Tapping into students’ experiences and expertise for innovation and program development: Beyond tokenism

 

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Image source: Logical Campaign

Posted by Diliana Peregrina-Kretz

I have been thinking about the role of students in the development and expansion of programs and services in post-secondary education.  In part I have been thinking about partnerships with students because we recently reviewed proposals for our upcoming panel at CSSHE on collaborative approaches in achieving student success. I was so impressed with the different ways staff across various institutions involve their students in developing innovative programs and services. Tapping into students’ expertise and experience provides us with a lens that is student-oriented; one that other students can relate to.

As staff we have a whole lot of expertise and knowledge about the field of higher education; we rely on theories and research to develop/expand new programs and services; we attend conferences to enrich our knowledge and learn about innovative practices in the field; and we rely on our experiences as professionals and on the experiences and advice of our colleagues. However, there is an underused resource; the expertise of our own students. We are often so preoccupied with developing programs and services for our students that we forget about what they can contribute in this process. When I say contribute, I mean going beyond having students sit in a meeting and provide their opinion; this is a great  and important way to involve students but there is a more active role that they can play as partners and collaborators.

During the data collection process of the Supporting Student Success research project we heard from students who were disappointed in the way their contribution was incorporated in either the decision-making process at their institution or in the development of a program/service. Students expressed frustration when their input was just that: input. These students explained that they felt as though they were “tokens” in the process and not true partners or collaborators.

Other students who had been truly involved as partners and collaborators, where their input and ideas were implemented or seriously considered had very positive experiences. They expressed having gained new knowledge and skills when working with staff or faculty and being able to translate this into a tangible outcome: resume building and leadership skills (among others).

Students as collaborators and partners provide us with a unique opportunity to know what is truly happening on our campuses. Our students are great partners because they know firsthand how they and their peers can benefit from an improved program or service or how to improve different aspects of their experience.  They can help troubleshoot our programs, provide us with feedback and suggestions, and overall make the program/service more student-oriented.

In addition, many of our students have skills and experiences that can truly enrich our services and programs, and overall our own knowledge. We are so fortunate to work at institutions where we have diverse expertise available at our fingertips. We have students who are majoring in marketing that can help us develop our next campaign; students who are creative designers who can help us create our program branding; students who are social media savvy that can advise us on how to reach more students.  The list is long.

Students’ expertise that is available to us is endless. However, a true partnership with students is beyond getting their help and input. It is about providing something in return to students that improves their own skills, develops their leadership abilities, and overall enriches their experiences on our campuses. When partnering with students, we need to consider how we can provide a unique and enriching experience; whether this is providing them with mentorship and guidance or extending our resources to them (e.g. connections to other colleagues, stipends, attending conferences etc.).

We are creative, innovative, and knowledgeable people, and so are our students.  Together, we can develop meaningful partnerships that enrich their experiences and assist us in program development.

I would love to hear how you have engaged students by making them a partner and collaborator at your institution – please share in the comments section.

 

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