Student Engagement in the University of Exeter Education Incubator Research Project

5Q6B0985bI have joined the Exeter Education Incubator for a 2 Month period to review Student Engagement in the Exeter Education Incubator projects. The University of Exeter Education Incubator was established in 2017 to support academics in the development of innovative pedagogical ideas. In the academic year 2017-18 the Incubator supported 12 projects, under the three themes of: Success for all, Learning Reimagined and Using MOOCs to address Grand Challenges.

Half way into the Student Engagement in the Education Incubator project feels like a good time to reflect on what has been accomplished and consider what is yet to come. Sitting by the window, on a bright July day, all is good in the Education Incubator.

IMG_1097The Student Engagement project commenced on the 4th June with a brief to review literature, carry out semi-structured interviews with students and academics, and produce a report in the ensuing 2 months. The initial aims can be summarised as:

  1.  Review the involvement of students within the Incubator projects
  2. Assess the effects of student engagement in the Incubator projects, on students and academics
  3. Identify best practice from this inaugural year, to inform future projects
  4. Produce brief ‘Talking Head’ videos to showcase projects and practices.

At this halfway point, progress is good. In order to review the literature, in such a short timeframe, the International Journal of Students as Partners was used as a ‘seed’ publication. As the field is new, and the term ‘student engagement’ used to describe a variety of different activities, this method supported a selective ‘snowball sampling’ technique to identify relevant contemporary literature within a short time frame. Key recent publications were identified as well as interesting sources which dealt with the principles of engagement and participation in fields other than Higher Education.

The themes which were identified from the literature allowed the drafting of an interview protocol, to help structure interviews with both academic Incubator Fellows, and Student Interns who have been working on the Incubator projects over the past academic year. The protocol was written to be used with either academics or students.

As the Education Incubator does not sit within any of the university’s schools, it is not immediately apparent which ethics committee would be responsible for approval of an incubator project. This delayed data collection, but also highlighted an important area where the project could generate an early output. The ethics paperwork generated by this project has been utilised as a template for future applications, and a suggestion has been forwarded that a clear approval route be identified, to allow a straightforward documentary process in the future. These templates include pro-forma consent forms and information sheets for internal incubator research. This seems like a great output from the project.

Interviewing commenced on the 2nd July, and by the end of the week five interviews have been recorded. These will be transcribed, but early analysis of the recordings is allowing themes to be developed. Next week filmmakers will help with the production of the talking head videos. These are a fabulous way to disseminate the findings of the individual projects, and allow students to formalise their experiences in the incubator, with a tangible output for them to cite in personal statements and applications.

The coming month will see analysis of the interview data, and production of the project report on Student Engagement in the Exeter Education Incubator in 2017-18. This will allow us to share best practice with colleagues, both in future incubator projects and in the University more widely. To disseminate findings further afield I am hoping to submit an article for publication as well. This is an exciting project, with real potential for impact both here at Exeter and in the wider academic community. We are adding to a small but growing body of work which considers student engagement in Higher Education.

Dr Karen Kenny

Research Assistant – Student Engagement


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The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.

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