Introduction: Students as Partners
In recent years, there has been an increased appetite in higher education to explore and enhance the ways in which students can become more involved in the design and delivery of their own learning experiences. A prominent way of doing so is engaging students as equal partners in a range of practices and pedagogies. Dubbed as ‘Students as Partners’ (‘SaPs) in the academic literature, this specific practice, or, perhaps, better put ‘ethos’, embraces students and staff working together on teaching and learning in higher education.
The re-design of the LLM in International Commercial Law, in which I was actively involved, presented an excellent opportunity to explore in further detail the usefulness of this practice. Hence, in June 1016 I was awarded with a small UoR Teaching and Learning grant (£250) with the objective to involve a group of ten PGT students from the School of Law as equal partners in the process of redesigning the curriculum of a core PGT module. The PGT LLM module is entitled LWMTAI-Advanced International Commercial Law Issues (20 credits), and is one of the core mandatory modules of the new ‘LLM in International Commercial Law’.
What motivated me in particular was the need to listen to the ‘student voice’ by actively and directly engaging students in the design of the curriculum. So far, ‘student voice’ is largely heard ex post; following the completion of the taught component of the module, e.g. on a Module Evaluation Form. I wanted to go beyond existing practice and listen to the ‘student voice’ ex ante; before delivery, by proactively engaging students/learners as equal partners in the redesign of the module. This does not only reflect a current, strategic Teaching and Learning Enhancement Priority of the University, but it is also vital to the success and effective delivery of the module and subsequently to the new LLM Programme. The broader aim was to promote partnership in teaching and learning, building a collective vision of the future of PGT commercial law subjects and programme.
Both current and revised MDF forms of the module were circulated to a group of ten PGT students in the School of Law along with a questionnaire. Five of them were students that had completed the module in its pre-revised form and five were students that were not enrolled on the module. The latter group of students was valuable in offering a ‘naïve perception’ to the design of the module. Students were asked to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the module, as reflected in the MDF forms. Their answers to the different questions posed, along with other concerns/recommendations they wished to share, were discussed in a two-hour event, open to all staff involved in PGT Law teaching. Each participating student to the project was paid with vouchers that could be spent in in the Blackwell bookstore on campus.
Currently, as part of my EDMAP 3 project, I have extended the scope of this project by involving currently enrolled PGT Law students, who were the first to be taught the module in its revised form.
There are several beneficiaries of this project; direct and indirect. The project delivered considerable benefits to the students who took part in the process; they gained a better understanding of the teaching and learning process, and, furthermore, engaging students as equal partners fostered a sense of belonging and promoted inclusive learning. Secondly, future students will also benefit from a module that has been partly redesigned by students-partners. Thirdly, the insights gained through this project, and shared in the two-hour event, may potentially inform the design and delivery of other, future or existing, PGT modules. Finally, it is hoped that the project will inspire and motivate all staff involved in teaching and learning to think beyond the limiting ‘customer satisfaction’ model that tends to dominate Higher Education nowadays and towards a more challenging and rewarding relationship with our students based on genuine cooperation and trust.