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Students as Partners: Innovating Education through Action Research


Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes.

Topics: Improving the learning experience, engagement of students and staff
Disciplines: Multi-/interdisciplinary research
Skills: Research in practice, Action Research, professional communication, writing an official recommendation report, cooperative research, problem solving, student initiative, developing a critical research attitude

Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. The class is also open to applications from third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College.

Students can only take part in groups of at least 2. Students apply as a group, but are each considered for admittance individually, based on their written motivation and average grade, of which the written motivation weighs the heaviest. In your application please provide the names of all your group members in the comments, as well as a brief summary of your innovation idea. It may occur that not all members of the group are admitted to the class. If only one group member is admitted, the course cannot be followed, since it is a group course. However, if you wish to work together with Young Academy Leiden (see the description below), you may also apply individually.

Each group must already have an innovation idea prior to application. Immediately after application, this idea will be evaluated by the course coordinator (Dr. T.L. Platteel). Through the course coordinators your group first needs to receive faculty approval to research and implement your idea, or to adjust it if necessary. This also serves as a commitment by the faculties in question to issue an official reply to your final recommendation report.


Do you know how the university can be improved? Join this Honours Class for a chance to research and implement your ideas!

Students as Partners
Students working to improve a part of university life, together with teachers and other internal stakeholders: that is the essence of the Honours Class ‘Students as Partners’ (StAP). Interesting for both students and teachers, because StAP can provide valuable contributions to the further development of the learning experience at our university.

Innovation idea
Students can provide and put their own innovation idea into practice, with which they can improve the learning experience for themselves, their programme, their faculty, or the entire university. The students test their ideas first, in groups of 2 to 4, through Action Research. Previous projects have, for example, focussed on the topic of ‘Law & Sustainability’ to generate more attention for sustainability and the environment within the Faculty of Law, or on creating an academic publication platform where Bachelor students can have their research published and gain early experience with the academic publishing process. There have also been projects of such topics as labour market preparation, mental health, and interactive education.

Action Research
Action Research is a way of conducting research in practice that utilises methods from the social sciences to gather information, evaluate preconceived notions, and generate, implement, and evaluate ideas for practical improvements. It is conducted on the basis of a dynamic research question that will be answered throughout the research process. Action Research allows for an effective and efficient approach to solving practical problems. The guidance and supervision from ICLON is aimed at this.

Improving the learning experience
At StAP our priority is improvement of university life by students, for students. The students are supported by the coordinator(s) of the Honours Class, and work together closely with stakeholders from within (and perhaps outside) the university. If the proposed improvement concerns a specific module or class, this can only be done with the approval of the teacher responsible. The projects must concern an improvement to the learning experience, for example teaching methods, extra-curricular initiatives, the use of technology in education, learning spaces, etc.

Young Academy Leiden
The Young Academy Leiden (YAL) is a select group of young academics at Leiden University. It serves as a platform to bring young, enthusiastic and driven early career academics together. YAL is looking for students to help develop a unique education innovation idea centered upon local sustainability objectives, because with a growing world population, sustainability is becoming increasingly important. In 2015, world leaders outlined 17 Sustainable Development Goals; the directive of one of these goals is to make human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. Therefore we ask ourselves the question: how can we make Leiden University and our community more sustainable? This is a truly interdisciplinary question. We therefore invite students from different faculties to partner with Young Academy Leiden and Citizen Science Lab and participate together in this Honours Class.

Course objectives:

Upon successful completion of this course you will have learned:

  • How to apply Action Research to different aspects of your life to generate improvements.

  • How to write a recommendation report that meets official requirements.

  • How to work together effectively in small groups of students, with stakeholders, and in larger “critical friend” groups.

  • How to communicate on a professional, peer-to-peer level with stakeholders such as teachers and university staff.

  • How to recognize problems and identify the most effective solutions in practice.

  • How to work independently on your own research, of your own initiative.

Programme and timetable:

The programme of the meetings is as follows:
Each group of students will receive personal guidance in conducting Action Research (such as feedback on their plans, improvements to be made, and data collection). Besides this, 5 workgroups will be organised for all groups together. These workgroups will be organised more or less according to the following subjects. However, since Action Research is a cyclic process, the various research phases will be discussed again in each workgroup session.

Tuesday 29 September 2020 17:30-19:30 hrs (online)
Starting an Action Research project - Workgroup 1
Getting acquainted with Action Research. Narrowing down the research question, setting up a general plan, identifying stakeholders.

Tuesday 27 October 2020 17:30-19:30 hrs (online)
Data, stakeholders, and exploration - Workgroup 2
Preparing data collection, refining plan, refining research question, checking progress.

Tuesday 24 November 2020 17:30-19:30 hrs (online)
Getting started with your data and making a plan - Workgroup 3
Data analysis, planning improvement, deciding actions.

Tuesday 12 January 2021 17:30-19:30 hrs (online)
Putting plans into action, data analysis, and coming up with new plans - Workgroup 4
Data analysis, preparing presentation and recommendation report, cyclic process.

Tuesday 16 February 2021 17:30-19:30 hrs (TBA)
Drawing conclusions, identifying next steps, writing and wrapping up - Workgroup 5
Progress report, tackling problems, presenting your research to the group (preparation for dissemination to stakeholders etc.).


The first workgroup will be held in Kamerlingh Onnes Building, roomB025 and if possible (TBA) also the last workshop will be held in Leiden. Other workgroups will be held online.

Reading list:

Bovill, C., 2017. A Framework to Explore Roles Within Student-Staff Partnerships in
Higher Education: Which Students Are Partners, When, and in What Ways? International Journal for Students as Partners 1(1), 1-5.

Dunn, R., Hattie, J., and Bowles, T., 2018. Using the Theory of Planned Behavior to explore teachers’ intentions to engage in ongoing teacher professional learning. Studies in Educational Evaluation 59(1), 288-294.

Kay, J., Dunne, E. and Hutchinson, J., 2010. Rethinking the values of higher education - students as change agents? The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 1-11. Available at

Matthews, K.E., 2017. Five Propositions for Genuine Students as Partners Practice. International Journal for Students as Partners 1(2), 1-9.

Matthews, K.E., Mercer-Mapstone, L., Dvorakova, S.L., Acai, A., Cook-Sather, A., Felten, P., Healey, M., Healey, R.L., and Marquis, E., 2019. Enhancing outcomes and reducing inhibitors to
the engagement of students and staff in learning and teaching partnerships: implications for
academic development. International Journal for Academic Development 24(3), 246-259.

Platteel, T., 2020. Action research a quick guide. ICLON, 1-7.

Reason, P. and Heron, J., A short guide to co-operative inquiry. Available at

Course load and teaching method:

This course is worth 5 EC, amounting to 140 hours of study:

  • ‘Critcal friend workgroups’: 5 workgroup sessions of 2 hours (mandatory attendance)

  • Guidance per group (online or face-to-face): 2 sessions of 2 hours per group

  • Reading literature and practical work (independent research): 40 hours

  • Assignments (preparation for workgroup sessions) & final report: 82 hours

Assessment methods:

Grading is as follows:

  • 30% Workgroup assignments and active participation during workgroups

  • 10% Research-proposal to relevant faculties

  • 30% Presentation/pitch during faculty board meeting/education festival

  • 30% Final recommendation report

Students can only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.

The assessment methods will be further explained in the first session of the class.

Brightspace and uSis:

Brightspace will be used in this course. Students can register for the Brightspace page one week prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Registration process:

Enrolling in this course is possible from Monday 17 August 2020 up to and including Thursday 3 September 2020 23:59 through the Honours Academy. The registration link will be posted on the student website of the Honours Academy.

In your motivation please provide the names of your group members as well as a brief summary of your innovation idea.

Contact: Tamara Platteel