We’re taking Listening Rooms


In response to Covid-19 the University is transitioning to remote working for staff and students, we are exploring ways to continue to listen to your experiences. If you would like to take part in a virtual Listening Room with a friend and earn a £20 Amazon voucher each (students only).

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What is Listening Rooms?

Listening Rooms is about hearing the authentic student voice and actively listening to student experiences.

Inspired by BBC Radio 4’s The Listening Project, which in turn was inspired by StoryCorps, Listening Rooms  captures real conversation between friends. Friendship pairs take part in a one hour-long conversation around six key themes – discussed below.

Unique to Sheffield Hallam University, Listening Rooms is a key component of the University’s shift in culture towards becoming a ‘listening organisation’. Two “pods” have been installed in Adsetts (Level 5) and Collegiate Library, demonstrating Hallam’s commitment to collaboration with our students.



Data Collection

The students arrive in their friendship pairs at Hallam Help in whichever library is most convenient to collect their Listening Rooms kit.

The conversations will take place in dedicated spaces that the students will have to themselves for the duration of their conversation and will use the time to discuss the themes on the cards. Each theme is supported by three sub-questions, which are to be used as prompts and to help guide the conversation. Through the first year of the project, we tested several variations, and found that the six standard cards were most effective, as they were broad enough that students could speak about them for long enough, yet structured enough to keep them on track. These topics are: Becoming, Belonging, Confidence, Happiness, Journey, and Success.

Following the conversation, the students are given the opportunity to share their views on the method and suggest any improvements. The recordings are then transcribed.

Round Table Analysis

The transcripts are grouped together, most often by course and then analysed.

The Round Table Analysis method was developed by Helen Parkin in Student Engagement, Evaluation and Research (STEER). The anonymised transcripts are distributed to key individuals, such as course teams, and the Listening Rooms project team, who then analyse the transcripts independently.

Having analysed their transcripts, everyone comes together for a guided thematic discussion, where they compare their interpretation of the data and what they found significant. This is an effective method by which to reduce bias. As those around the table will have varied experiences, knowledge and insight into the group of participants, the session results in a rich and in-depth understanding of what the students are telling us, and puts the team in a position to make changes to improve the student experience.

Student Response

After completing their Listening Room, every pair is asked to complete a debriefing questionnaire, which asks them to give their views on the process. The students who take part in the conversations often describe the practice as cathartic and value the time they have been able to dedicate to spending with their friend. 

The conversation is described as open, honest, and non-invasive, giving the students the opportunity to express themselves without judgement in a safe environment. The students also recognise their ability to reflect, an important skill as they progress through University. 

Listening Rooms is seen as a positive experience, facilitated by a University that cares for its students and is dedicated to listening to their voices. The loose structure and broad topics enable them to explore their experiences more deeply and with fewer constraints than traditional methods, such as surveys and interviews. The equal standing between friends and the small number of individuals in the room allows for a more balanced conversation, meaning no one is excluded or goes unheard.


Further Reading

  • Friendship as a method: reflections on a new approach to understanding the student experiences in higher education.


“This article reflects on a novel method to elicit understanding of students’ journeys. At a time when universities need to know much more about their students, sector understanding runs the risk of being limited and rather shallow. Knowledge tends to rely on broad-brush descriptions of student life derived from surveys, questionnaires and student voice committees whilst conventional qualitative research methods into student experiences have has limitations. ‘Harder listening’ to student voices offers the opportunity to understand everyday student life better. Taking inspiration from StoryCorps in the USA and BBC Radio 4’s The Listening Project, student friendship pairs undertake recorded, private, guided conversations without a researcher present. Conventional ‘friendship’ research fails to use ‘friendship trust’ between participants to unlock experiences. Ten pairs of students based at a large university in the North of England participated. Analysis of the conversations suggests that happiness, confidence and a sense of belonging at university are significantly affected by the role and presence of friends and family. Through their engagement with and reflection on this method, students reveal familiarity with being ‘under-heard’ and over-surveyed and welcome this approach as a sign of a caring and ‘listening university’.”

For the full article, visit:



Heron, E. (2019). Friendship as method: reflections on a new approach to understanding student experiences in higher education. Journal Of Further And Higher Education, 1-15. doi: 10.1080/0309877x.2018.1541977

If you have any queries, please contact the team at ListeningRooms@shu.ac.uk