W15 – Students as Partners in Redesigning the First Year Experience

Dance room – MONDAY 16:45-17:45

Workshop – 60 minutes

Professor Stuart Brand

Luke Millard

Alexander Gittings (student)

School / Department / Institution
Centre for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, Birmingham City University

Professor Stuart Brand is Director of the Learning Experience and head of the Centre for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT).  He is well published in the field of student engagement and is a National Teaching Fellow in the UK and leads the university’s work around the student learning experience.

Luke Millard is Head of Student Engagement at Birmingham City University and is a Principal Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy.  His key areas of work are around Student Academic Partners, the First Year Experience and student surveys.  He is the University’s lead for the HEA What works: student retention and success programme.

Alex Gittings is a first generation University student from Wolverhampton studying BSc (Hons) Computer Networks.  In addition, he works at the Students’ Union as an ambassador and in CELT as a first year student intern assisting projects regarding first year experience.


This session will explore how students engaged in a process to help redesign the first year experience across three Schools; what the products were of this collaboration; the impact of these on student retention and success and how the products were embedded and grew from local to institution wide initiatives.


Birmingham City University has a first year institutional retention rate above 90% which is in line with many UK Universities.  However, hidden within that figure are some programmes with less impressive outcomes.  Those areas became the focus of a change initiative as the University sought to raise the prominence of the first year experience as providing the foundation for future student success.

Developments arose out of the What Works: Student Retention and Success change initiative co-ordinated by the UK’s Higher Education Academy.  This national development across 13 Universities invited universities to bid to participate who wished to focus upon the first year experience with an aim to ‘identify and implement whole-institutional approaches to improve student retention and success’. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/workstreams-research/themes/retention-and-success/what-works-student-retention-and-success-change

Within the UK, BCU has a reputation for its student engagement work and the ethos of ‘students as partners’. As a result, the institutional approach to redesign first year programmes had to marshall the student voice.  Each course identified students who would work with staff to reshape the first year experience.  Initially, three half day workshops were provided to enable the space and time for thought and process to be shaped and programmes were encouraged to work collaboratively and share ideas.  The three areas selected were Media, Radiology and the Built Environment.

The national What Works initiative tasks Universities to:

– improve the strategic approach to the engagement, belonging, retention and success of students
– implement or enhance specific interventions in the areas of induction, active learning and co-curricular activities in three selected discipline areas
– evaluate the impact in both formative and summative ways.

These aims were reflected in the process with which our faculty and students engaged and has now impacted beyond the initial programmes.  We will show how local initiatives that demonstrated real impact led to institutional initiatives.

Our session will explore the process of change at Birmingham City drawing upon the experiences of students and faculty.  Student co-design led to processes changing, pedagogy being revised and a greater focus on some of hygiene factors that impact on student perceptions.  We will explore some of the interventions from improved expectation setting and e-mentoring to a new approach to Welcome week and picnics in the park.

Developing the work of Thomas (2012) we will also explore how belonging, engagement and student self-confidence have been impacted by our interventions and draw upon the national data from the What Works initiative to inform our discussions with you. The session will be delivered by a student-staff team comprising a first year computing student, the University’s Director of Learning Experience and Head of Student Engagement who will share their experiences and invite participants to engage in some vibrant debate around the issues raised.



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