As two colleagues who have had sustained roles in embedding and facilitating student engagement, we see student participation as central to shaping our university’s values and fundamental to enhancing their learning.
In particular, we have followed an ethos of ‘Student as Producer,’- alongside other examples of student engagement and participation. This journey developed impetus when Professor Mike Neary and colleagues from other institutions such as the University of Bristol, launched and embedded the ‘Student as Producer’ concept at Lincoln, with funding from the Higher Education Academy. This teaching and learning model was creative, daring, and deliberately provocative. It was also our first introduction to radical thinking and allowed us to set the scene and culture for real questioning in the higher education workplace.
Spoon-fed to student-led
Student as Producer sought “to promote research engaged teaching as the organising principle” (Neary, et al., 2014:5). What Mike et al. did, more than anything, was to challenge and explicitly question why we deliver knowledge in higher education like a bird feeding a chick. Instead, he proposed that students can and should play an integral role in their education and learning journey, to be active voices, collaborators, challengers, investigators and instigators of knowledge and educational transaction holistically. This approach to learning had the potential to transform the way education not only delivered but created, constructed, and sustained in higher education.
Moving forward 11 years or so, Student as Producer has been simplified to encompass broader interpretations of student engagement. It has, at times, been merged as part of an umbrella concept, often referring to the value of student voice, and students as co-creators in teaching and learning. However, this is a simplistic and unfounded view of what it really means to many and has led, at times, for it to be disengaged from its core foundations.
Our institution, The University of Lincoln, has become immune to the radical elements of Student as Producer. It has indeed become the norm for successful intervention throughout all aspects of teaching, learning, assessment and quality assurance. For those of us facilitating, enhancing and applying Student as Producer, it has become mainstream to us as a learning community. We have observed externally that much of the sector still undervalue the positive impact students can bring to their university experience. This has been shown at Lincoln through collaborative projects – for example, UROS – or consultation with both research and teaching.
At Lincoln, we have a myriad of successes with student engagement, developed under the core principles of Student as Producer. We have illustrations where pedagogically motivated students have overseen validation panels, and interview panels for academic and senior leadership roles have students as part of the panel – being at the decision-making part of the learning community. In these examples, students are positioned as equal partners who will benefit from the experience of which they are part. In collaborative research projects between staff and students, which have contributed to national research projects, students play a core role as researchers; they sit on committees advising on new building projects and become students as authors in published work through the University journal, e.g. IMPact. What Student as Producer offers as a model is the opportunity to think critically beyond the traditional curriculum and be proactive (dare we say brave!) in creating opportunities for students that will support them beyond their degree.
But what’s next for student engagement? We must ask this vital question to place a critical lens challenging the broader understanding of what staff and students need in the modern era of higher education. We need debates and discussions to purposely scrutinise the rise in regulatory frameworks through REF, TEF, the endless plans, reports and legislation.
Since the Browne Review (2009), such transformative reforms have arguably moved policy towards greater marketisation, whereby some have positioned students as consumers. At Lincoln, we can see through the language and terminology thrown at the sector – notably “value for money” – and through the use of the Consumer Rights Act to police quality. We see this when metrics used by Government, such as the National Student Survey, have been critiqued for not really measuring quality but only measuring satisfaction.
However, the Student as Producer model has articulated for over a decade that education goes beyond just a degree and is all-encompassing. It’s about the wider student experience, the broader educational community, the extra-curricular, and the sense of belonging to a community. This academic community is crucial for students and staff; it is the enabler for collaboration in any element of its machinations. For us, education is not a product where one size fits all; it’s an opportunity for all which is dynamic, evolving and has the potential to be transformative.
Consumerism, collaboration, and co-learning
The consumerism of education arguably opposes the core values of Student as Producer. As a model, it connects collaboration, partnerships and co-learning, one which has the potential to re-create forms of student engagement to be fit for purpose, to develop academic communities whereby students are not seen as customers only. Fundamentally the consumerism of education, for us, does not bode well for students. Education is something that cannot be picked off the shelf and worn like a designer label. It is something developed and created by all in the learning community, something that can only be achieved through partnership, opportunity and mutual respect. Student as Producer unambiguously asks students to be active in their university experience, to challenge themselves and their environment to help them achieve their potential.
What we have seen with Student as Producer is an attack on consumerism in higher education. The theoretical foundations of Marxist viewpoints challenged the very nature of the constructs of higher education and the traditional views of the roles of staff and students. The underlying principle of Student as Producer dared to contest the assumption that our sector delivers education from a top-down perspective. Theoretically, the model was influenced by the work of Walter Benjamin’s The Author as Producer (1934), which sets the context for critical questioning and thinking- which, I’m sure we would all agree, are core to any student experience.
This week, the University of Lincoln is hosting the annual RAISE conference. This conference will bring together staff and students to share projects, highlight best practices and showcase some of the best work in the sector in student engagement. It will allow colleagues from the sector to share their thoughts and practice student engagement through panels, workshops, posters and keynotes.
If you would like to find out more about the RAISE 2022 Conference, please visit https://www.raise-network.com/conference-2022