Reimagining the student experience

Sydney, Australia

Our understanding of people who study at universities, and their experiences, are often shaped by a range of context-specific and broader demographic categories. Targeting specific groupings are often central to university agendas, policy and funding; and are informed by large quantitative datasets on student experience. Whilst important, overemphasis of these categories have particular implications for how our students experience universities. The dichotomy of the ‘international’ and ‘domestic’ student is a great example (Jones, 2017), that creates friction in a environment that aims to build student belonging and inclusivity. Even the notion of ‘the student’ becomes fraught with assumptions that groups people in ways that are pervasive and homogenising.

Of course, these categories have a central function for how we develop a basic understanding (particularly in large cohorts) of our student populations – but how might we more fully recognise the fluidity of these categories? How can we support ways that people might position and define themselves in ways that are meaningful to them?

Work. Live. Play. Learn 2018 – present

At the University of Sydney (USYD) Business School we have conducted the Work. Live. Play. Learn (WLPL) project since 2018, which aims to collect multimedia qualitative data that better contextualises the student experience around their work, lives and play. Using the the student experiences digital storytelling (SEDS) methodology (Bryant, 2023), WLPL moves beyond quantitative measures of ‘student satisfaction’ allowing students students to construct and tell stories to each other that are co-generative and meaningful.

The stories told through WLPL are authentic, dynamic and co-generative, with students exercising agency in the way they communicate their stories. (See for example this post on belonging). However, we have had limited opportunity to allow other students to critically reflect and examine these stories. In particular, the narrative and methodological structure follows well established but Western notions of storytelling. Further to this, we have limited understanding of how students, in particular those from more diverse backgrounds, might interrogate, reimagine and recreate each their own (and others) stories.

Reimagining Work. Live. Play. Learn (2023 -)

In 2023, through WLPL, we aim to more critically examine how students tell their stories. In addition to our annual WLPL, we have the opportunity to revise and refine our methodological approach through the competitive One Sydney, Many People (OSMP) Project Funding program. The OSMP funding aims to assist projects which seek to celebrate, respect and value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges and cultures within our community.

The Working Together: Reimagining Work, Live, Play, and Learn project utilises existing and new data from the Work. Live. Play. Learn (WLPL) project, to extend student narratives and stories, through the use Indigenous research methodologies, i.e., yarning, Indigenous Standpoint Theory ( and Dadirii (deep listening) (e.g., Ungunmeer-Baumann et al, 2022).

Rather than seeking to create a discrete WLPL for Indigenous Australian students, we aim to engage an Indigenous Australian researcher, with expertise in Indigenous and/or decolonizing methodologies, and Indigenous Australian USYD (with a focus on Business School) students to critique, interrogate, (re)imagine and (re)create – new & old ways of telling the stories of USYD students’ experiences.

The project will revise the current methodological approach of WLPL and co-design a series of multimedia artefacts that re-interpret student narratives in ways that foreground Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives on the student experience of learning. In doing so, the project aims to de-colonize the broader student narratives, curriculum and content delivery. The project is guided by the ‘True Track Ten principles’ (Janke, 2021), ensuring data and stories are (stored and) told in ways that respect and uphold Indigenous Cultural & Intellectual Property (ICIP) and culturally sensitive information.

Through this funding we aim to transform this project, to ensure that students can create and tell stories in ways that are meaningful to them.

Beyond 2023

This is an exciting step for WLPL to continue to challenge the status quo of Business (and Higher) Education. In giving even greater agency to our students, we can reinterpret the student experience in ways that recognise and celebrate student diversity in ways that are meaningful to our students.

As WLPL is a central project to the USYD Business School Education and Business Co-Design portfolios, improvements to this project will directly influence curriculum design. WLPL allows educators and the university to more holistically understand the student experience – in ways that acknowledge the fuzziness yet importance of student categories. In doing so, we can more acutely understand our student.

To hear more about the project and the intended outcomes – contact Ryan Menner on ryan.menner@sydney.edu.au

About the author

Ryan Menner is an experienced research professional, focusing on public/community sector workforces; knowledge and expertise in organisations; and, science and public research funding. Ryan has held a number of roles across university research portfolios, that involve pure and applied qualitative research; developing and coordinating research strategies, policy and initiatives; research training and supervision of undergraduate research projects; industry/community engagement; and, communicating research findings / public forums. Further to this, Ryan has contributed to a number of university service roles through committee, academic network and union membership.

Currently Ryan is employed as a Research Associate (Associate Lecturer) in Business Co-Design, Dean's Unit at the University of Sydney Business School.

Published by Ryan Menner

Ryan Menner is an experienced research professional, focusing on public/community sector workforces; knowledge and expertise in organisations; and, science and public research funding. Ryan has held a number of roles across university research portfolios, that involve pure and applied qualitative research; developing and coordinating research strategies, policy and initiatives; research training and supervision of undergraduate research projects; industry/community engagement; and, communicating research findings / public forums. Further to this, Ryan has contributed to a number of university service roles through committee, academic network and union membership. Currently Ryan is employed as a Research Associate (Associate Lecturer) in Business Co-Design, Dean's Unit at the University of Sydney Business School.

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