Student activism in a newly online university: Exploring the impact of online learning and teaching on student movements and student power

Aidan Cornelius-Bell, Piper Bell

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Recent responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have seen universities transition their teaching and learning activities to an online-only environment, radically altering the social fabric of university academic and social life. Amidst a range of student anxieties in response to these changes to their learning conditions, there is potential for an increasing current of student activism.

How might collective action look in an online world outside of the physical institution itself?

The necessity of a move to online teaching is full of possibility. It could provide an avenue that enables a thriving dictatorial power-over student that sees a reassertion of students-as-customers in the neoliberal university. Alternatively, it could see new ways of working and collaborating that places students at the centre of democratic decision making in contemporary higher education.

Prior to the emergence of ‘social distancing’, universities such as Flinders University had been engaging students in new forms of activism, specifically in ‘students as partners’ projects. These partnership projects were often negotiated through student unions and advocates that worked to develop partnership agreements with their universities. However, in this online world a reassertion of partnership is required, particularly in the teaching and learning space, so that university students and staff can continue to forge new paths of collaborative action.

This presentation will discuss the relationships between student partnership, student activism and power in contemporary times, and pose serious questions for those considering embarking on new initiatives with (or without) students.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2020
EventOnline International Doctoral Research Conference in Education - Centre for Educational Research (CERES), Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Duration: 8 Jul 20208 Jul 2020


ConferenceOnline International Doctoral Research Conference in Education
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • online university
  • online learning
  • student activism
  • collaboration
  • university life


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