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Future of student engagement at Day Two of Teaching and Learning Conference 2021

08 Jul 2021 | Advance HE More than 200 delegates joined in 16 live-streamed sessions of speakers, panel discussions and workshops on the second day of the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference 2021: Teaching in the Spotlight: What is the Future for HE Curricula?

The future for student engagement

Alison Johns, Chief Executive, Advance HE, opened the conference on Day Two with some big questions about the future for student engagement. She said, “We did such a tremendous job of moving fully to virtual online teaching in such a short period of time, but of course that means everybody has a view of the result of that…I think what is clear is we will not go back to the old normal ways. We have a great opportunity here to build on the things that have worked well, and to solve some of the more challenging issues.”

She posed the question, what is value for students now as compared to the traditional model? And, what do we do about the physical aspects of student learning, field trips, placements, lab sessions if we face similar shutdowns in future? “The rapid changes in assessment methods, and the engagement strategies that have been alluded to, how can we get the best of what technology enhanced learning can do to support enhancement in inclusion and diversity?”

To help answer some of those questions from the students’ perspective, Alison introduced the Day Two keynote speaker, Salma Hussain, President of King’s College London Students’ Union. Salma spoke about student engagement in curricula and how we can partner with students to ensure HE curricula is fit for the future. Sharing her insights into the future of student engagement Salma discussed “where we go from here and how we equip our students with the knowledge and power to be involved in the decisions which will affect them the most.”

Salma acknowledged her bias but said the best way to get the engagement is through involving the Students’ Union. “If you are not giving students a good experience, they will stop coming. We need to be a bit more sustainable in how we engage our students to give them the best possible experience.”

When talking about how to be inclusive for every type of student, Salma asked, “how do we understand what students need, but also what students want? They can be very different things at times and the Student Union is very good at understanding the difference.”

She cautioned against just putting students on a committee if universities want to meaningfully engage the SU, saying a vote is not always equal to respecting students’ opinions. She said, “That can lead to a bit of tension sometimes in that there are insinuations that I don't know what I'm talking about, I don't understand, but at the same time I need to understand. Giving me a vote on a committee is not listening to the student voice, you need to actually engage with it, you need to have discussions.”

She advised it is about “understanding, being efficient with the time, having early involvement…The  more student involvement you get, the happier students are going to be, which is always a positive. I describe my job as, how do I find holes in everything Kings’ does?”

Salma’s keynote also covered paid representation which she said really makes a difference, especially in inclusivity, how career support is embedded in the curriculum, mental health pay support and embedding decolonisation and diversification of staff.

She ended her session with some thoughts on the future of hybrid learning. “I think there will be a massive increase in online education. We have a lot of platforms now. How do we engage in the online world? Is that different? Does that mean our tuition fees need to change is a great question. I'm sure everyone is aware how unhappy students are this year.”

Disability inclusion and how we keep the accessibility that online learning has provided but without scrapping those impromptu social interactions that students have missed. “Why are students unhappy this year? It goes back to their experience, it has not been a typical student experience…There is no typical student, students are not a model. They are a wide breadth or depth of experience which we do not acknowledge enough.”

For universities wondering how to make a difference to students, Salma said the answer is simply, “Ask them.”

Into the woods

Virtual networking at the Teaching and Learning Conference 2021 is enhanced in our Topia world, designed as a walk through the woods, to allow greater interactivity with delegates. We’ve had fantastic feedback from delegates dancing in the woods with complete strangers in a fun way to replicate those informal asides at a face-to-face conference.

The future practitioner

How practitioners are helping students to navigate engagement across different platforms and ensuring inclusivity and equality in these digital, distanced, blended and flexed approaches featured in poster presentations, the Ignite session, parallel workshops and on demand sessions throughout the day as another main conference theme – the future practitioner – was explored.

Education for sustainable development

Dr Catherine Hack, Principal Adviser at Advance HE, led a workshop with Dr Kate Mori, Quality Assurance Agency, on teaching and learning approaches to enable education for sustainable development (ESD). The workshop explored several case studies and provided support from the latest QAA/Advance HE guidance on ESD on how to design it into curricula.

Dr Celia Brigg, Associate Director for Conferences and Events at Advance HE summed up Day Two of the conference. She said, “For me, Day Two has been dominated by the student voice, from our keynote to our final panel and in every workshop and session I have attended in between.

“I have heard about student lecturers, students co-creating courses, students providing constant informal feedback to allow continuous improvement and it makes me believe that the sector is building the future in partnership with our students, and working in the ways Salma challenged us to, and that makes me really positive and excited about how we can work with the sector to build the post-pandemic HE curricula.’

Day Three of the Teaching and Learning Conference 2021 will focus on the future for inclusive assessment and feedback approaches and the future for enterprise and employability in the curricula. Professor Charles Egbu, Vice Chancellor of Leeds Trinity University will deliver the keynote session.


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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