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Annual NTF Symposia

Collaborating with your students as partners: how to move from consultation to true collaboration

Dr Sarah Allsop, Senior Lecturer, University of Bristol Medical School 

The Association of National Teaching Fellows (ANTF) symposium was a fantastic opportunity to share practice with enthused colleagues across a wide range of contexts. In my workshop about student partnerships, I hoped to engage colleagues in a conversation about how we can truly embed students as partners in educational activities.  

Firstly, though we need to think about what we mean when we talk about student partnerships. There is widespread recognition of the benefits when students play an active role in shaping their learning, but when we talk about ‘partnership’, what do we really mean? That we consult with our students, involve them in decision making, engage them in teaching delivery or truly co-create with them?  

As part of my scholarship when researching the underpinning pedagogy for collaborative educational schemes, I used the AdvanceHE guide ‘Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education’ by Mick Healey, Abbi Flint and Kathy Harrington (2014). Cited over 1250 times, the document proposes a conceptual model for exploring student partnerships.  

In the workshop, we particularly explored their Partnership Learning Communities’ Model.  To highlight the model in practice, I shared work from Bristol and the Basic Life Support (BLS) near-peer learning scheme ‘RMD’ (Resuscitation-Mentorship-Development). 

The RMD scheme is a national educational initiative, running at four UK University Medical Schools (Birmingham, Bristol, Brunel, Warwick) to deliver BLS training using a near peer-led teaching model. Students are engaged in all aspects, from the planning and delivery of teaching and assessments, to co-leading research and outreach initiatives. Students can be involved from first year through to final year, and graduates return to deliver the instructor-trainer provision alongside the most senior students. It is this community of practice across all years of the programme and beyond that makes it so valuable, with students learning not only life-saving skills, but developing friendships, gaining skills in teaching, mentoring, management, networking and so much more. It is without doubt one of the most rewarding parts of my work. 

By highlighting both the literature and the case example, the workshop facilitated valuable discussions around how to evidence impact for this type of scheme to engage key stakeholders. We considered impacts from the level of the individual students’ learning and sense of belonging, right the way through to the strategic advantages of improved engagement and capacity for scholarship, educational research, outreach and civic engagement.  

So, what are my reflections building from the workshop with NTF colleagues? 

Think big. Never underestimate what your students can achieve and the ideas they might have, they will always surprise you. 

Offer involvement to all. Some initiatives might inadvertently encourage particular groups of students to be involved, it is really important to show that all students are welcome and that their skills will be nurtured. 

Take a critical approach. Really look at teaching delivery, evaluation and scholarship processes, could you involve your students more. 

Be brave. Handing over control is hard, but if we show our trust in our students, they grow in ways we never thought possible. 


Healey M, Flint A, Harrington K (2014). Engagement through partnership: Students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. York: HE Academy. 76pp. Available at  

Image: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Twitter: Follow @sarah_a_bristol for more on collaborating with students as partners and activity at @RMDBristol @BristolUniBMERG