Is it more of a LEAP or a jump? A Student Partner’s Experience of LEAP

by | Jul 22, 2021 | LEAP, Student partnership

Jess Carroll is a Student Partner Intern (SPI) and has been part of our Online Blended Learning (OBL) cohort this year. Over the 2020/21 academic year this cohort of SPIs have worked in partnership with staff, undertaking activities such as reviewing academic content and supporting transcription and subtitling projects across the University.


Before starting my work as a student partner intern, I’d never even heard of LEAP. It wasn’t until the end of my first contract that I actually came across it in an email. LEAP stands for ‘Leadership in Education Awards Programme’. Upon taking a dip into the Higher Education Academy pool I realised three important things about LEAP that helped me both understand why I should apply and how I could get a grasp on my application:

  1. With LEAP, it’s not important what you’ve done, it is what you have learnt from what you’ve done.
  2. Anyone can critique someone else’s work, but not everyone can reflect on their own work insightfully and meaningfully.
  3. An awareness of the diverse student communities at your institution is imperative for your personal development.

My application to become a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) was solely based upon the projects I have worked upon as a student partner. This allowed me to track my development through the process in a logical order, reflecting upon how I integrated knowledge acquired from one project to the next. As I was doing this, I came to realise that any ‘positive’ impact I had within a project was quite largely based upon my ability to reflect upon the outcome of the previous project. This is where the importance of learning from what you’ve done comes in.

I believe one of the most important things you can demonstrate in your LEAP application is a level of internal reflection that is self-sufficient and only uses external evidence to validate it, not fuel it. What I mean by this is that by showing you can learn from projects as and when you do them, you demonstrate that you do not need someone else to ‘trigger’ you to reflect on what did or did not go well. You reflect automatically. On the first project that I partnered on, I kept an online diary with notes from meetings (actions), thoughts which stemmed from these meetings (ideas), and things which I did to get the most out of the next meeting (prep). This proved invaluable when writing my application as it reminded me of all the little milestones I reached in each project which would otherwise disappear when looking at the bigger picture. I would say this is of greater importance in the first few weeks or months of starting on a project when you’re getting to grips with its processes and demands. Either way, however you do it, keeping a physical or mental log of what you’ve learnt, developed, and changed is invaluable for LEAP applications as it provides you with rationale for why you did things the way you did. This is how you show that you have insightfully reflected back on your own work.

Leading on from this, student partnership provides great examples for LEAP applications because there is no ‘set’ criteria or framework. A student partnership is what you make of it. From developing your own way of communicating with staff in an online setting, of presenting criticism, and of adapting to different settings, you develop a unique sense of ownership of your own project. Of course, there is guidance on what is roughly expected and on how you can achieve this, but it’s not as simple as just crossing a few elements off a checklist and calling it a day. It requires you to immerse yourself within the learning materials to understand both what is lacking and what can be improved. This increases your awareness of the variety of ways in which you can present academic content and (as a consensus) of what is the most successful way to do so.

The active role that partnership allows you to have in improving academic content is wholly intertwined with increased (and encouraged) student responsibility. I personally find that student responsibility is overlooked throughout academia and that there is a disparity between students meaningfully engaging with their studies and staff minimising student ‘responsibility’ out of fear of a lack of engagement, which is a paradox in itself.

I reference this because I think that increased responsibility goes hand in hand with meaningful reflection. Knowing that you are responsible for directly improving content students use urges you to dig-deep into the purpose behind your actions. This will raise questions such as, ’why do I want to change this?’, ‘What would the impact be of this change?’, ‘Is the content sufficient for the different types of learners (visual, auditory etc)?’, ‘Have I considered different student communities (disabled students, international students etc)?’.

As you can tell, a lot of these questions revolve around how other people may interpret content. This is where an increased awareness of the diverse student communities comes in, and why it is so imperative for your own development. A lack of appreciation towards the diversity present within higher education is one of the number of ways to shoot yourself in the foot. Not only is appreciating this diversity just the bare minimum, your awareness as an individual reaches capacity until you apply this towards others. Content must cater to the minority for it to be fit for the majority or you enter a downwards spiral and limit your progression by only considering learning styles which you are familiar with.

As a whole, I think student partnership provides invaluable experience which allows the development of many transferrable skills, producing primary evidence to reference and demonstrate these. This is exactly why it provides great case studies for LEAP applications. I would like to re-word what LEAP (the Leadership in Education Awards Programme, for those of you that have the same memory as me) stands for and change it to ‘Lifting the Enigma of Academic Proficiency’. You don’t have to be a professor to make an impact within the education system and increasing student responsibility does not end in disaster. I would therefore say LEAP is more of a jump – and student partnership is the springboard that can get you there.