Students as Partners Initiative

Students in Kevin Dalby's Labspace

Engaging in SAP work ... has taught me how important it is to design and think about curriculum in community. I have learned how different my perceptions of teaching are to students, in ways that I wouldn’t have known without being in conversation with students. I have been reminded about the importance of vulnerability and transparency with students and how learning is reciprocal even though it is often seen as one-directional. This partnership has reminded me how important it is to have a student-centered approach to teaching, how to do that in an intentional way, and has made me open to the unknown of what can happen as an instructor when you let go of control in your classroom for the better.

- Dr. Tonia Guida, College of Natural Sciences

"Students as partners" is a relatively new way of thinking about pedagogy in higher education, one that re-positions students as active collaborators in the diverse processes of teaching and learning, empowering students to be actively engaged in, and share the responsibility for, their own education.

An in-depth exploration of "students as partners" can be found in the following Higher Education Academy (UK) report, "Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education" (Healy, et. al., 2014). Healey characterizes "students as partners" projects as facilitating “a relationship in which all involved – students, academics, professional services staff, senior managers, students’ unions, and so on – are actively engaged in and stand to gain from the process of learning and working together” (2014, p. 12). Partnering with students in the development of the teaching and learning environment is a meaningful opportunity to develop important academic and transferable skills as well as foster a student-centered learning environment. As such, the partnership program seeks to engage students in different projects and activities, including, but not limited to:

  • Co-designing and contributing to the development of courses and curriculum.
  • Co-designing and leading change around issues related to equity and inclusivity.
  • Offering in-depth feedback around issues related to classroom culture and engagement.
  • Helping design course materials such as assessments, content within Canvas sites, and multimedia tools.
  • Formatting and preparing assessments.
  • Incorporating educational technologies, whether online or face-to-face.
  • Designing and working on a limited Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) project that can be developed over a term or year.

What does "students as partners" work look like?

While students as partners work can take many different forms, the focus must be fundamentally and rigorously collaborative, one that breaks down hierarchies in higher education with the aim of creating learning environments characterized by discovery, self-awareness, and sense of belonging.” In addition, the way in which this work is represented must also include a plurality of voices: faculty members or instructors and students must both contribute to the realization and dissemination of "students as partners" work. 

Deakin University’s annual case studies of students as partners initiatives and Elon University’s open publication "The Power of Partnership,"  written from both the instructional and student perspectives, offer insights into the value of students as partners initiatives.

 

What are the benefits of engaging in "students as partners" projects?

- Farai Mubvumba (Biochemistry, '21) discusses her experience in a "students as partners" project in which a team of students co-designed assignments and final projects with their faculty member

review of 65 empirical studies (PDF, 1.1MB) published on Students as Partners in university teaching and learning (2011 to 2015) reported a range of beneficial outcomes for both students and instructors.

For students:

  • increased student engagement/motivation/ownership for learning
  • increased student confidence/self-efficacy
  • increased understanding of one anothers' experiences (e.g. students understanding staff experiences)
  • enhanced relationship of trust between students and staff
  • increased student learning about their own learning (metacognitive learning, self-evaluation, self-awareness)
  • increased sense of belonging to university or discipline or community
  • improved student content/discipline learning (actual or perceived)
  • positively shifted identity as student/learner/person/professional
  • enhanced student-student relationships.

For instructors:

  • enhanced relationship of trust between students and instructors
  • development of new or better teaching or curriculum materials
  • new beliefs about teaching and learning that changes instructional approaches for the better
  • deeper understanding of teaching as a collaborative process to foster learning.

 

How should we identify potential "students as partners" projects? 

While many of us feel that we are already working with students as partners, the specific framework of "students as partners" encourages us to adopt an intentional and deep collaborative stance with and towards our students. 

The article, "Five Propositions for Genuine Students as Partners Practice" (Matthews, 2017), provides a good primer on how to approach this work. The five interrelated principles for good practice in partnership guide meaningful, power-sharing, and influential approaches across a diverse range of institutional and "students as partners" contexts:

1. Foster inclusive partnerships

Ideally, institutions will direct attention to the experiences of a diversity of students as the focus of partnership work and investigate how different populations can work together.

2. Nurture power-sharing relationships through dialogue and reflection

Power, whether discussed or left unspoken, is always a factor in student-instructor partnership interactions. 

3. Accept partnership as a process with uncertain outcomes

Partnership is defined by the process of working together. As such, the outcomes of students and instructors engaging as partners may be unknown at the beginning of the joint endeavor but that allows for unique insights to be gained.

4. Engage in ethical partnerships

Engaging in partnership should be governed by ethical guidelines: how should we work together to ensure the equity of the work?, who benefits from the work and how?

5. Enact partnership for transformation

Transformation begins through our own active reflection and ongoing dialogue with others about who engages and why in partnership, what it means for higher education, and how we advocate for "students as partners" more widely.


Research / Examples of Practice