The 4 themes

STEP4Excellence – The Swansea University Pathway to an improved Student Experience

STEP4Excellence is a major programme being undertaken by the university in collaboration with the Student’s Union with one aim in mind: to substantially improve the experience for our students here in Swansea.

We are now in Year 2 of the programme and we’re integrating two new themes into our work.

Running since July 2015, the project has made strong progress in its first year with themes covering:

Cultural change – focussing on delivering an outstanding student experience by improving communication and the sense of community for both students and staff

Student engagement – placing students at the heart of engagement activities with the enhancement of Student Representative system, the introduction of student engagement leads within colleges and the creation of staff student forums across the institution

Academic and pastoral support – ensuring appropriate support for students by creating a new system of student academic and pastoral support with appropriately trained staff in place to deal with a wide variety of issues

Learning and teaching – delivering the best teaching possible with introductions such as the CPD framework for staff.


The project is now moving into its second year and will continue to work in close partnership with academic colleagues, professional services and the Students’ Union focussing on two new themes:

Student empowerment:

  • Empower student action by building a culture and community of practice through engagement with academic societies
  • Empower the student voice through the development of the feedback culture
  • Empower staff & students with a culture of co-creation

Student participation:

  • Enhancing culture of digital education
  • Student to student interactions
  • Involving students in modular design


The project has the full backing of Swansea University Students’ Union, which believes passionately in the drive to improve the overall student experience here at Swansea University.

“STEP4Excellence is a project which places students at the heart of its objectives," said SUSU president Lloyd Harries.

“Last year the focus was on several themes, and a number of improvements have been made to student life as a direct result. We’ve seen student representation improve across the schools and colleges, and the creation of a brand new student life network.

“We are now ready to launch two brand new themes; Student Participation in Learning and Student Empowerment for Learning.

“These are themes which are not just important to students in Swansea, but they are very much at the top of the agenda for all students across the UK.

“We’re really excited as a Students’ Union to continue working closely with the University to collectively and continually improve the student experience.”

The Team

The aim of STEP4X is to be a collaboration between the university and the students. With that in mind, the two new project themes for year two once again have leadership from the University and the Student's Union.

Together these leads are responsible for driving forward progress and outcomes on their themes.

Project lead for STEP4X - Professor Martin Stringer

Student Participation in Learning - Dr Stephen McVeigh, Robiu Salisu

Student Empowerment for Learning – Adam Shore, Robyn Lock, Chris Wilson


In turn, the leads are supported by academic and professional services staff together with volunteer students and student representatives.

The Consultations


STEP4Excellence – Progress on Consultation


 The consultation process took place during the winter of 2015/6 at Singleton, the Bay and Carmarthen campuses.  It consisted of a series of focus groups with staff and students alongside an all staff survey.

 The feedback received through these consultations has informed the direction we’ve taken as STEP4Excellence and this document sets out how that journey is progressing.

1.  Do you feel you are part of a community at the university?

Generally the feeling is students and staff are part of a community at subject, department or portfolio level. However there is much less of a feeling of community at college level and even less at University level.


What we are doing:

  • We’ve highlighted the need to improve internal staff communication
  • We will look at ways to enhance experiences which bring students and staff together
  • We are in the process of developing an Academic Societies toolkit

2. How are you involved in deciding what you learn? 

There were a wide variety of responses ranging from strong involvement in design to not being allowed to ask questions in lectures. 

 What we are doing:

  • We are looking at providing more Continuing Professional Development for staff around engaging students in designing learning offered by the Swansea Academy of Learning and Teaching
  • We will look at how to offer students more opportunity to be involved in learning design via a new project on reforming the curriculum

3. How are you involved in deciding how you learn including assessment?

There was a range of views expressed.

The amount of module choice varied considerably across courses; some had no choice usually due to professional body accreditation and some had a very wide choice.

Some staff felt that they were the experts and students should rely on them to offer the right content.

Other staff were more inclined to work with students as partners on content if permitted by external accreditation.

On assessment students had mixed views; some accepted the assessment type which was the norm for their discipline; others wanted more opportunity to try out new skills e.g. posters or presentations.

 What we are doing:

  • There should be increased focus and relevant student choice embedded within programmes via Curriculum Reform
  • Review of assessment patterns as part of Curriculum Reform 

4. How responsible do you feel for your own learning?

There was a widespread feeling amongst students that they are responsible for their own learning and get out what they put in. Students know this sits with them but for some it was a difficult transition at first

What we are doing:

  • Explore how to move students from a “dependency culture” to being independent learners 

5. How do you feel about giving feedback on your learning?

 Both staff and students valued the face to face and formal feedback. However, some felt it can be too late to help improve although some students say that the feedback is for the benefit of future students. Some students also said they would like to know what is done with feedback.

 What we are doing:

  • We are looking to create a feedback map to signpost what happens in the feedback circle
  • Clearly signpost routes to feedback on MyUni webpage
  • Holistic review of feedback to be carried out

6. What is your view of the academic advice and support you receive for your learning?

 Students report mixed experiences of personal tutors and tutorials and office hours– some very good, some not accessible or contactable; tutorials were sometimes perfunctory and only about attendance. More support from their peers was suggested – 3rd years, online peer mentoring, students in years ahead, and paid PhD students in labs.

 What we are doing:

  • Looking at developing an academic and pastoral care framework
  • This would include a student life network, the creation of personal academic mentors and academic study skills 

7. What is your view of the support which is available to help students with personal challenges in their lives?

Generally it was felt that Student Services are easy to access with lots of emails. But students can sometimes be passed from one person to another. More information on Blackboard for people who don’t want to ask questions would be useful. And while personal tutors are a good first point of contact for issues they are often very busy.  More drop in sessions would be better through personal tutors.

What we are doing:

  • Look to enhance the student welfare service across the institution including online services 

9.  What are your views on the student representation?

Students felt some representatives were good and that there had been improvements to the system over the past year, but further improvements could be made. Specifically feedback focused on improving the promotion and awareness of the representatives system. Sometimes the reps’ views do not represent all students, particularly international ones. There are challenges and opportunities with particular student groups. A lot of comments were made about the lack of awareness of who the reps are.

 What we are doing:

  • Enhancement of the student reps system
  • Preparation of a student reps schedule showing timeline of events





The Latest News

February 2017

STEP4Excellence Update:

Recent events held by STEP4Excellence have identified a series of activities which will be looked under the project’s two theme headings of Student Participation in Learning and Student Empowerment for Learning.

Student Participation in Learning:

The first of the three priorities identified in this theme covers enhancing a culture of digital education and there are two key activities attached to this element. The first is the co-creation of resources for the digital delivery of formative learning and second is the delivery of VLE training to staff across the institution.

Improving the opportunities for student to student interaction is looking at the possibility of organising an exchange with students at Newcastle University to gain an understanding of how modules are developed there. There’ll also be an exploration of events where students can present their research to their peers and the possibility of establishing the role of learning ambassador to look at opportunities for cross-phase learning.

Involving students in modular design is going to look at possible models for flexible assessment design and establishing a rationale for formative assessment along with resources for staff to use.

Student Empowerment for Learning:

Empowering student action will look to establish a contact within every College and PSU for supporting students looking to set up events, to embed Academic Societies into College life, formalise handover from one year to the next, create a  video to highlight the benefits of Academic Societies and create a map or flowchart of the governance and structures within the University to help students understand how decisions are made.

Empowering student voice aims to demonstrate changes made to modules as a result of feedback by including the information in the module catalogue, look at the best ways to feed back to students on programme-level changes in student-staff forums and let students know of changes in the programme handbook and on webpages called Together We Change.

Empowering a culture of co-creation among both staff and students will focus on creating guidance on what the ‘student window’ can be used for in Boards of Studies meetings to help with programme design and review and to support student and society reps with training on how to contribute to such agenda items. 



February 2017

Impact and Outcomes Discussions

The team at STEP4Excellence have now gone through all the feedback and a clear list of priorities have emerged for both themes, which are as follows:

Student Empowerment for Learning:

  • Culture and Community - To empower student action by building a culture and community of practice and enabling the student voice. Also to empower the staff to be confident in listening and engaging with students
  • Feedback culture - Empowering student voice through the development of the feedback culture, with a particular focus on 'closing the loop’
  • Co-creation - Empowering staff and students with a culture of co-creation


Student Participation in Learning:

  • Student to student interaction - To improve and increase the opportunities for successful and meaningful student to student interactions
  • Modular design - To involve students in modular design
  • Digital Culture - To enhance a culture of digital education, investing in new technology were possible and maximising opportunities with existing technology


But in order to further progress these themes we’re going to need your help. STEP4Excellence is a programme which aims to improve your student experience. To do that effectively we need your input and for you to be at the heart of discussions and decision making.

With that in mind we’ll be holding two Impact & Outcome Discussion events in the New Year:

  • The event for empowerment will take place in the Executive Boardroom in the School of Management on the Bay Campus from 10.30am – 12.30pm on Thursday 2nd February 2017
  • The event for participation will be held in Committee Room 2 from 1.30-3.30pm on Friday 3rd February

The main aim of these workshops will be to determine the scope for both themes and how this will be delivered. We’ll be looking to you to help us develop some key measures so we can see clearly the effectiveness and impact of our proposals moving forward.

Remember, your participation can be used by you to count towards your Higher Education Achievement Record as evidence of your engagement with the University

If you have any questions, please contact Catharine Jones at 

You can register your attendance at the Empowerment event here

You can register your attendance at the Participation event here.



October 2016:

Do you wish you had more involvement in your learning?

We’d like you to help us make this happen by joining us at our STEP4Excellence workshop from 10.15am on Friday 21st October!

The event will include a talk from Higher Education Academy student participation expert Colin Bryson and we’ll be seeking your advice on two new themes:

  • Student Participation in Learning
  • Student Empowerment for Learning

Together with academics and professional staff you’ll look at the following:

What are we doing well now? How can we enhance our activities? What more can we do?

Plans for each college will then be created that will make a real difference for students & staff moving forward!

If you’d like to help improve your learning you can sign up for the event by clicking here. Refreshments will be served and the event should be finished by 1.30pm.

If you’d like to find out more, contact us at:



June 2016:

  • Planning is underway for comprehensive communication to take place on developing an Academic Societies toolkit. Further details will be available this autumn

  • 5th May - programme board held to review progress on STEP4X
  • Have a lovely summer!


May 2016:

  • Planning underway for consultation with staff on proposals to enhance staff / student forums and develop student engagement leads wthin colleges. These roles will act as a focal point for engagement activities within colleges
  • 5th May - programme board held to review progress on STEP4X
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