International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 21-23 July 2014
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Using students in close up research in higher education: what we did and what we learned from LJMU’s ‘learning for complex world’ NTF project.

Fengqiao (Vanessa) Cui , Centre for Academic Development and Quality, Nottingham Trent University, vanessa.cui@ntu.ac.uk

Phil Vickerman , Faculty of Education, Health and Community, Liverpool John Moores University, P.Vickerman@ljmu.ac.uk


This paper examines and reflects on how an interactional process was established and utilised to make a difference in learning and teaching practices through a student led higher education close-up research project (Prichard and Trowler, 2003). This was part of Liverpool John Moores University’s (LJMU) ‘Developing Learning & Assessment Opportunities for a Complex World’ (Cable, Thompson and Vickerman, 2008) National Teaching Fellowship (NTF) project. The project set out to investigate the curriculum design challenges of aligning teaching and assessment of complex achievements and graduate attributes through ‘investigating dissonance and congruence in the perceptions, understanding and expectations of academic staff, students and employers and by providing aligned learning and assessment opportunities to bridge perception gaps’ (ibid) . The whole project took a student-led close-up research approach – using three recent graduates as PhD students/research assistants to carry out the investigation of higher education (HE) key stakeholders’ authentic concerns and issues raised by their daily practice of HE (Prichard and Trowler 2003 in Cable et al 2008).
As part of the project, one PhD student worked closely with programme teams in Sport Education. Through immersing herself in the programmes, meeting and working with students and staff members, she used this opportunity to make a difference to the programme in various ways. In this process, research findings were no longer generated and used in a conventional ‘problem solving model’ (Weiss, 1979) to make a change. In addition, the context of the research, the PhD student’s identity and the participants’ perspectives were changing constantly. As a result, the PhD student developed a reflexive model to meaningfully deal with the constant evolving research environment and the flexible nature of the research findings. This paper will focus on sketching this process of and reflecting on how changes happened through ‘interactional practice’ (Saunders, 2014).
The PhD student approach to HE close-up research offered a unique, immersive and detailed research-informed model and a process that connected key stakeholders with an engaging and meaningful dialogue (Cable et al 2012). While it did not, and cannot completely solve the complex issues of employability development in HE, it certainly illuminated new aspects of the challenges we are facing. Though the project ended two years ago, the findings and outcomes of this project are still shaping the university’s policy and practice.

Link to Full Paper (If submitted)

Conference Organisers

Paul Trowler
Lancaster University, UK

Alice Jesmont
Lancaster University, UK

Malcolm Tight
Lancaster University, UK

Paul Ashwin
Lancaster University, UK

Murray Saunders
Lancaster University, UK

Chrissie Boughey
Rhodes University, South Africa

Suellen Shay
University of Cape Town, SA

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