
  • Understanding our roles as students and as teachers
  • Social and emotional connections between students and between students and staff. Students need to get to know each other and create a safe space – both online and face to face – in order to feel comfortable about sharing their opinions, especially in a module about ethics where topics can be sensitive.