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Students as Partners Toolkit


Case Study: The University of Melbourne’s Students as Partners Program

Dr Trent Hennessey


Project Description

In Brief

Domain of SaP Students as Consultants, Mentors, Co-Creators and Co-Leaders
Library Area or Department Academic Skills and Library Learning and Engagement
Number of Student Partners 30
Number of Staff 15
Goal To provide a year-long program for students to work in partnership with the Academic Skills and Library Learning and Engagement teams to contribute to the continuous improvement of resources and services aiming to support students to develop academic, English language, intercultural and professional skills throughout their studies.

All the Details

From a pilot program led by the Academic Skills team in 2020, the SaP program at The University of Melbourne has evolved each year, expanding to a year-long collaborative program with the library in 2022. 

For the 2022 SaP program, approximately 30 student partners were recruited. A variety of student communication channels were used to promote the program across the university throughout December-January. All communications linked to a SaP webpage that overviewed the program, showcased past projects and participants, and enabled students to submit an expression of interest to participate in the program. An online assessment centre was used to select student partners from the expressions of interest received, with selection guided by the need to ensure that the diversity of the student population was represented in the group. 

Participation in the program is voluntary, not paid. For students, the value of participation centres on the professional development offered in the program, students’ desire to connect with other students and contribute to the university, and the recognition of participation in the program that students receive. The program offers a variety of opportunities for student partners to self-select activities to participate in across the year, with the program spanning the four domains of SaP, including students as:


  • consultants (responding to online challenges presenting scenarios and questions)
  • staff mentors (advising staff on student experience) 
  • co-creators (co-designing and developing student learning resources)
  • co-leaders (co-designing and co-delivering workshops, presentations, and panels).

For example, as consultants, student partners participated in a series of online challenges hosted in Microsoft Teams to enable asynchronous participation, and support both student-to-student and student-to-staff interactions. Active participation from library staff throughout the fortnightly duration of each challenge ensured mutual learning and the emergence of rich comment threads. Three library-related topics in the semester 1 challenges included students:

  • sharing their experiences of re-engaging with library services and spaces as they returned to campus
  • redesigning library system notices to ensure communications are clear, meaningful and aligned to user behaviour
  • reviewing the library’s citing and referencing website to ensure information is student-centred and expressed in plain language. 

As part of the program, student partners are offered a series of professional development sessions based on their training needs and interests, with key topics relating to presentation and facilitation skills, project management, and writing. Student participation in training sessions and partnership activities averages around 15-20 hours each semester, varying based on a student partner’s interests, study commitments and other responsibilities. 


Issues and Challenges

Across several iterations of the program between 2020 and 2022, three issues and challenges have repeatedly surfaced in staff and student feedback. Importantly, all can be managed. 

First, accommodating time-differences and students’ busy schedules is a persistent challenge. Enabling students to self-select training and activities of most interest to them creates the flexibility to manage this issue. Providing asynchronous online activities that are shorter (require less than 30 minutes of time) and available for at least a two-week period has also been effective in democratising opportunities to contribute for all student partners. 

Second, the reciprocity that SaP requires means that staff must manage their time and energy to support student partners throughout the course of the program. Taking a team-based approach and carefully planning the design of a program with the sustainability of staff resourcing in mind has assisted with this challenge.

Third, establishing clear expectations and feedback mechanisms for both staff and students is essential. As much as SaP is a learning experience for staff, students also need initial training and support to understand their role and the relational dynamic of partnership with staff. Establishing a dedicated online space for the group (e.g. Microsoft Teams), allocating specific time requirements for each initiative, and undertaking mid- and end-of-program evaluations have proven effective in ensuring the program remains focused and well-run.


What I Have Learned

The opportunity for library staff to work with experienced staff in the Academic Skills team on an established SaP program was eagerly embraced and highly advantageous for the library. It fast-tracked staff learning, bolstered staff confidence, and shared the workload across teams. A special acknowledgement to Morag Burnie, Ariana Henderson and Hilary Dolan from the Academic Skills team for their foundational work establishing a SaP program at the University of Melbourne, and their generous sharing of ideas and experience with the library. This outcome affirms the power of collaboration between related student support teams and offers encouragement for others who are considering taking a collaborative approach to staffing a SaP program at their institution. In short, libraries and librarians may not have to go it alone, particularly if seeking to expand their SaP initiatives from a project to a program.