University students using a laptop computer while working on their group project

Students as partners in staff development and learning design. Experiences from Europe and the US

by Alexandra Mihai, Maastricht University, the Netherlands.

Facilitating meaningful learning experiences is the core goal of educational development professionals, both individually and in teams, often within structures like Centres for Teaching and Learning (CTLs). But aren’t we forgetting someone important? Students are – or should be- at the centre of the learning process, and as such, they can be an invaluable resource for educational development work. There are various ways in which students can be involved in staff development and learning design initiatives in a substantive way, leading both to enhanced organisational learning opportunities and their own personal, research and career development.

Here are a few ways to involve students that I observed during my research stay in US and also based on my experience working at various European universities. While it is by no means an exhaustive list, it can hopefully serve as inspiration and spark some ideas for staff-student and faculty- student partnerships.

“Students as Partners” projects

These are sustainable pedagogical partnerships involving faculty and students, often managed by CTLs. The core idea is partnering students with faculty, for the duration of a course. These partnerships can take many forms but usually follow a structured dialogue process that acts as a feedback loop and provides faculty members with rich insights into how students experience their course and practical design suggestions developed in collaboration with their student partners. CTL staff act as a mediator between students and faculty, can offer specific workshops for both groups in order to assist with the process, and conduct regular feedback sessions with each partnership pair.

Students as research assistants / co-researchers

With research being an important part of the work for many CTLs, bringing students’ insights into the picture is very important, as it helps provide a 360° perspective on the topic studied, whether it is part of the Scholarship for Teaching and Learning (SoTL) or Scholarship of Educational Development. Moreover, students often bring up aspects that faculty and staff do not notice, as they are too embedded in the institutional structures. Involving students in research projects is very beneficial for them as it provides them with research experience while also enabling them to gain work experience in a university department and a deeper understanding of how Higher Education works.

Students as support in the effective use of technology

This is an opportunity that became particularly relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has real potential to continue as a regular practice post-pandemic. Students, trained by educational technology teams (based in CTLs or in Information Technology departments, depending on institution) provide first-line support to faculty in using technology in their courses. These initiatives are often faculty-based, in order for the support provided by students to be easily accessible. While this is an effective way for universities to enhance support for technology use, it also offers students the opportunity to learn new skills and develop a service-oriented mentality while meaningfully contributing to the learning and staff development process within the university.

Partnering with students in both staff development and learning design projects can be very rewarding for CTLs and for students, as outlined above, and can ultimately lead to a more inclusive and intentional learning experience. You can find more ideas and examples in the resources below.

Editor’s note: Dr. Alexandra Mihai will be presenting at the seminar “How can CLTs involve students in staff training and classroom support?” that will take place on Thursday, 13 October. More information about the event can be found here.


Dr. Alexandra Mihai is Assistant Professor of Innovation in Higher Education in the Department of Educational Research and Development, School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University, the Netherlands