Building Staff Capacity in Student Partnership: Developing a National Approach to Professional Development

Ruth Ní Bheoláin and Oisín Hassan – Hibernia College and NStEP

Throughout 2021 a collaboration was undertaken to develop NStEP’s open course ‘Steps to Partnership Supporting Authentic Student Engagement in Decision-Making’ for staff in Irish higher education, building upon an earlier open course on student engagement delivered as a pilot in Maynooth University in 2019. It provides an introduction to theory, challenges, and opportunities for authentic student engagement in the four domains of student partnership set out in the Steps to Partnership Framework.

The partners involved in the development of the open course were the National Student Engagement Programme (NStEP), Union of Students in Ireland (USI), National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, and colleagues from Technological University Dublin Students’ Union, Hibernia College, and Munster Technological University.

The course is built around a series of online modules, live webinars and various activities that are either individual, group or peer-triad led. It culminates in the creation of a student engagement and partnership plan for the learner’s professional context and practice. It is developed in the context of a flipped classroom (FLN, 2014) approach underpinned by the principles of universal design for learning (Cast, 2018) and community of inquiry (Peacock & Cowan, 2019).

Open Courses for Professional Development are 25-hour courses that are developed by teams of colleagues across the higher education sector in Ireland, in collaboration with the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. These courses, and all of the associated materials, are developed as sectoral resources contributing to overall enhancement of teaching and learning and are therefore published under a CC BY-NC 4.0 licence as open education resources (OER).

At time of writing, the course is underway in its first iteration. This paper/presentation will explore the journey of developing this course, the underpinning learning design and the experience of learners during its first rollout.

The open course explores the Steps to Partnership framework, drawing upon a significant body of international literature and practice, as well as reflecting upon the national and institutional context for student engagement or partnership in Irish higher education.

The course is structured across 6 sections:

Introduction and Context

Developing Underpinning Theories of Student Engagement

The 4 Domains of Student Engagement

The Power of Engagement – Challenges and Opportunities

Enabling Inclusive Student Engagement

Planning for Partnership

This presentation will outline how the course is designed and supported to meet the needs and aspirations of each participant, ultimately to strengthen the ethos and practice of student partnership.


CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2.

Flipped Learning Network (FLN). (2014) The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™ Reproducible PDF can be found at

National Student Engagement Programme (2021). Steps to Partnership: A Framework for Authentic Student Engagement in Decision-Making. Accessed at:

National Student Engagement Programme (2021). Steps to Partnership: Full Reference Document. Accessed at:

Peacock, S., & Cowan, J. (2019). Promoting a Sense of Belonging in Online Learning Communities of Inquiry. Online Learning, 23(2).