Examples of Smaller-Scale Student-Faculty Partnership
by Ketevan Kupatadze
In previous posts, I described a large-scale student-faculty partnership project. Here I describe several smaller scale experiments involving student-faculty collaboration on course design. Such collaboration was inspired by the course redesign project I completed with three of my students and my colleagues. The experiments described below exemplify how everyone can take very small and safe steps towards viewing students as collaborators or co-designers of their learning.
Example #1: Redesigning/changing syllabus
It has been my constant practice now to offer students an opportunity to make changes to the syllabus that I design for each course. During the first day of classes, I start by asking students to come up with their individual and shared goals when it comes to the course they are taking and the subject they are studying. As they work on the list of their goals, they look at the course goals listed on the syllabus, compare the two lists and make necessary adaptations.
After completing this activity, I ask students to think of what they need to do in order to achieve the goals that they have just generated. What types of course assignments/activities will help them achieve the goals? We repeat the process: students first think of these activities on their own, then in groups and, in the end, they look at the activities and assignments listed in the syllabus and either accept, reject, or adapt them. They also look at point distribution in the activities and are allowed to make changes.
Finally, I ask students to think of two aspects of the course that excite them and two aspects that they might wish to change and based on their comments/suggestions, and I make additional changes to the syllabus.
Example #2: Designing a mid-term and final activity
Relatively recently I decided to offer students an opportunity and a challenge to design their own mid-term and final assignments. I write “assignments” because they are free to design an exam, an essay, a project done in groups, or any other kind of activity. My main goal here is to engage students with the material presented in the course and through this engagement ensure that they are invested in the subject matter. More importantly, I want students to know that it is not what I want them to learn that’s important, but what they are learning, what they are taking from the experience of the course. A question that one student asked me when I suggested that they design their mid-term activity illustrates my point very well.
She said: do you want us to regurgitate what you taught us or do you want us to create something with it?
My immediate answer was: No, I do not want you to regurgitate the information or knowledge that you got from me. I want you to show me what you can do with this knowledge and where you can take it.
The project that students completed was beyond my expectations and beyond all other projects completed by the students who had been directed by me as to what to do and how to do it. This experiment was conducted in first year honors course titled Cosmopolitan Latin America. The course is part of students’ general education curriculum and for the vast majority of students the concept of cosmopolitanism, as well as anything related to Latin America was new. Their overall aim, as they started to think of the assignment, was to connect what we had read and discussed in the course with their reality and their lives. As a consequence, students decided to create a website on cosmopolitanism with sections such as “Breaking News,” connecting cosmopolitanism with the Syrian refugee crisis and US-Mexican border; “Fictional News,” in which they experimented with the satirical genre; “Philosopher’s profile,” “Film Reviews,” “Imaginary Presidential Debate Between Bolivar and Marti” and even “Political Cartoons” and “Obituaries.”
As students worked on the project that they designed, and each small group having the freedom to work with the content and genre of their choice, they were asking questions, coming to me and to each other for support, for clarification and for comments/suggestions, they were dialoguing with each-other and responding to each-other’s ideas. Overall, their engagement with the key concepts of the course rose considerably, which increased their enjoyment of the course.
Example #3: Asking for student feedback
This was one of the best experiments I have ever conducted in my classes, but I cannot take credit for it. The entire idea came from an article by Barbara Burgess-Van Aken (2017), who offers various fascinating suggestions on how to plan meaningfully for the course closure, so that the final days of classes are not only about what students learned but also elicit reflection about the ways in which the knowledge acquired throughout the course can and will be used by students in the future. One of the issues addressed in the article is different ways in which the instructors obtain student feedback on the course during the last day of class while simultaneously reviewing the material covered throughout the semester.
One particular activity that stood out for me was offered by Elizabeth Bleicher (2011), who offers students an opportunity to completely dissect the course on the last day of class. With certain adaptations, I decided to experiment with Bleicher’s idea of reviewing the readings and films of the course that I was teaching at that point and asking students to either keep them for the students in future courses or reject them. Students started out working individually. Once they had completed their task, they worked in small groups, each group generating one list of readings and films to be retained and one to be rejected. After this, students shared their opinions with other groups and with me.
Besides giving me a good grasp of what types of texts students enjoyed reading, watching and/or discussing throughout the semester, the most important lesson for me was that I realized that I wasn’t always very explicit about the reasons I had chosen this or that text. Going through student choices, we collaboratively thought of how each one of these texts fit (or not) into the main themes of the course and how (or if) they enriched students’ understanding of the material. It was also quite surprising how much variety there was among students’ opinions and to see how they dialogued in order to achieve certain consensus and create one final list of readings and films to be retained.
The aforementioned examples offer just a glimpse of how one can experiment with student-faculty collaboration. These experiments can be ambitious and involve a complete overhaul of a course or they can be more discreet and tackle only one aspect of the course. They can also depend more or less on student involvement and, subsequently, be long-lasting or brief initiatives. Moreover, they can be institutional or departmental initiatives, which means that they will involve more than one faculty, course, and student. Or, they can be initiated by an individual faculty in a course that they teach. My personal experience with student-faculty collaboration on course design has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of student engagement, which resulted in improved teaching and learning experiences, as well as developing better relationships between my students and me.
- Aken, Barbara Burgess-Van. 2017. “Knowing Where You’re Going: Planning for Meaningful Course Closure.” College Teaching. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/87567555.2017.1279586
- Bleicher, Elizabeth. 2011. “The Last Class: Critical Thinking, Reflection, Course Effectiveness, and Student Engagement.” Honors in Practice 7: 39–51. Web.
Ketevan Kupatadze, Senior Lecturer in Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, is the 2017-2019 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Kupatadze’s CEL Scholar project focuses on student-faculty partnerships.