Institute Fellows 2020/21: John Owen

by | Jun 18, 2021 | Institute Fellowships, Projects, Student partnership

Continuing our Institute Fellows series is John Owen, a Lecturer in Technology Enhanced Learning in the in the i3HS Hub, School of Health Sciences, who was appointed as one of our inaugural Institute of Teaching and Learning Fellows in March 2020. In this post John reflects on the experience of leading his Fellowship project over the past year.


What did you set out to do, and did this change during the progress of your project?  

My project proposed the expansion of student-staff partnerships (SSP) across the University and included a successful application to the International Institute on Students as Partners’ Change Institute Programme. I had previously worked on two SSP projects where I developed and piloted an approach called Micro-sprints, which applies iterative, reflective team working in 3-hour blocks with the aim of achieving something useable. I wanted to raise awareness and increase the adoption of SSP and share the Micro-sprint approach as an effective way to work with students, particularly for teaching and learning projects.

What has (or will) come out of your project? 

I started by surveying university staff to ask about their experience of working with students as partners and launched a new blog called Student and Teaching Engagement through Partnerships (STEP), to share experiences of students and staff working on a range of partnership projects and initiatives.

The survey results highlighted lots of SSP practice happening across the university. Some colleagues had been working with students for years and considered SSP a normal part of their teaching practice. This surprised me a little as I hadn’t heard much talk of (or seen examples of) students as partners at the University. The overall positive responses to the survey were encouraging. In response to the survey question ‘why do you want to work in partnership with students?’ one colleague replied – ‘Because we should – it is amazing – why would you NOT want to should be the question!’

Informed by the findings of the survey I also – 

What was new for you in this experience?  Were there any surprises?  

Covid had some impact on my project, most notably from missing the opportunity to attend the Change Institute, scheduled for May 2020 at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, due to Covid travel restrictions. I therefore needed to amend my proposal to expand SSP practice but without the support from the Change Institute. 

The shift to remote working was mostly smooth though: I was working on a SSP project with undergraduate Psychology students and we had completed two Micro-sprints before we went into full lockdown, and the cloud-based tools that support Micro-sprints meant the team were able to quickly move the approach online. After the first online session, we realised we needed to adapt the approach slightly to get the best out of our team’s dispersed, global locations.

We were also using ABC Learning Design in the project, which ‘was’ very much a face-to-face workshop event. I developed an online process to adapt ABC LD so we could continue using it remotely. This online curriculum design approach is now being used by many colleagues across the university.

How did you find working with a student partner? 

The two Student Partner Interns working with me were very engaged and contributed so much to the project, suggesting ideas I never would have considered. They certainly helped me reflect on their perspective and experience as students. We developed open and productive relationships and they used their experience to move the project along as well as contributing to the STEP blog.

What did you get out of the Fellowship, as a practitioner? 

My project has helped me develop my reflective practice, particularly from a student (and staff) experience perspective. I have implemented SSP approaches in my teaching – co-creating content and assessments with students – and also presented at two conferences, also with students.

The opportunity to work with colleagues and students from outside my initial team (and institution) has been rewarding, as has learning about other disciplines and innovative methods to teaching, learning and assessment, and seeing students and colleagues apply the approaches I’ve shared through my Fellowship.

It seems that across The University of Manchester many more students and colleagues are aware of the benefits of working together in this way, and I’m heartened that there appears to be greater consideration for including students in current projects, initiatives and more directly within teaching and learning.

For further reading on my Fellowship project and student-staff partnerships more generally, follow any of the links in this article and see links below:

If you’d like to discuss any of John’s Fellowship work you can contact him on  You can also read more about student experiences of Micro-sprints in Emma Smith’s blog post