Student Voice

The important role of student voice in curriculum design

By Eve Bracken-Ingram

Although the benefits of student voice in higher education are widely accepted, there is limited research on the role of student voice in the development of curriculum design. A case study by Brooman, Darwent, and Pimor (2015) (Source) explored the effectiveness of student participation in the redesign of a European Law module curriculum at a UK university. Curriculum can be defined as both the content and structure of delivery of a module, and the dynamic, collaboration learning process between staff and students (Fraser and Bosanquet (2006)). This study initially focused on how student voice can influence curriculum content and structure but evolved to include the process of student learning and engagement.

Bovill, Cook-Sather and Felton (2011) suggest that student involvement in curriculum design can increase student motivation, commitment and engagement. However, students are typically underrepresented in curriculum design. This is potentially due to barriers of implementation such as uneven power relationships, time constraints, external regulations, and students’ lack of confidence and knowledge. Student participation is commonly limited to module evaluation surveys which rarely result in meaningful change.

This study explored student participation in curriculum design by involving students via focus groups. These focus groups were run by an external educator as to remove potential power imbalance between lecturer and students. Students were asked to comment on their experience of a curriculum recently designed by lecturers which was based on student engagement literature. It was found that students’ perceptions did not always echo that of literature. For example, the lecturer-designed curriculum included a large quantity of information regarding the course content, as literature indicated that a wealth of resources increased student attainment. However, students reported to have found the volume of information overwhelming and difficult to digest. Another example was the implementation of seminars with compulsory preparation. Although literature suggested that this strategy may enhance learning, students found it demoralising and resultantly attendance and engagement dropped.

Following the focus groups, several curriculum amendments were established. As a result, attendance, attainment and student satisfaction increased. The dissimilarity between literature-informed and student-informed curriculum highlights the unique perspective students have on teaching and learning, and the difference in priorities between students and staff. Student voice challenges the traditionally accepted assumptions about teaching and learning process and forces lecturers to reconsider their interpretation of literature. The combination of student voice and literature allows for the development of an effective curriculum which increases engagement and academic outcomes. Additionally, student-staff relationships were improved as a result of the process, allowing for increased learning dialogue. This improvement could be attributed to an increased feeling of mutual respect and understanding. Although this process is potentially time consuming and uncomfortable for both staff and students, the benefits were not limited to the learning of participating students. High student engagement and academic outcomes were sustained for multiple iterations of the module. As such, the inclusion of student perspective in curriculum design can be considered incredibly effective at creating a successful curriculum that promotes student engagement and learning.


Q: How does student diversity (e.g., cultural, academic background) impact the effectiveness of student voice in curriculum design?

A: Student diversity plays a crucial role in enhancing the effectiveness of student voice in curriculum design. When students from varied cultural and academic backgrounds share their perspectives, it enriches the curriculum by incorporating a wide range of experiences and viewpoints. This diversity ensures that the curriculum is more inclusive and reflects the needs and interests of a broader student body. However, the article does not specify the strategies used to capture and integrate these diverse voices into the curriculum design process. Ensuring that all voices are heard equally is essential for truly leveraging the benefits of student diversity.

Q: What specific methods or tools are used to analyse student feedback during the curriculum design process, and how do they ensure that all voices are heard and considered equally?

A: The article mentions the use of focus groups facilitated by an external educator to gather student feedback, which helps mitigate power imbalances and encourages open discussion. However, it does not detail the specific methods or tools for analysing this feedback. In general, text analysis and sentiment analysis are valuable tools for interpreting large volumes of qualitative feedback, allowing educators to identify common themes and concerns. These tools can help ensure that feedback from all participants is considered, although the effectiveness of these methods depends on their implementation and the willingness of educators to act on the insights gained. Using such tools in combination with focus groups could offer a more comprehensive understanding of student voice.

Q: Are there examples of student voice leading to the integration of new teaching methodologies or technologies within the curriculum, and what were the outcomes?

A: The article outlines how student feedback led to curriculum amendments that improved attendance, attainment, and student satisfaction. However, it does not provide specific examples of new teaching methodologies or technologies that were introduced as a result of student voice. Generally, integrating student feedback can lead to the adoption of innovative teaching strategies, such as flipped classrooms, collaborative learning, or the use of digital platforms that enhance interactivity and engagement. The outcomes of such integrations often include higher student engagement and better learning outcomes, as curriculum changes are informed by the actual needs and preferences of students. These improvements underscore the value of incorporating student voice in curriculum design.


[Source] S. Brooman, S. Darwent and A. Pimor (2015) The student voice in higher education curriculum design: is there value in listening?, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 52(6), 663-674 DOI: 10.1080/14703297.2014.910128

[1] Fraser, S., & Bosanquet, A. (2006). The curriculum? That’s just a unit outline, isn’t it? Studies in Higher Education, 31, 269–284. DOI: 10.1080/03075070600680521

[2] Bovill, C., Cook-Sather, A., & Felten, P. (2011). Students as co-creators of teaching approaches, course design, and curricula: Implications for academic developers. International Journal for Academic Development, 16, 133–145. DOI 10.1080/1360144X.2011.568690

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