Monday, March 30, 2009

The Student Experience - Consumer or Engaged Partner?

Have been catching up on some reading, and have just gone through the response of Paul Ramsden (head of HEA) to the DIUS HE debate.

His remit was to look at "The Future of Higher Education Teaching and the Student Experience", and he makes some interesting comments regarding students as consumers - in fact he suggests that this may become a self fulfilling prophecy unless we work to develop an engaged partnership between students and their University.

This strikes a chord, particularly after a couple of complaints I have dealt with recently where emphasis has been placed on the fees paid, and what services were expected in return.

The paragraphs below are reproduced from the report which can be downloaded from the DIUS website.

"There is abundant evidence that the most effective higher education environments are ones in
which students are diligently involved as part of a community of learners. As part of this
engagement, they work together with academics to enhance teaching, assure quality and maintain standards. In these contexts, they understand themselves as active partners with academic staff in a process of continual improvement of the learning experience.

To sustain a high quality student experience, we must not fall into the trap of accepting as accurate a reading of students principally as consumers, demanding value for money, expecting
‘satisfaction’, passively receiving skills and knowledge, grumpily complaining about service
standards, and favouring above all else the easy acquisition of qualifications.

Hard evidence that students in higher education are more passive and consumer-minded than they used to be is slim; but this dystopian picture of today’s students and the likely students of
tomorrow has the incipient signs of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It presents a threat to our reputation for quality. We must articulate a different view to meet the challenge that this distorted image presents.

The vision of learner as passive consumer is inimical to a view of students as partners with their
teachers in a search for understanding – one of the defining features of higher education from both academic and student perspective, and powerfully embodied in academic culture since at least the time of Humboldt. There is no reason to impose a false divide between higher education as a road to a better, more highly-paid career and a vision of it as a life-changing personal

Student involvement in quality processes should start from the idea of building learning
communities. Practically speaking, this involves shaping student expectations of their role as
responsible partners who are able to take ownership of quality enhancement with staff and engage with them in dialogue about improving assessment, curriculum and teaching. Development of students’ own ‘pedagogic literacy’ and their understanding of curriculum and assessment is a necessary condition. The responsibilities on students in this partnership will be great, but the prize is worth striving for."

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