Integrating Successful Student Owned Learning with a Research Intensive University

Samantha Pugh, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leeds


There is currently much dialogue within higher education regarding the role that
learners can have in enhancing their own learning experience and the opportunities that universities should provide to enable them to do so. There is increasing recognition of the importance of the ‘student voice’, and the role that students can play in influencing the design and content of the higher education curriculum. This therefore gives rise to the question, how can we as universities successfully involve students in creating the learning process in a meaningful way? Student owned learning (SOL) involves placing learners in direct control of their learning, but within a broad academically-defined framework that offers sufficient flexibility for the students themselves to determine the overall direction and nature of the activities that they will undertake, either as individuals or as a group.

If implemented successfully, SOL provides a balance of activity that enables
students to learn deeply, but perhaps more significantly to effectively develop their higher-order capabilities deemed essential for the workplace and further study, including open-ended problem solving, group work, leadership, critical analysis and resilience.

Several examples of SOL activities that have been successfully integrated within the Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the University of Leeds will be presented, exploring the benefits that student owned learning offers to both staff and students. The paper will conclude by offering practical advice and guidance for those wishing to explore how their learning activities may become more ‘student owned’.

Chair’s Report

Workshop Panopto video recording (University of York login required)

Samantha Pugh delivered a thoroughly engaging session full of reflection and discussion. The talk started with a definition of Student Owned Learning (SOL), which involves three main aspects:

  • students directing their own learning,
  • working in partnership with students to create knowledge, and
  • students having a sense of ownership for their work

SOL is intrinsically a creative process and as such ownership is a key factor, empowering students and having a positive effect developing intrinsic motivation through tangible outcomes that make students proud of their work.

The Leeds Curriculum comprises:

  1. Research based education (based on Healey’s 2005 Research-Teaching Nexus Matrix)
  2. Core curriculum threads:
    • Ethics and responsibility: becoming a considered an informed decision maker
    • Global and cultural awareness: to acknowledge and appreciate the implications of diversity
    • Employability: students are able to articulate and evidence skills
  3. Broadening experiences through ‘Discovery modules’ and/or ‘Co-curricular activities’. Discovery modules can amount to up to 40 credits and are available to students across all departments to discover other disciplines, for example a student from English or Chemistry who is interested in music can take up a Music module (usually in Y1 and Y2 but in some departments this could happen every year of their degree). The Leeds for Life website is a wonderful tool developed to help students discover the ‘Co-curricular activities’ available at the University of Leeds improving and making the most of their student experience.

It was interesting to find out what our colleagues in Leeds are doing to foster – quoting this year’s keynote speaker, Professor Angela Brew – ‘curiosity’ among undergraduates, developing and delivering innovative teaching practices that enhance student learning and increase employability.

The next issue of Forum magazine will include a full feature on SOL by Samantha Pugh.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s