Student-Faculty Partnership and Engaged Learning
by Ketevan Kupatadze
“Student consultants and faculty members forge partnerships outside of the regular teacher/student relationship, explore dimensions of teaching and learning not generally discussed outside of education courses, and model for the entire community a form of collaboration that challenges traditional role distinctions and notions of who is responsible for the education that unfolds in college classrooms” (Bovill, Cook-Sather, Felten, 2011, p. 3)
As student-faculty partnerships in higher education systems increasingly gain popularity in the US, as well as internationally, in this Blog Post, I address outcomes identified by research on this practice. More importantly, I focus on the outcomes that place it within the framework of such high impact and highly valued pedagogical practice as student engagement. This is, in my opinion, particularly relevant in the context of the institution in which I teach, since Elon University prides itself for being one of the leading higher education institutions with impressive student engagement records. Furthermore, Healey et al., (2014) identify student engagement as one of the most important goals of higher education today. They state “engaging students and staff effectively as partners in learning and teaching is arguably one of the most important issues facing higher education in the 21st century” (p. 7). Placing student-faculty partnership under the broader umbrella of student engagement, Healey et al. (2016) define partnership as a process through which “institutions go beyond listening to the student voice and engage students as co-learners, co-researchers, co-inquirers, co-developers, and co-designers” (p. 2).
Considering the importance we clearly seem to place on student engagement, it is worth looking into the details of how student-faculty partnerships on the issues of teaching and learning, instructional and curricular development, pedagogy, etc. could, in fact, fuel such engagement. While the recent systematic literature review on student-faculty partnerships on teaching and learning completed by Mercer-Mapstone et al. (2017) offers a comprehensive table with many different outcomes reported in the research (see the table below), here I will specifically focus on two reported outcomes that, in my opinion, foster student engagement: increased sense of motivation and responsibility, and transformed sense of self and self-awareness.
Table Source: Mercer-Mapstone et al., 2017, p. 11
Emerging literature on the topic clearly shows the positive outcomes of engaging students in partnership. Mercer-Mapstone et al. (2017) identify a number of positive outcomes in regards to improved student engagement. Through various kinds of partnership with faculty, students have increased motivation and ownership for learning, and develop increased senses of confidence, self-efficacy, and belonging to university, discipline or community. Research also suggests that these types of partnerships have engaged and empowered under-represented students.
Transformed sense of self and self-awareness
Research shows that when students work with faculty on the issues of teaching and learning, they gain a newer perspective and a deeper understanding of the process of learning, as well as that of teaching or pedagogical choices made by the faculty in the process of preparing for teaching certain material. For example, in one student’s words: “You really don’t understand the way you learn and how others learn until you can step back from it and are not in the class with the main aim to learn the material of the class but more to understand what is going on in the class and what is going through people’s minds as they relate with that material” (Cook-Sather, 2008, p. 481). On the other hand, for a faculty member, partnership with students meant learning to “engage in the process of evaluating my teaching on a consistent basis… This experience has transformed me into a reflective practitioner” (Cook-Sather & Abbot, 2016, p. 1).
In her article titled “Lessons in Higher Education: Five Pedagogical Practices that Promote Active Learning for Faculty and Students” (2011), Alison Cook-Sather suggests that student-faculty partnerships mean active and engaged learning not only for students, but also for faculty and that this process is cyclical: faculty who engage in more active and reflective teaching foster engagement in students, who on their part, encourage faculty to be even more engaged with, open about, and transparent about their teaching. Through partnership, faculty face the need to explain or clarify their pedagogical choices, as well as their specific teaching goals, thus developing a “greater awareness of their pedagogical goals, a stronger ability to analyze those goals, and an increased capacity to name what they intend and how they strive to achieve it” (Cook-Sather, 2011, p. 3). As Cook-Sather explores five different pedagogical practices employed by faculty (and student consultants) at Bryn Mawr College through their participation in the Teaching and Learning Institute (TLI), she notes that faculty members engaged in partnership with student consultants develop a “meta-cognitive awareness” through a continuous reflection on the pedagogical choices made in the process of teaching, and as a consequence, invite “students to engage in reflection on and dialogue about their learning experiences, needs and goals” (2011, p. 2).
Hence, through partnership, both faculty and student acquire a transformed sense of self and self-awareness. This process of developing self-awareness, as well as having a better understanding of the process in which one is involved, both for faculty and students, often translates into partners’ increased confidence and trust in themselves, their knowledge and their abilities (Cook-Sather & Abbot, 2016).
Motivation and Responsibility
Student-faculty partnership is conducive to an increased sense of motivation and responsibility in students as it challenges our traditional understanding of who is responsible for what happens in the classroom or through the process of teaching and learning. Describing three different models of partnership, Bovill, Cook-Sather, Felten (2011) maintain that “[S]tudent-faculty partnerships […] challenge students’ customary, and often comfortable, passive role in the classroom, as well as a common academic staff assumption that their disciplinary expertise gives them complete authority over the learning process. This collaborative approach prompts both students and academic staff to confront fundamental questions about the nature of teaching and learning” (Bovill et al., 2011, p. 4).
This fundamental shift is occasioned by giving agency to students and allowing them to make pedagogical choices, which consequently places on them more responsibility for learning, while at the same time increasing their motivation and enthusiasm. As one student comments: “I grew up thinking what I assumed every other student thought and the majority of students still think—what do I want to get out of this class? An A. The thought of actively trying to learn something never crossed my mind. Then one day as we were discussing…the subject of teacher and student responsibility…the realization hit me: What were my own responsibilities for my education?” (Manor et al., 2010, p. 5). Clearly, this student’s collaboration with a faculty member helped them to recognize their own role in the process of learning and, hopefully, led them to a “re-energized and renewed commitment to learning” (Bovill et al., 2011, p. 6).
The same seems to be true for faculty who partner with students. They report a renewed relationship with their students, as well as a sense of reinvigoration and renewal when it comes to teaching (Bovill et al., 2011).
In this blog I explored how student-faculty partnerships (could) increase and improve student, as well as faculty, engagement with teaching and learning. Since student engagement is one of the central goals and cherished values of many universities and colleges in the US, I do hope that student-faculty partnership, as an integral part of its framework, becomes a more mainstream practice in the US higher education system.
- Bovill, C., Cook‐Sather, A., & Felten, P. (2011). Students as co‐creators of teaching approaches, course design, and curricula: implications for academic developers. International Journal for Academic Development, 16(2), 133–145. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2011.568690
- Cook-Sather, A. (2008). “What you get is looking in a mirror, only better”: Inviting students to reflect (on) college teaching. Reflective Practice 9(4), 473-483.
- Cook-Sather, A. (2011) “Lessons in Higher Education: Five Pedagogical Practices That Promote Active Learning For Faculty and Students.” Journal of Faculty Development, 2011b, 25(3), 33-39.
- 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
- Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: Students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. York: Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/engagement-through-partnership-students-partners-learning-and-teaching-higher-education
- Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2016). Students as Partners: Reflections on a Conceptual Model. Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 4(2).
- 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.
- Mercer-Mapstone, Drovakova, S. L., Matthews, K. E., Abbot, S., Cheng, B., Felten, P., … Swaim, K. (2017). A systematic Literature Review of Students as Partners in Higher Education. International Journal for Students as Partners, 1(2), 1–23. https://mulpress.mcmaster.ca/ijsap/article/view/3119
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.