Students as Partners is about harnessing student and staff creativity via collaborative partnerships to enhance teaching and learning.
What is the need for Students as Partners?
Students as partners has emerged from concerns about the 21st century student experience in higher education amid international acknowledgement that new approaches are needed to engage students in their learning (Webb, Russell, & Jarnecki, 2014; Krause, 2012; Kuh, 2007). While Australia shares this concern, as evidenced by 2014 OLT commission projects on student experience, the Australian discourse of “student voice in teaching and learning” and “student outcomes of engagement” has yet to shift. In the UK, and in infancy in North America, the discourse has evolved to “student as partners in teaching and learning as a process for engaging” rather than the “doing to or doing for students” paradigm.
The concept of ‘listening to the student voice’ – implicitly if not deliberately – supports the perspective of student as ‘consumer’, whereas ‘students as change agents’ explicitly supports a view of the student as ‘active collaborator’ and ‘co-producer’, with the potential for transformation. Dunne and Zandstra, 2011, p. 4
What does Students as Partners mean?
Students as Partners is about harnessing student and staff creativity via collaborative partnerships to enhance teaching and learning. The assumption of student-staff partnerships is that involving our students as active participants in teaching and learning is a good idea. As a way of thinking, students as partners shifts the student-staff educational premise from something academics do to students to education as a shared endeavour done with students. Partnership is a mindset that positions students as respected and trusted adults with active responsibility for their learning. Ways of working involve students and staff as collaborators in the learning enterprise, shifting away from views of students as passive educational consumers and evaluators of university teaching practices.
Partnerships are based on respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility between students and faculty (academics). These qualities of relationship emerge when we are able to bring students’ insights into discussions about learning and teaching practice in meaningful ways – ways that make learning and teaching more engaging for students and ourselves. Cook-Sather, Bovill, & Felten, 2014, p. 1
Partnership is framed as a process of student engagement, understood as staff and students learning and working together to foster engaged student learning and engaging learning and teaching enhancement… It is a way of doing things, rather than an outcome in itself. Healey et al., 2014, p. 7
Strictly defining students as partners is difficult because approaches cover a wide range of activities. As Healey and colleagues (2014) suggest, successful approaches leverage shared engagement between students and academics seeking to learn together and enact changes to enhance student learning alongside academic teaching. What student as partners activities look like in practice vary considerably but are beginning to be documented, published, and synthesised. Exemplars where “students and staff have worked together in collaboration to develop and deliver the curriculum” are featured in a handbook on student engagement (Dunne & Owen, 2013, p. 397). The UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) published a students as partners framework based on dozens of documented case studies outlining four categories of activities: learning, teaching, and assessment; subject-based research and inquiry; scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL); and curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy (Healey et al., 2014).
By going beyond the student voice, students move from commenting on the teaching they experience and engaging in decision-making processes to becoming evidence-based change agents. -Healey et al., 2014, p. 46
Other names for Students as Partners
Students as partners is often conceptualized slightly differently across disciplines and contexts. As such many terms are used to refer to such initiatives, including: student-faculty partnerships, student voice, student engagement, student perceptions, student-centered initiatives, learning-centered initiatives, co-creation, co-design co-inquiry, student leadership, and students as change agents.
Benefits of Students as Partners
The Higher Education Academy has recognised the transformative power of students as partners to advance teaching, learning, and curriculum in higher education (Healey et al., 2014). This is supported by international empirical research that highlights positive outcomes for both students and academics engaged in students as partners initiatives.
Benefits for students:
- Increased meta-cognitive learning (Jarvis et al., 2014; Barnes et al., 2010; Cook-Sather et al., 2014),
- Raised awareness of graduate attributes and employability skills (Jarvis et al., 2014),
- Positively shifted traditional power dynamics between students and academics (Barnes et al., 2010),
- Engaged and empowered under-represented students (Cook-Sather and Agu, 2013), and
- Increased student ownership for learning (Cook-Sather et al., 2014).
Benefits for staff:
- Transformation in teaching and learning beliefs and practices (Cook-Sather et al., 2014), and
- Reconceptualisation of teaching as a collaborative process to foster learning (Cook-Sather et al., 2014).
Existing Students as Partners work in Australia
Although no funded Australian Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) projects or fellowships explicitly draw on students as partners, many focus on student engagement and student experience in regards to the student voice or student leadership in university governance. Of particular interest to this fellowship will be the findings of the Deane-led OLT project, Student leadership in curriculum development and reform, which has clear relevance with the investigation into students with more formal roles in curriculum development at institutional policy level. The results of the student and staff survey on effectiveness of capturing student voice in relation to curriculum reform will be particularly relevant. This initiative affords a constructive synergy with their institutional policy view and the discipline-based, practice perspective proposed by this fellowship. Two recently funded projects also afford potential synergies with this project: Innovative perspectives and approaches for enhancing the student experience (led by Coates) and Student engagement in university decision-making and governance (led by Varnham). Both of these projects will focus on how students want to engage in teaching and learning in higher education to shape their own experience.
There is a lack of visible work in Australia on students as partners. Currently, Amani Bell from the University of Sydney is exploring why students partnerships are not more widespread in Australia (forthcoming). Lee Patridge and Sally Sandover in Western Australia have been involved with an institutional model that partners 10-15 students in SoTL projects with academics (Sandover et al., 2012). Ian Solomonides’ work conceptualising student engagement, whilst not directly linked to students as partners, is sufficiently nuanced and applicable for situating students as partners in the engagement literature (Solomonides, Reid, & Petocz, 2012).
Barnes, E., Goldring, L., Bestwick, A. and Wood, J. (2010) A collaborative evaluation of student–staff partnership in inquiry-based educational development. In: Little, S. (Ed.) Staff-student partnerships in Higher Education, (pp. 16–30). London: Continuum.
Bovill, C., Cook-Sather, A., and Felten, P. (2011) Students as co-creators of teaching approaches, course design, and curricula: implications for academic developers. International Journal for Academic Development. 16 (2), 133– 45.
Cook-Sather, A. and Agu, P. (2013) Student consultants of color and faculty members working together toward culturally sustaining pedagogy, in Groccia, J. E. and Cruz, L. (Eds.), To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional, and Organizational Development 32, (pp. 271–85). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C. and Felten, P. (2014) Engaging students as partners in teaching and learning: A guide for faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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Dunne, E., & Zandstra, R. (2011). Students as change agents–new ways of engaging with learning and teaching in higher education. London, Higher Education Academy.
Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. London, Higher Education Academy. Available from: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/engagement-through-partnership-students-partners-learning-and-teaching-higher-education [Accessed 16 January 2015].
HEA (2014) Framework for partnership in learning and teaching. Higher Education Academy. Available from: www.heacademy.ac.uk/students-as-partners [Accessed 16 January 2015].
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Matthews, K.E., Divan, A., John-Thomas, N., Lopes, V., Ludwig, L., Martini, T., Motley, P., & Tomljenovic-Berube. (2013). SoTL and students’ experiences of their degree-level program: An empirical investigation. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(2), 75-89.
Sandover, S., Partridge, L., Dunne, E. and Burkill, S. (2012). Undergraduate researchers change learning and teaching: A case study of two universities in Australia and the UK [Internet]. CUR Quarterly. 33 (1), 33–9. Available from: www.cur.org/documents/?CategoryId=7 [Accessed 16 January 2015].
Solomonides, I., Reid, A. and Petocz, P. (2012) Engaging with learning in higher education. Farringdon: Libri.
Webb, T., Russell, E., & Jarnecki, Liam. (2014). The principles of student engagement. London: Macadam House. Available from: http://tsep.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/gravity_forms/4-8f8ea0c4180f64d078700886483e4a08/2014/08/Student-Engagment-Conversation-Pamphlet-v11.pdf [Accessed 16 January 2015].