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.


[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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