The Future of Learning According to Student Strategists
The consultation with staff and students on the new Learning and Teaching Strategy of the University of Leicester took place in the form of one workshop for staff and students, and six interviews with students. In addition, twelve questionnaires were completed by students. In total one member of staff and 21 students were consulted. The workshop aimed to find out answers to the question what students and staff feel is important for their learning and teaching. The interviews – why they feel it is important. The questionnaires aimed to find out what was felt to be more important and what was seen as less central.
The University of Leicester as a diverse community of learning was seen as a distinctive characteristic relevant to learning and teaching. Interestingly, participants felt that their learning and teaching are supported by the interaction of two factors which are often meant to be opposites – diversity and community. Community implies common values and beliefs, i.e. the opposite of diversity. Participants believed that UoL is differentiated by its model of “celebrating diversity” and by University using diversity as a resource to build a “learning community of diversities” which students feel promotes learning. Examples of diversity given by students usually in contrasting pairs were: international students – home students; distance learners – campus-based students; students from different cultural and religious backgrounds, research students and taught-course students, students and staff, Students’ Union and university administration.
• Message for the Learning and Teaching Strategy: Diverse groups become a community when they are united in learning (as in shared desired academic outcomes and learning about each other through communication). Exposure to and learning about differences enables finding commonalities which was seen as enabling learning, adding to the learning experience and a desired learning outcome across academic disciplines. The new Strategy needs to reinforce and promote the link between diversity and learning.
• Action points: Institutional support for existing and promoting new ways for multi-way interaction among diverse groups. This can be achieved by identifying outcomes whose desirability would unite otherwise diverse groups and creating managed pathways for achieving them. Examples provided by participants: involving students in research done by lecturers (as partners, helpers, observers, “critical friends”, rather than “study subjects”); creating opportunities for distance learners and campus-based students to communicate and collaborate (through technology for example); bringing together international students and home students, but also international students from different geographical regions (participants felt that sometimes they are grouped within country of origin rather than across country or background in events, etc.). Emphasis on identifying shared learning outcomes and institutional support for achieving them through explicitly identifying, communicating and using diversity as a resource for learning.