As Director of Publishing and Learning Design at Epigeum, Laura Dent has overseen the development of both editions of Consent Matters: Boundaries, Respect, and Positive Intervention – the first in 2016, and the second in 2019. Commissioning Editor Kat Rylance has led the development of the second edition, which comprises versions created specifically for Australia- and UK-based institutions. Here, Laura and Kat discuss the commissioning process for Consent Matters, and provide an insight into the key updated features of the second edition of the course.
Epigeum first began researching the area of sexual violence in relation to the university experience in 2015, when it was becoming clear that institutions were facing significant challenges in this area. We were acutely aware of the complexities of working with universities in this space, and it was important that we were led by experts from the outset.
During that initial phase of research, we spoke to a wide range of university staff who were responsible for tackling these challenges, as well as experts in the field of sexual violence, support services practitioners, and key voices within the student community. Ultimately, these discussions would form the basis of the expert panel that has been central to the development of the first and second editions of our Consent Matters: Boundaries, Respect, and Positive Intervention course. Made up of advisors, authors, and reviewers, this panel has shaped the approach of the course, determined content coverage, and reviewed draft material, all with the aim of creating a training course that could meaningfully support the work of higher education institutions in this challenging and complex area.
It quickly became clear that in order to create an effective course, we would need to develop the course in line with the strategies that have been recommended by experts as being effective in sexual assault prevention – in particular, combining consent education with bystander intervention training, and utilising ‘social norms’ theory (Salazar et al, 2014; Zapp et al, 2018). As a result, a core element of Consent Matters became bystander intervention, with a consistent focus on social norms, learning from peers, and modelling behaviours.
We are fortunate to be able to draw on the feedback of the international community of universities that use Consent Matters as part of their prevention education initiatives. Since the launch of the course in 2016, we have held a number of workshops and student focus groups with universities in the UK and Australia, and received in excess of 11,000 responses to the optional feedback survey at the end of the course. We have taken on board every one of those responses, and we thank every user and university that has given us feedback – this spirit of collaboration and sharing of best practices and insights has been, and will continue to be, vital to our ongoing development of the course. It is also inspiring to see how institutions have chosen to implement Consent Matters – a recent video-based Case Study at the University of Roehampton, for instance, highlighted the impact of formal bystander intervention programmes, as well as consent-based promotional campaigns.
The first edition of Consent Matters published at a watershed moment – the Australian Human Rights Commission and Universities UK were conducting research into the issue of sexual violence at universities but had yet to publish their findings. The second edition of Consent Matters will publish into a very different world – we’ve since seen the publication of Change the Course in Australia and Changing the Culture in the UK, and the #metoo movement gain momentum. Reflecting the findings from these seminal reports, acknowledging the different context that we are living in, and addressing key themes that emerged from the huge amount of feedback we received were therefore key when developing the second edition.
So, what’s new?
It’s important that Consent Matters is inclusive. We all come from different backgrounds, cultural experiences, and we identify in different ways. We’ve updated the language used in the course, and broadened the examples and scenarios that appear throughout.
The first edition was designed with undergraduate students in mind. However, consent matters to everyone and it became clear that postgraduate, mature-age and distance learners were all using the course too. For the new edition, we’ve included more scenarios that speak to their experience – for example, consent in the context of long-term relationships and how to be an active bystander in the workplace.
- Student voice:
We’ve always been passionate about student co-creation and ensuring that the student voice was kept at the fore of the changes we made was a key concern. That’s why we put together an expert panel that includes undergraduate and postgraduate students – they’ve guided the development of the course every step of the way.
Finding an hour to take the course uninterrupted can be challenging. For the new edition, we’ve moved to a modular approach so that students can work through each module in turn when it suits them. We’ve also moved from four modules to three, and embedded support resources where they are most relevant, rather than in a stand-alone module.
We are pleased to have collaborated with three new authors on our second edition, each bringing their unique expertise and experience to the course. Zoe Harrison, Social Worker at Yarrow Place, and Sue Webeck, Manager of the newly formed Respectful Relationships Unit at Australia National University, join Dr Alan Berkowitz – an independent consultant with over twenty-five years of experience in bystander intervention – in developing the Australian version. Kelly Prince, Serious Incident Case Officer at Keele University, joins Alan in developing the UK version. Together, our author team brings the very best from both the academic and practitioner perspectives.
At Epigeum, we have sought to devise a learning design that can enable attitudinal change in an online environment, and support universities in rolling out the course as part of wider initiatives. As a robust and consistent base level of prevention education, it can support universities as they undertake a promise to do more to prevent sexual violence, and create a safer environment for all.
Consent Matters is a concise and accessible online course that provides interactive, evidence-based training in sexual consent, communication and relationships, and bystander intervention. Made up of three bite-size modules, the course can be integrated into your institution’s VLE or accessed via our dedicated online platform – supporting face-to-face initiatives as part of a blended learning approach.