Using Micro-Sprints to support a student partnership teaching and learning project

Reflections from students and staff

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

Earlier in semester 2 of the 2020/1 academic year, a team of students and staff in the School of Health Sciences collaborated on a teaching and learning project to review an online course called ‘Introduction to Statistics’ as part of the new research methods materials for postgraduate students in the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health. The purpose of the course was to develop statistical thinking that crosses over educational boundaries. Three undergraduate students were recruited via the central Online Blended Learning Student Partnership Intern project to work on the review.

Over 7 weeks, the team worked together using micro-sprints to organise and manage the project. A micro-sprint is based on Sprints within an Agile Framework but adapted for higher education. There are four stages to each sprint -

  • Plan: set the goal for this sprint and identify what needs to be done to develop something useable
  • Do: the team work on the current sprint tasks to achieve the overall sprint goal
  • Review: the team and relevant stakeholders review the sprint tasks to determine whether they are ‘done’
  • Reflect: the team reflect on the current sprint process to improve the process for the next sprint

A micro-sprint condenses these events into 3-hours. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the micro-sprint has been adapted to work fully online, taking advantage of synchronous and asynchronous technologies to support the process. This post explores the experiences of the team on the project through their reflections on the process.

At the start of the project, the team were generally feeling positive, with most of the apprehension on the student side stemming from the subject matter of ‘statistics’. The students had limited experience with statistics from their undergraduate dissertations and tended to see statistics as something ‘scary’ and an ‘add-on’ to their discipline. From the start, the micro-sprints helped to develop a ‘team approach’ to student partnerships and this was evident in the feedback:

I think we worked really well as a team. It wasn’t like student vs staff, but more like 6 team members bouncing ideas around and trying to figure out the best way to do certain things.

This is the main thing that stood out to me on this project, being that ( i would say) it was a true representation of ‘partnership’ and the collaboration of students and staff — not just students working for staff. The respect staff gave our opinion and contributions was empowering, and enabled us to approach meetings with honesty and integrity knowing that our contributions would be appreciated. The open environment that formed from this fed into really positive and thoughtful discussions, and I would say the productivity of these discussions was largely based upon the ‘sprint’ structure that we followed.

There was definitely more of a team feeling. I feel like in this project we were treated as equals and our opinions were valued by staff. I felt like this project has been the one where I felt the most part of a team with the staff, rather than it being students just doing some work for staff.

When asked about the sprint process (plan, do, review, reflect), the team agreed that:

The sprint process created structure but without dampening any creativity. It allowed us to make use of the meeting time that we had together by engaging in insightful discussions sparked from our work done prior to the meeting. Aside from productivity, I think the sprint process actually helped with creating a more relaxed environment for our meetings where it was okay to go off on a tangent or say something slightly off the mark, as there wasn’t a strict agenda to follow. I think this is important because a lot of the advances that we made were actually formulated from these ‘off the cards’ discussions where we could almost think out loud.

The micro-sprints were also seen as a ‘fantastic way of using the time efficiently and effectively’ and ‘provided a framework for collaboration and equality in the sessions’, which led to a feeling of ‘shared ownership’. This is positive considering that the project was only 7 weeks long, where the team were only able to meet once a week. The team reported no issues with the overall micro-sprint process in their final reflections and any issues the team had were addressed through the sprint actions (the ‘reflect’ stage of the micro-sprint). These included things like managing notifications in the different tools, amending the workflow in Trello to better capture the outputs of the micro-sprints etc. These became fewer and fewer over the weeks as we were able to co-create a conducive team environment that suited the team and the project. One student said that this was ‘honestly my favourite project I have worked on!’

Some of the challenges experienced during this project stemmed from the limited time of the students on the project, therefore, some tasks needed to be prioritised. The use of digital project tools, such as Trello, were instrumental in effectively prioritising work. There were also some technical challenges of working online (such as connection issues) but these were resolved swiftly.

Interestingly, the students on the project agreed that the project increased their engagement in teaching and learning processes within their own courses such as becoming more aware of how courses are designed and how student partnership projects can help improve courses. The staff on the team derived some valuable insights from the partnership project. One staff member said ‘don’t assume you know what students want or need’ and another said

It reinforced my thoughts about the power of collaborative teaching methods…it also shows you don’t need to plough lots of resources into transformational change.

The team overwhelmingly agreed that the overall project exceeded initial expectations and no negative outcomes were reported in the feedback:

It met my expectations and exceeded them (in a good way!) — this is the most organised and efficient project I have worked on. I really like the micro-sprint structure, and I felt part of a team with the staff.

It exceeded my expectations. I thought that the students were engaged and provided real in-depth insights to the course and provided lots of constructive positive feedback to feed into the further development of this course. Their insights have been invaluable.

It exceeded them in terms of the depth of feedback from the students and their willingness to propose solutions as opposed to just identifying issues.

In summary, the student-staff partnership has had a significant impact on this project. The overwhelming advice by the team to staff and students considering working on a partnership project is ‘just do it!’

It’s truly motivational. You’ll be able to drive new ideas into your teaching whilst seeing your course from different perspectives. This not only helps now but in the long term when considering student learning requirements for your teaching.

It’s an invaluable source of insight into your teaching. You get to have a conversation with people who’ve thought deeply about their learning and, like you, want to help students to achieve their learning aims. It’s fun too.

If you want any more information on different elements of this project, please contact:

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Exploring how student partnership practice can be embedded in higher education

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Catherine Wasiuk

Catherine Wasiuk

Freelance Digital Learning Designer

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