Is student-faculty partnership for you?
by Ketevan Kupatadze
If you are anything like me, you think about each and every detail of your teaching almost on a daily basis. You try things, you change details, attempting to improve what works or change what does not. After teaching a course several times you finally think that you have (almost) reached perfection. Your success is reflected in student comments when they complete final course evaluations. If asked to partner with students to improve teaching and learning, your reaction might very well be: why should I bother?
After researching the issue of student-faculty partnership, as well as reflecting on this matter, I suggest two possible reasons:
- to establish better communication and develop better understanding of faculty and student goals; and
- to improve learning (not necessarily teaching).
Cook-Sather, Bovill and Felten address this very question in their book titled Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching. To the possible question of faculty asking why “change my practice if I am an effective teacher and my students are already learning what they should”(23), the authors respond that such partnership develops better and clearer communication. Student-faculty collaboration advances reciprocal understanding of the process of teaching and learning and, through the process, the choices that the faculty member had made when planning for the course become more explicit for students, and the expectations of the students become clearer for faculty. The authors also argue that this partnership should not be about change for its own sake or about faculty succumbing to the desires of their students. Rather, what should be valued is the joint reflection on and articulation of pedagogical choices made in the process.
Various colleagues have shared with me that they consider themselves very successful teachers, which is reflected clearly in the Student Perceptions of Teaching documents completed by their students at the end of each semester. When asked if there is any particular aspect of teaching that faculty would like to improve, overwhelmingly their response circles around students’ desire for the faculty to be clearer when communicating their goals and objectives for the course. I wonder if this perceived lack of clarity stems out of students’ detachment and passivity in the process of the development of higher education curricula. It is not the clarity that they need, but rather more participation, more involvement. If and when this is the case, perhaps we could ask ourselves: can I make my goals and objectives any clearer? Have I discussed them explicitly and repeatedly with students? If so, could it be that there is a disconnect between my goals and objectives and those of my students? After answering these questions, is there a space and place in my course to work on course goals in partnership with students? Can we, together, design these goals with the common objective of an improved learning experience?
Furthermore, I think that involving students as partners in teaching and learning should not be about improving one’s teaching; rather, it should be about improving learning, i.e. helping students develop a better understanding of what teaching entails, and hoping that by involving them in the design and development of course and/or curriculum components, students will become more engaged and invested, and consequently, change their attitude towards education.
Research has shown that involving students in the process of pedagogical decision-making improves their engagement and makes them take more responsibility towards their education (Cook-Sather & Abbot, 2016; Manor et al., 2010; Werder et al., 2012). When considering whether to collaborate with students on course, assignment, or curricular design and on the issues of teaching and learning in general, I think that it is important to be clear from the very start about the reasons for which one partners with students. My personal experience has proven to me that if students and faculty think that collaboration is set up to improve teaching, their attitude prevents genuine partnership from developing. The initial intent to partner, i.e. treat each other as equals, is skewed from the start.
So, it is my belief that neither faculty nor students should think of partnership process as faculty’s desire to improve their teaching, but instead, as a way of helping students develop a better understanding of the pedagogical choices made when creating an assignment, a course, or a curriculum. Both faculty and students should be thinking of this type of collaboration as an educational experience for students, an experience that will foster their engagement with and understanding of the subject and help them develop disciplinary thinking.
- Cook-Sather, A., & Abbot, S. (2016). Translating partnerships: How faculty-student collaboration in explorations of teaching and learning can transform perceptions, terms, and selves. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 4(2), 1-14. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.20343/10.20343/teachlearninqu.4.2.5
- Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., and Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
- Manor, C., Block-Schulman, S., Flannery, K., Felten, P. (2010). Foundations of Student-Faculty Partnerships in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. In C. Werder and M.M. Otis (eds.), Engaging Students Voices in the Study of Teaching and Learning (pp. 3–15). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
- Werder, C., Thibou, S., & Kaufer, B. (2012). Students as co-inquirers: A requisite threshold Concept in educational development. Journal of Faculty Development, 26(3), 34–38.
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.