As an upper-division undergraduate student, I led a recitation section for a large lecture course. Together with the other recitation leaders, I co-designed curricular activities, formative assessments, and lecture reviews. After each of our sessions, we reconvened with the Instructor to discuss what went well, what topical areas he needed to re-emphasize, and generated ideas about how we might help students to grasp concepts and prepare for exams.
If you are thinking to yourself, ‘Yeah I do this already! So, what’s new?’ then you are already using the Student as Partner (SaP) framework! The Students as Partners framework has become a hot topic in higher education, with increased adoption by universities, both nationally and internationally (Matthews, Dwyer, Hine, & Turner, 2018).
Cook-Sather, Bovill, & Felten (2014) define this student partnership as, ‘a collaborative, reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, though not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualization, decision-making, implementation, investigation, or analysis.’ As active collaborators, each member contributes their intellectual thoughts and opinions to improve the teaching and learning experience of the course. And while individual efforts may not be equal, ideally, contributions from all individuals are considered in the creation of the final product (Bindra et al., 2018). It’s this kind of partnership that aims to re-envision students AND faculty as active collaborators in the teaching and learning process (Mercer-Mapstone, 2017).
The SaP relationship is built upon the pillars of respect, reciprocity, and responsibility. It redefines the traditional roles of students and faculty in relation to one another and to the institution. Partnerships can take many shapes and forms, however, they typically fall into one of four categories learning, teaching & assessment; curriculum design & pedagogical consultancy; subject-based research & inquiry; or the scholarship of teaching & learning (Mercer-Mapstone et al., 2017; Cook-Sather, Bovill & Felton, 2014). In the diagram below, Healy, Flint & Harrington (2014) argues that when we look at student engagement in higher education, these categories overlap, as depicted in the image below. And because the boundaries of each category often blur together they often create complex and diverse partnership experiences.
Perhaps the adoption of this type of partnership has gained momentum because of increased awareness of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusive practices. Matthews (2017) argues that SaP is a metaphor for university education that challenges traditional assumptions about the identities of, and relationships between, learners and teachers. SaP can provide an access point for marginalized groups and equity-seeking individuals. And, while these partnerships have the potential to challenge higher education norms, hierarchical power structures, and fracture deep seeded inequities, the framework does have its limitations. The culture of higher education is an established system that often requires a radical movement to create change. Sustained partnerships beyond pilots, discrete projects, and initiatives requires a profound transformation of the culture and values of an institution. While SaP initiatives can promote social justice for equity-seeking or underrepresented students (de Bies et al., 2021), through their research, Bindra, et al. (2017) question whether SaP fully brings all student voices to the forefront especially those who are from non-western institutions.
Student author Anita Ntem asserts that Students as Partners is an ‘imperfection that invites us into different ways of working together in higher education and provokes us to see ourselves and our positions in higher education differently.’ (Cook-Sather et al., 2018). As I reflect upon my undergraduate education, being involved in a teaching partnership was an experience that gave me the agency to exercise and apply my knowledge, but also the autonomy to lead a recitation section on my own. I had the authority to voice my opinion during our weekly recitation leader meetings. And intuitively, I knew that I was experiencing college in a much different way than most of my peers. Healey, Flint, & Harrington (2014) argue that these kinds of partnerships are linked to positive learning impact and achievement. As a result of this experience, I was far more engaged with my coursework, the learning process, and with faculty members.
This is just one example of what a partnership from a student’s perspective could look like. What might a student partnership look like for you? What might it look like in the future? Or, are you already engaging with students, but want to expand these opportunities? If you’re interested in partnering and engaging with undergraduate students, keep an eye out for an announcement in the fall. ASSETT will be piloting a community of practice that seeks to partner faculty members with undergraduate students!
Bindra, G., Easwaran, K., Firasta, L., Hirsch, M., Kapoor, A., Sosnowski, A., Stec-Marksman, T., & Vatansever, G. (2018). Increasing representation and equity in students as partners initiatives. International Journal for Students As Partners, 2(2), 10–15. https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v2i2.3536
Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014) Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Cook-Sather, A., Matthews, K. E., Ntem, A., & Leathwick, S. (2018). What we talk about when we talk about students as partners. International Journal for Students as Partners, 2(2). https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v2i2.3790
de Bie, A., Marquis, E., Cook-Sather, A., & Luqueno, L.P. (2021) Promoting equity and justice through pedagogical partnerships. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Dwyer, A. (2018). Toward the formation of genuine partnership spaces. International Journal for Students as Partners, 2(1), https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v2i1.3503
Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2014). Students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. York: Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/resources/engagement_through_partnership.pdf
Matthews, K. E. (2017). Five Propositions for Genuine Students as Partners Practice. International Journal for Students As Partners, 1(2). https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v1i2.3315
Mercer-Mapstone, L., Dvorakova, S. L., Matthews, K. E., Abbot, S., Cheng, B., Felten, P., Knorr, K., Marquis, E., Shammas, R., & Swaim, K. (2017). A Systematic Literature Review of Students as Partners in Higher Education. International Journal for Students As Partners, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v1i1.3119