A workshop (described in this article) was developed to enable students to reflect critically on the notion that they are ‘consumers’ of their education and to support them to develop stronger identities as learners. All materials to run the workshop are freely available at www.brookes.ac.uk/SIIP and specific details are available for educators who would like to run this workshop with their students.
Why this workshop? Understanding consumer attitudes
Higher education has undergone a process of marketisation in several countries where universities have been turned into service providers and students into consumers. Students who identify as consumers are more likely to feel entitled to their degree as a result of financial investment rather than academic investment. They are also more likely to be motivated by the extrinsic goal of gaining well-paid future employment. The pandemic caused by Covid-19 has further reinforced this problem, with students (unsuccessfully) demanding tuition fee refunds over concerns about value for money of online teaching. The workshop was developed as a result of my research, co-produced with students, on the negative impacts of consumer identities on educational outcomes: students who identify more strongly as consumers have lower quality motivation for learning (King & Bunce, 2019), use surface rather than deep approaches to learning (Bunce & Bennett, 2019) and have lower academic attainment (Bunce et al., 2017).
Running the workshop
In the 90-minute workshop, students can self-assess the strength of their learner and consumer identities via an online questionnaire. They receive feedback on their scores and are categorised as one of four student types (see Figure 1).
Next, the educator can use the PowerPoint slides provided to give a short presentation of the research findings regarding the negative impacts of students identifying as consumers on their education.
The main part of the workshop then provides students with the opportunity to form small groups to engage in discussion questions designed to encourage them to reflect critically on the notion of students as consumers and to support them to develop identities as learners. Example discussion questions include: ‘To what extent do you think your university treats you as a learner or consumer?’ and ‘How does the education service provided by your university differ from other types of services, such as having dinner in a restaurant?’ The tutor then holds a brief plenary and emphasises the advantages of students identifying as learners.
Finally, students can retake the questionnaire to determine if their learner identities have increased and their consumer identities have decreased.
To increase the interactivity of the workshop, students could complete an anonymous poll to indicate their student type both before and after the discussion. This would provide the educator and other students in the class with information about the strength of students’ learner and consumer identities at the start of the workshop, and reveal the extent to which these changed as a result of the session.
Impact on students
Overall, students seemed really engaged in the workshop. As one student said, ‘I found this workshop very useful and engaging! Thank you for running it’. Another student noted the insights they gained from participating in the workshop:
[I now understand that] my progress and ability and drive to pass this degree to the best of my abilities remains my responsibility. I expect a high level of teaching and learning opportunities in order to [...] achieve my degree but understand that, if I am not responsible for further reading and expanding on the teaching given, I will not receive a high grade.
In an evaluation of the workshop with 69 first year students, 51% reported that their learner identities increased and 45% reported that their consumer identities decreased. Most students (91%) said that they would recommend the workshop to others. As one comment read, ‘[i]t helps you understand yourself better, your motivations and perhaps even help[s] explain why you do well or not that well in your course.’ Students explained in their feedback that the workshop helped them to better understand the attitudes and behaviours necessary for effective learning.
Final notes and advice for readers
This workshop could be used with undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as students transitioning into university. It could be used with new students, as well as returning students, and can be run as an online workshop or face-to-face. Students could engage with the material individually, but it may be better run as a group educator-led workshop. When to run the workshop will depend on the nature of your subject, but it could be used as part of welcome week, as part of personal tutoring, or within study skills sessions.
If you have large groups of students (e.g. more than 10) you’ll need at least 90 minutes to run the workshop effectively. It could be completed with smaller groups in an hour if necessary. In the educator-led part of the session, it is also important to emphasise to students the negative impacts of a consumer identity on learning.
Bunce, L., Baird, A., & Jones, S. E. (2017). The student-as-consumer approach in higher education and its effects on academic performance. Studies in Higher Education, 42(11), 1958–1978. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2015.1127908
Bunce, L., & Bennett, M. (2019). A degree of studying? Approaches to learning and academic performance among student ‘consumers.’ Active Learning in Higher Education, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787419860204
King, N., & Bunce, L. (2019). Academics’ perceptions of students’ motivation for learning and their own motivation for teaching in a marketized higher education context. British Journal of Education Psychology, 90(3), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12332