‘We all worked together…’: Student Voices in Teaching and Learning

Recently, the School of Engineering hosted an all-school T&L Forum to explore what worked (and didn’t) in their Semester 1 courses. Two students were invited to join staff in a panel discussion. In this blog, the students share their reflections, highlighting what they took away from the experience.

Why is it important to include students in conversations about teaching and learning?

Working with students-as-partners in learning and teaching is important – they have expertise to contribute which can shape learning, teaching and the work of the university.  Collaborations and conversations can take different forms, but they work best when students are included as equal and active participants, not just as ‘consumers’, ‘clients’ or ‘research subjects’.

Recently, our School of Engineering hosted a Teaching and Learning Forum which brought together staff to share and discuss their experiences from Semester 1. Of course, against the backdrop of the pandemic, much of the focus was on the challenges associated with switching (at speed) teaching, learning, and assessment online – it was a space to tell stories, share tips and highlight future issues.  In order to make the discussion as rich and authentic as possible, two students were invited to join the panel to share their perspectives and ideas for future teaching developments – they were not there to give feedback on a specific course/teacher/process, but to join staff in understanding the ‘learner experience’ more holistically. This made for a robust and engaging conversation which inspired many staff to reflect further on how they might work more closely with students to improve or innovate their teaching practice.

After the session, we offered the students the opportunity to a write a short reflection for our blog to illustrate the benefits of being included in the event.  You can read their contributions below – they beautifully amplify the benefits reported in the students-as-partners literature, including an enhanced understanding of their own learning and a stronger sense of belonging.  

Yaan’s final words summarise what made this staff-student collaboration so important… ‘we all worked together to make the experience better in this challenging semester’.

Evangeline Clough Good

It feels a world away since we first shifted to studying from home early semester 1, but here we are jumping back into semester 2 as if it’s all we’ve ever known. Monday morning, 8.30am, loungewear as the new daily uniform, we sit ready with our morning coffee, some of us just a few minutes after climbing out of bed. I feel a sense of calm and preparedness that didn’t come with semester 1. This time we know what we’re getting ourselves into.

In semester 1 we journeyed through the events of; shifting to home learning, waiting to see if we would return, not returning, realising how bad our internet is, realising how bad our lecturer’s internet is, watching videos of labs we had hoped to undertake in person, dealing with moving goal posts for both students and teachers, and wondering what question constitutes a email in this world of online learning.

In a time of searching for silver linings, I felt incredibly grateful to be at the particular stage of my course that I’m in. I have been a student at RMIT for almost five years, I have been studying long enough to know how to do it effectively (although I have to admit studying in a pandemic has a slightly different edge to it), I have relationships with my superiors and a strong community of peers. I felt almost lucky that an event such as this would fall when I was neither just starting out nor about to finish.

When discussing the successes and growth areas of semester 1 at the Teaching and Learning Forum, topics such as communication, lecture engagement, online assessments, exam alternatives and internet difficulties were all brought into the spotlight. While I had much to say on each of these, the biggest takeaway I gained from the first semester was the ability humans possess to adapt and collaborate. Within days of the university’s announcement, lectures and tutorials were all available live online and via recording. Thanks to a few handy cams, hands on labs and pracs were presented through another’s eyes – home video style. I felt more support from my fellow students than I previously ever had; group chats of 30+ people were formed; students took full advantage of Messenger chats, Zoom, Skype, Discord, group emails and shared online documents. Despite being miles, and at times seas, apart, I have never felt closer to my cohort.

So while I don’t look onto another semester of uni-from-home with fervour, I am happy to say that I will be stepping into it alongside a group of supportive, passionate, and resilient future engineers. And luckily our professors have already had a go at this online teaching business. Lockdown round 2? Pfft, we’re practically pros at this thing now.

Yaan Kelly-Flanders

Semester 1 was an interesting, intense experience for me – moving from in person learning to online only in a short space of time was exhausting, enlightening and terrifying at the same time.

Joining the end of semester teacher-student forum was something I really enjoyed and felt privileged to be part of and to give teachers a frank assessment of how I felt things went to help them improve learning outcomes and course delivery for everyone.

As an engineering student I was saddened to miss out on lab opportunities and face-to-face learning but seeing how the teachers adapted was very reassuring – the individual efforts from everyone was plain to see and something I think is under appreciated by students as it is in the background, almost hidden from sight and really hard to quantify from the coalface of the canvas window.

I think it really helped students and teaching faculty get a better perspective to the challenges we all faced – the turn-out of 120+ teachers and educators really brought it home that everyone was fumbling in the dark for answers to difficult questions with discussion around assessments and labs really grabbing my attention, how do you go from face-to-face exams to online only tests & keep enough scrutiny of the process to ensure a fair assessment takes place? What about the in-person labs that cannot be run?

Seeing some of the suggestions that were made put into practise this semester I feel will definitely help comprehension and retention of knowledge – the one that jumps out to me is running mini weekly quizzes, They should have been done all along but now learning from home will make them much more relevant and useful, it’s only early in the semester & too early for me to tell if they are working but just seeing them makes me feel like a more productive student already, that I will be able to study and understand the content greater than before and for that I am thankful for our teaching team and the way we have all worked together to make the experience better in this challenging semester.

 

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