Students as Partners is currently a hot topic in higher education that appeals to students and staff seeking relational approaches to learning — built on and through dialogue — that enable shared responsibility and joint ownership for shaping learning and teaching.

 

  • What is students as partners?

    Students as partners is a metaphor for university education that challenges traditional assumptions about the identities of, and relationships between, learners and teachers. Through the surprising (to some) juxtaposition of “student” and “partner,” this metaphor imagines and makes way for respectful, mutually beneficial learning partnerships where students and staff work together on all aspects of educational endeavours. Matthews, 2017, p.1

    Students as Partners creates space for students and staff (academic or professional) to work together on teaching and learning. 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

    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. One of the most commonly cited definitions for teaching and learning partnerships is:

     A collaborative, reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, although not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualization, decision-making, implementation, investigation, or analysis. Cook-Sather, Bovill, & Felten, 2014, p. 6-7

    A recent study exploring the conceptions of students as partners from staff and students involved in partnership projects across 11 Australian universities found:

    Students and staff conceptualised students as partners (SaP) in three different, overlapping ways: SaP as counter-narrative, SaP as values-based practice, and SaP as cultural change. Matthews, Dwyer, Hines & Turner, 2018, p.4

    Perhaps the most widely cited model to guide implementation is from Healey, Flint and Harrington (2014) who propose engaging students as partners in:

    Teaching and Learning, including

    • teaching, learning, and assessment activities
    • subject-based research and inquiry approaches

    Teaching and Learning Quality Enhancement, including

    • curriculum development and pedagogical consultants
    • institutional research and scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL)

    Recently, Matthews (2017) offered five guiding propositions underpinning genuine students as partners approaches in which those engaging in such work should aspire to:

    1. Foster inclusive partnerships
    2. Nurture power-sharing relationships through dialogue and reflection
    3. Accept partnership as a process with uncertain outcomes
    4. Engage in ethical partnerships
    5. Enact partnership for transformation
  • Who is included in students as partners?

    As “a joint endeavour to shape and influence university teaching and learning,” I have argued that students as partners is an ethos “that values the collaborative interaction between all members of the university community” (Matthews, 2016, p. 3). Although the metaphor explicitly names “students” to intentionally and clearly assert the role students can assume alongside others with educational expertise, partnerships can involve:

    • students with students (peer mentoring)
    • students with staff including professional staff and academics/faculty
    • students with senior university administrators
    • students with alumni or members of industry

    Excerpt from Five Propositions for Genuine Students as Partners Practice

  • Benefits of students as partners

    A recent review of 65 empirical studies published on students as partners in university teaching and learning in the years 2011-2015 reported a range of outcomes for both students and staff.

    Top 10 beneficial outcomes reported for students:

    1. Increased student engagement/motivation/ownership for learning - reported in 56% of publications included in the review
    2. Increased student confidence/self-efficacy - reported in 45% of publications included in the review
    3. Increased understanding of the “other’s” experience (e.g. students understanding staff experiences) - reported in 39% of publications included in the review
    4. Enhanced relationship or trust between students and staff - reported in 37% of publications included in the review
    5. Increased student learning about their own learning (meta-cognitive learning, self-evaluation, self-awareness) - reported in 35% of publications included in the review
    6. Raised awareness of graduate attributes or employability skills or career development - reported in 32% of publications included in the review
    7. Increased sense of belonging to university or discipline or community - reported in 31% of publications included in the review
    8. Improved student content/discipline learning (actual or perceived) - reported in 29% of publications included in the review
    9. Positively shifted identity as student/learner/person/professional - reported in 28% of publications included in the review
    10. Enhanced student-student relationships - reported in 22% of publications included in the review

    Top 5 beneficial outcomes reported for staff:

    1. Enhanced the relationship or trust between students and staff - reported in 43% of publications included in the review
    2. Development of new or better teaching or curriculum materials - reported in 31% of publications included in the review
    3. Increased understanding of the “other's” experience (e.g. staff understanding student experiences) - reported in 28% of publications included in the review
    4. New beliefs about teaching and learning that change practices for the better - reported in 23% of publications included in the review
    5. Re-conceptualization of teaching as a collaborative process to foster learning - reported in 19% of publications included in the review

    The review found outcomes for students were more reported than outcomes for staff, and some negative outcomes were also reported but far less than posiitve outcomes. Importantly, enacting students as partners is challenging and warrants care to ensure the process of partnership is genuine and reciporical. 

    This review was coordinated through Kelly Matthews' Australian Learning and Teaching Fellowship and involved students and academics from Australia (UQ), Canada (McMaster University), UK (Healey Consultants, University of Chester), and USA (Elon University, Byrn Mawr, Trinity College). The first paper arising from this review was published in 2017 in the International Journal for Students as Partners.