Developing online teaching and learning: The potential benefits of ‘listening’ to student voices for staff professional development and authentic student engagement

Sue Taylor, Senior Lecturer, Kirstin Mulholland, Lecturer in Education, David Nichol, Senior Lecturer in Education, Arlene Anderson, Senior Lecturer in Education and Jane Davies, Senior Lecturer in Education, Northumbria University

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Abstract: This paper explores the potential role of authentic student voice in developing online teaching and learning in an undergraduate Initial Teacher Education programme in a UK higher education context. It considers the benefits of harnessing students’ insider perspectives as ‘expert witnesses’ through providing an exemplar of practice in relation to establishing systems for gathering both ‘feed-forward’ and ‘feed-back’ information to inform the iterative development of educational provision. Alongside similar studies internationally, the authors propose that authentic engagement with student voice has positive implications for staff professional development, as well as improving student engagement and lived experiences of learning. The paper details staff and students’ perceptions and experiences of adaptations to online educational provision and pedagogic practice resultant from the iterative development process. Inductive thematic analysis identifies three principal adaptations to practice: organisation and communication to support access and understanding of learning; encouraging discussion and positive peer relationships; and utilising online platforms to promote student collaboration. Findings suggest that these adaptations enriched staff understanding of student engagement and facilitated rapid adaptations to educational provision in order to support access and understanding, as well as the development of positive working relationships. Further evidence suggested that the establishment of systems to ‘listen’ to student voice also led to increased engagement, ownership, and an increasing sense that their perspectives were recognised and valued.


Keywords: student voice; student perceptions of teaching and learning; online education; collaborative professional development; student engagement; action research


Sue Taylor Prior to joining Northumbria University as a Senior Lecturer, Sue Taylor taught in the UK and abroad for over 30 years in various roles, including senior management and school leadership. Sue is Mathematics lead for Initial Teacher Education and leads four modules in Curriculum Studies on the BA (Hons) Primary Education programme. Sue completed her MA in School Management at Kingston University and her EdD at Durham University. She has a strong interest in self-regulation and creative approaches to teaching, as well as utilising student voice to develop collaborative programme design and effective pedagogy.

Kirstin Mulholland Before taking an academic post at Northumbria University, Kirstin Mulholland was a class teacher, senior leader and Specialist Leader of Education in primary schools in North-east England for more than 13 years. Kirstin is currently the Initial Teacher Education subject lead for English, as well as Modern Foreign Languages. She is also one of the module leaders for the Educational Research and Enquiry strand of the BA (Hons) Primary Education programme. Kirstin completed her MEd and EdD at the University of Newcastle, and also holds an MLitt in Latin American Literature. She has a particular interest in teacher research, perceptions and experiences of teaching and learning, and the role of student voice and partnership in developing pedagogy.

David Nichol is a qualified teacher in the Post Compulsory Education and Training (PCET) sector, and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He joined Northumbria University as an academic in 2006 and most recently has been programme lead for Northumbria’s PCET provision. David currently leads a module on the Post-Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice, a programme aimed at all new academic staff at Northumbria and, in collaboration with colleagues, delivers teacher-training programmes to postgraduate research students who express an interest in perusing an academic career. At a national level, David is a member of the University Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) Further Education Committee. This affords him the opportunity to help formulate and develop national policy and share good practice with colleagues working in universities, training providers and further education colleges across the UK. His current research focuses on establishing the ways in which students experience, conceptualise and understand the numerous technology-enhanced learning opportunities made available to them, together with the intentions of the academic staff in providing them.

Arlene Anderson is a Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She teaches on a range of modules in Initial Teacher Education. Prior to joining Northumbria University, Arlene taught in the UK and abroad for over 19 years in senior leadership teams for the English Schools Foundation and the Primary Science Support Group in Hong Kong. She then taught as Senior Lecturer at Kingston University and Newcastle University. She currently leads on the BA (Hons) Primary Education programme. Arlene completed Master studies modules in Education Leadership, Development and Consultancy at the London Leadership Centre, Institute of Education, London University. She has current research interests in curriculum design, student support and well-being, and supporting gradate outcomes.

Jane Davies is a Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University. She teaches on a range of programmes, including Initial Teacher Education, and is the Departmental PGR Co-Lead, supporting and developing PGR provision. She has a particular interest in teaching and learning in higher education, with an emphasis on widening participation and student voice. Her other research interests relate to diversity, with a focus on race equality and the educational experiences of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups.


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