The power of partnerships: #CAN18

Visual graphic of CAN18 from Ada Jusic (Scribing Magic)

I was fortunate to have been involved with the creation of the Jisc supported Change Agents’ Network which was established in 2012 in partnership with Simon Walker, University of Greenwich and Mark Kerrigan, Anglia Ruskin University. The purpose of the network was to establish student staff partnerships as an approach to support curriculum innovation. Recognising the creativity that students bring and their interest in digital, it was an opportunity to drive change and to see how partnerships could support the take up and embedding of TEL across both higher and further education.

At that time, many institutions had pockets of funding or projects which were looking at how students as partners or as change agents could be involved in curriculum development. The early CAN conferences were small in number with representatives from those universities who were seen to be trail blazing student partnerships – Birmingham City University, University of Winchester, Exeter University and Lincoln. Small numbers of staff and students collaborating around particular projects. We have collected case studies from these trail blazers and you can follow their journeys here.

Moving forward to 2018 and the 6th annual Change Agents’ Network conference hosted by the Student engagement team at the University of Winchester in glorious sunshine. Winchester hosted our 2014 conference and it was a wonderful opportunity to be back and to hear their experiences. Their student fellows played a key role in the conference supporting the conference organisation as well as presenting on their work. The students were brilliant ambassadors for Winchester and the warm hospitality was noted by delegates.

With a 2 day event with over 50 sessions and 150 staff and students in attendance on both days it was a celebration of the power of partnerships. Colleges and universities from across the UK attended and presented on their work with most sessions being either student led or jointly presented with staff.

City of Islington College learners presenting on their work as student ambassadors

The themes of the conference show how wide spread and varied student partners now are across the sector:

1 Keeping student engagement and partnership relevant in an age of change

2 Researching, evaluating and evidencing effective engagement and partnership

3 Developing digital capabilities in an ever changing landscape

4 Ensuring the student voice is heard and the feedback loop is closed

5 Student-staff partnerships to support innovation and inclusivity in the curriculum

6 Entrepreneurship and innovation showcase

Day 1 highlights

It was a privilege to hear Colette Fletcher, Assistant Vice-Chancellor, University of Winchester and Tali Atvars, Student Union President, Winchester Student Union open the conference with their keynote offering top tips for effective partnerships. This was truly demonstrated by their presentation and you could see the strong ethos of mutual respect, honesty and understanding coming into play.

This set the spirit for the conference and the conference graphic summarised these top tips for effective partnerships:

One of the key themes I noted from the sessions I attended was the role student partners/ambassadors/champions are playing in supporting the developing of staff and students’ digital capability. There were many sessions where students were working with staff on TEL related projects, on supporting staff with their use of new VLEs, on offering staff ideas on how they could use a range of tools or apps to support their teaching. Presentations from Sheffield Hallam University, UCL Changemakers, the University of Hertfordshire and City of Islington College we’re using this approach and showing the benefits both for staff and students.

Day 1 ended on a high with the launch of the 6th edition of the CAN inspired Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnerships and Change by Dawn Lees from University of Exeter. This edition brings together work presented at the 5th CAN conference and offers a valuable collection of case studies, papers, opinion pieces and video case studies on how partnerships are being embedded into practice.

The development of the Journal has been led by Simon Walker and the 6 editions have had over 17,000 downloads from the UK and across the globe. Evidence again of the impact of partnerships. I am very proud to be co-editor of the Journal and to see the call for contributions to the 7th edition announced at the conference by Tom Lowe with the University of Winchester taking over the editorial lead for this edition.

Day 2

After an evening of relaxed networking and rich conversations, day 2 started with an inspirational keynote from Tansy Jessop, Professor of Research Informed Teaching, Southampton Solent University. Having followed Tansy’s work over the years on TESTA and the Jisc FASTECH projects, it was a privilege to listen to he thoughtful and provoking keynote. Tansy challenged us to think about the value of higher education, what we think students expect and what students actually do expect from their educational experiences.

We were challenged to ‘Read more, write more’ and had the opportunity to write a reflective poem ourselves! I so enjoyed the chance to reflect on our own practice, not something we often get a chance to do in the fast paced world we live in. Thank you Tansy for opening our minds and for such a valuable presentation.

Day 2 offered a rich smorgasbord of practice with so many inspiring sessions that it was hard to make a choice. We were fortunate to have the brilliant work of Ada Jusic (@adajusic) who captured the themes and key messages of the sessions to weave into our conference tapestry!

One of the highlights of all CAN conferences is the student panel and we were fortunate to have 5 student partners join us for the panel representing University of Winchester, Epping Forest College, Keele University and Imperial College. The panellists embodied the benefits partnerships bring – with our students speaking about how they roles as students partners had enabled them to develop their confidence, digital skills, team working skills, presentation skills and much more. Importantly all our panellists recognised that their experiences were going to support them in their progression into the work place or into higher education for our two FE students. That is the true power of partnerships!

Student panel at CAN18 chaired by Tom Lowe

I was so incredibly proud to have been part of such a fantastic showcase of practice from across higher and further education. To have met such eloquent and passionate students who want to make education the best experience for all and to hear how staff are so open to change and collaboration with their students to foster and support innovation. And to have seen how the CAN network which we established in 2012 has now become a self sustaining network expanding each year with its membership.

I want to say a special thank you to the brilliant Winchester team who organised such a successful conference and made us all so welcome:

Cassie Shaw – Learning and Teaching Enhancement Officer
Maisha Islam – Centre for Student Engagement Graduate Intern
Dr Stuart Sims – Head of Student Engagement
Rosie Lewis – SU Vice President, Education
Tom Lowe – Centre for Student Engagement Manager

The CAN team with Ellen Lessner, Clare Killen and Simon Walker with our souvenir Winchester sheep!
 So what is next for CAN?

Dates for 2019 CAN will be announced soon and we even have CAN 2020 lined up with a host institution too!

For me, the one thing I am going to take away is the energy and ideas which we can build into our work at Jisc with students. We have recently launched a call for expressions of interest from students who wish to become Jisc student partners, to inform Jisc on its work and to ensure what we do supports the highest quality digital experience for all our students. If you are interested in finding out more about our student partners, please email us on

Please keep sharing your reflections on what you are taking away from CAN18 and how you are supporting student partnerships at your organisation using #CAN18. Join the CAN network by visiting

You can view the Storify of tweets from the conference and presentations will be available from the conference blog


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