This is a thumbnail photo of Catherine Mcnamara, a member of the CSCB project team.
Catherine McNamara
Academic Liaison Lead
December 3, 2021
Read time:
4 Mins

Meaningful Experiences

A screenshot of Catherine and Mari talking over Zoom.

Mari is a Senior Research Fellow, Practitioner and CCI Lead for the project. She is sitting stage lage with a coffee. Catherine is the Head of School (Art, Design and Performance) and Reader in Applied Theatre and is sitting stage right with a cup of tea. Outside each of their windows, the November sun shines. They speak through a monitor screen on Zoom.


Catherine, what interests you most about this project's potential?


For me, the potential lies in the opportunity to stop and really look closely at a very wide range of student project work and to identify the things (large and small) that really help this kind of student work go well. I was very interested in the idea of bringing the two faculties together too, and being able to work with people from Business & Law. That’s one of the reasons I came to work at the University of Portsmouth - to connect with people beyond my own subject areas. 

In the fast pace of life, academics, external organisations and students themselves are all understandably focussed on their specific setting, context, task etc. This project is enabling us to look across 100 projects (the work of approximately 600 students) and have a wider perspective on what works, what makes for a truly meaningful experience and what the benefits are to all involved, so we can look to enhance the future experiences for all. 

Let me ask you Mari, what is it that you think is so important about students doing Knowledge Exchange work as part of their courses? 


First, I’m particularly interested in studying people’s ‘experiences’. I find it fascinating to learn how we each make sense of an experience, and how some of these encounters have the ability to transform us. Student experiences within partner organisations have the potential to change those participating through experiential learning and this study will help us understand more. Second, my background is within the Creative Industries so the opportunity to lead research into how the three CCI stakeholders ie. Students, Academics and partnering organisations, perceive student participation within external organisations is  particularly  interesting.

Thinking about all three stakeholder groups Catherine, how will this project help students, academics and organisations?


Well… (ponders) we don’t really know yet while we’re still in the middle of it! But for me, being able to bring module coordinators and tutors together for example, to talk about what they sounds so simple, but this project has enabled academics from two faculties to reflect and share knowledge, experience, ideas and expertise in ways that have not previously been prioritised. 

It’s the same with our students and our external partner organisations. And through listening, understanding and learning from each other, the dialogue across the boundary between the university (students and staff) and our partners in the community will enrich our practices greatly. 

We’re creating a web-based toolkit and the idea is that it will offer very practical, accessible tools to support all ‘stakeholders’ with this kind of student-engaged Knowledge Exchange work. From how to solve problems in group work, how to manage time, how to shape really clear learning Outcomes for these kinds of modules, how to think through a whole range of challenges and problems that can come up. 

Let me ask you another question Mari. I know you have specific tasks to undertake on this project. As a researcher, what has been most interesting about your investigations so far? 


Within the investigations so far, I have read all types of literature including reports, government documents, academic peer-reviewed papers, and practitioner case studies.  I find that within these texts, student engagement in knowledge exchange can not only assist the student participating but the organisation receiving their knowledge. This co-production of positive action has the academic central as the instigator of each initiative - therefore a vital part of the triangle of knowledge sharing.


I’m really looking forward to reading the findings from this study. We’ll be really starting to ‘hear’ the depth and complexities of people’s work in this area of teaching and learning. That’s great Mari. 


Thank you for your time Catherine. I think that’s it for now. I’ll speak to you next week. 

Mari ends the interview. The student experiences might be meaningful but the cups are empty. Mari and Catherine each heat up their individual kettles, in readiness for their next video call meeting.

Mari Thynne was previously the Senior Research Fellow, Practitioner and CCI Lead for the CSCB project. Mari joined Devon County Council as a researcher in January this year. We welcome Alex Russell to the team to continue the CSCB research.

This is a thumbnail photo of Catherine Mcnamara, a member of the CSCB project team.

Dr Catherine McNamara is the Academic Liaison Lead for the CSCB project. Catherine is also the Head of School (Art, Design and Performance) and Reader in Applied Theatre in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at University of Portsmouth. 

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