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Developing New Student-Led Knowledge Exchange Opportunities: guidance and resources

This page houses a suite of resources intended to support individuals or organisations who wish to offer student-led knowledge exchange opportunities.

What is the Student-Led Knowledge Exchange model?

As part of a project funded by the Office for Students and Research England, we developed a model of Student-led Knowledge Exchange (SLKE). It is aimed at helping universities develop opportunities for students to engage in authentic learning experiences, as well as contributing to their local community. It can be adapted for use in diverse contexts.

How could it be used in practice?

Students can be encouraged to work with external organisations (healthcare providers, local businesses, NGOs or community groups) through a range of activities such as clinics, volunteering or internships. They work on real-world problems with someone from the organisation, and with the support of a university facilitator (who could be a member of staff or more experienced student) to gain the benefits of the learning triad and 3 way knowledge exchange.

Planning for SLKE

Prior planning and preparation will play a significant role in the setting-up and potential longevity of any SLKE project, ensuring that it is sustainable. Important principles to consider include: 

Recruitment and inclusivity 

  • Develop a strong network to draw upon. It is important that the project is not overly reliant upon one or two individuals, and that it has the support, backing and understanding at departmental levels. 
  • Enthusiasm and confidence can be convincing and appealing characteristics when recruiting students, however, it is often not these students who have the most transformative experience in relation to their effectiveness, learning and development.  
  • Whilst many students engage with SLKE projects through word of mouth, specific measures may need to be considered to ensure the recruitment of students from marginalised groups (e.g. think about timing for students with work or caring responsibilities; think about access for students with disabilities). 

Student motivations 

  • Students should be made fully aware of how much their involvement with SLKE projects can not only help develop their discipline knowledge, in applying this to real-world practice situations, but also more general employment skills, such as communication, team-working and organisation.
  • Consider the strengths and weaknesses of a curriculum or extra-curricular positioning. The former can encourage engagement but also introduces a more high-stakes, less playful element to the activity which may limit learning.
  • Students are often more motivated by real-world activities – and the greatest learning benefits often accrue to weaker students so think about how to interest them in the activity.

Staff expertise 

  • External stakeholders value evidence-based practice and therefore the involvement of an academic institution and its facilitators.  
  • It’s worth considering what kind of knowledge is needed by facilitators in the activity. Is it propositional knowledge, or is procedural knowledge as important?

Resource availability 

  • A possible restriction but precious resource for SLKE projects is time. The role of students in these projects should not be seen as an opportunity to speed up processes: students need time to develop their skills and knowledge base, and over time their effectiveness will grow. Furthermore, the time and support needed for the administration of projects should not be underestimated. 
  • Student-led knowledge exchange in authentic contexts can be resource intensive. Is there external support available? Remember that students are contributing to an activity with real-world benefits which should add value
  • Consideration should also be given to any specific resources or equipment that is needed for the projects, and whether both facilitators and students are familiar with this. 

Space and place 

  • Accessibility is an important consideration from an access and safety perspective, but also in relation to practical concerns such as parking facilities or public transport links which can represent significant barriers to involvement if they are not suitable. 
  • The space used for the activity also impacts on the culture which is developed. All participants need a sense of joining, developing, and belonging to a community. This is often supported by a sense of shared ownership of space, rather than a space signifying ownership by a specific group. 
  • Whilst it is important to foster a professional working environment, it should also be welcoming, relaxed and safe, encouraging friendly, experimental, and even playful approaches to practice. 

Timing in academic cycle 

  • Consideration must be given to the student academic cycle, which at certain times of year (e.g. summer break) can inhibit their availability.
  • Working in partnership with different types of institution, also brings with it the need for flexibility and understanding of different timescales and modes of working. Academic cycles can seem very slow to business partners!

Rules and expectations 

  • It’s really important that students are briefed effectively on ground rules and expectations regarding professional behaviour. This may include confidentiality issues, use of language or basic safety depending on the context.
  • All stakeholders should be active participants in the SLKE process, taking increasing levels of responsibility for their own involvement and development.  The over-riding aim of any SLKE project is to be empowering for all stakeholders, providing them with the agency to make valued contributions and plot their own journeys.  
  • The area of focus for any SLKE project should be of a holistic nature, addressing people or systems as a whole, rather than as a sum of isolated issues. 

Risk assessment

  • The project should be situated in a real-world environment, which does bring associated risks both to students and participants. It’s worth considering how you might respond to inappropriate behaviour from members of the public.
  • There’s also a potential for risk to external participants if students attempt to engage in an activity that they are under-qualified for. Again, clear briefing and prior planning should mitigate these risks.
  • It is important to note that if planned appropriately, risks should be mitigated and are far outweighed by the learning gains.


  • Building in evaluation to any SLKE activity from the start is strongly recommended as not only does it help you understand how effective it has been, but it often helps clarify the aims which you are aspiring to early on in the project.
  • Any form of standardised evaluation of SLKE projects is inherently challenging due to the diversity of projects. It’s worth considering a flexible approach, such as transformative evaluation (TE). TE, which elicits ‘most significant change stories’ from participants in an activity, is adaptable to different contexts and can be undertaken by student researchers with minimal training – thus it is an in-depth yet very efficient mode of evaluation.


Preconditions for SLKE

There are a few important preconditions that should underpin SLKE projects to encourage success, which if shared across all stakeholder groups will provide a powerful foundation from which to build, as well as instilling a strong sense of community and unity:

  • It is important that there are a set of identifiable shared values between the university and other partners, and that there is a trusting relationship between stakeholders. Specific values that were particularly relevant in our project were those of egalitarianism and humanity, where all stakeholders are considered equal partners and ‘owners’ of the project. The partners in the project should share an understanding of the need for the activity.
  • A second important precondition to setting up SLKE opportunities is taking a social view of knowledge. This is in contrast to the more hierarchical view of knowledge (transmitted from experts in universities, and used by non-experts outside) which underpins many KE activities. In the SLKE model, all participants have valid knowledge to share of different kinds (see also ‘Prior Knowledge’)
  • The third precondition which we identify in the model is ‘learning outside the classroom’. This may be literally outdoors, or in a local community space – but equally it may involve inviting external participants into university learning spaces. The important element is that engagement with the external world through a partner outside the university should occur. It is this that situates the pedagogy as knowledge exchange, and it is an important contributor to the outcomes achieved.

Prior knowledge for SLKE

To develop a successful SLKE activity, it is necessary to value the different types of prior knowledge which participants bring to the setting.  A key element of the SLKE model concerns the different forms of knowledge exchange which occur between individuals in a ‘learning triad’ consisting of a student, a facilitator (often a member of staff) and an external participant or partner in the activity. All three individuals are seen as having valid expertise, and the presence of students encourages all to take the role of learner and to be more open to new ideas. It’s important to remember that prior knowledge can come in different forms, including: 

  • Propositional (expert) knowledge
  • Personal (lay/tacit) knowledge, and
  • Procedural knowledge (knowledge of how to do something)

Pedagogic context for SLKE

The pedagogical approach taken in an SLKE project is perhaps the most critical element of all, to ensure that all stakeholders are provided with the opportunity to develop and gain from the overall process. Here are the key pedagogical points to consider from the model:

  • The learning and developmental opportunities must be multi-directional, all stakeholders need to be able to, not only learn from each other but also ‘teach’ or inform each other, the success of the project hinges on this, in a Learning Triad. Furthermore, this has a very positive effect on balancing power dynamics. 
  • The degree and level of student involvement should be scaffolded. Some students will need to begin with observation and shadowing, whilst others, with perhaps more experience or confidence, will be able to take a greater degree of responsibility from the start, with all working towards more advanced involvement over time. 
  • Making strong theory-practice connections is a key part of SLKE, however, this is real-world and external participants can often be more diverse than theory suggests, it is therefore important that experimental approaches are encouraged, providing they are appropriate, safe, and supervised. 
  • Reflection is a vital part of the learning process for all the stakeholders involved, even more so when experimentation is involved. Students particularly should be encouraged to reflect upon and question their approaches, discussing this with facilitators and external participants.

Links to other KE resources and toolkits

UK Research and Innovation - How to do Effective Knowledge Exchange

University of Oxford, Department of Education - Impact and Knowledge Exchange Tookit

Knowledge Exchange Concordat - Eight Guiding Principles

Knowledge Exchange Concordat - Concordat for the Advancement of Knowledge Exchange in Higher Education

Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) - Public Engagement, Knowledge Exchange and Impact: a toolkit for HERA projects

kMb researcher (blog post) - What kind of knowledge mobilser are you?

A model for SLKE

Whilst the model is currently under development, a simplified version is available by email, please use this contact link.