Student-Faculty Partnerships at Diverse Colleges and Universities
by Ketevan Kupatadze
Following Bryn Mawr/Haverton Colleges’ example and leadership, several other colleges in the U.S. started establishing and promoting student-faculty partnership programs in recent years. Some of these are Smith College, Lewis and Clark, Oberlin, Reed, Brigham Young University and Ursinus Colleges.
Since 2016, Smith College faculty interested in partnering with students have had an opportunity to register for a two-day summer institute specifically designed for this purpose. During the fall following the summer institute, faculty identify the course they would like a student partner to attend to take observation notes and share their suggestions. Student partners normally don’t have to be in the same field as the faculty whom they work with, although all student partners have to register for a 2 credit hour course titled IDP210: The Pedagogy of Student-Faculty Partnership, offered by the director of the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning. This course develops students’ “theories of and vocabularies for teaching and learning” and assures that the process provides students with a learning experience. Smith College’s Pedagogical Partnership Program is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Faculty members are paid a stipend for their participation in the summer institute, while students are paid an hourly wage for their work. The student application, selection, and hiring process is managed by the Sherrerd Center.
Similar to Smith College, Ursinus College’s Student Consultant Program fosters student-faculty partnerships to develop a dialogue with the goal of improving teaching and learning. Through the College’s Teaching and Learning Institute, and after a rigorous process of selection that includes nomination by faculty, submission of application materials and references, as well as an interview with the TLI coordinator, students are hired to work as consultants. Students spend the first semester training for the job, developing a mentoring relationship with existing consultants, reading the literature related to student-faculty partnerships, and “on-the-job learning via a short-term partnership.” Student consultants point out their role as “friends” of the faculty, “windows” for professors, as well as people who “facilitate connections” between faculty and students.
At Reed College, the Center for Teaching and Learning has created a Faculty-Student Collaborative Grant to support projects that foster technological innovations in teaching. Faculty, in collaboration with students, are encouraged to apply for a summer grant to partner with Institutional Technology Services and work towards curricular innovation with the use of technology. The staff members in the Institutional Technology Services are available to help the faculty-student teams to develop their projects, as well as train them in the use of technology. Grants include $3000 for faculty and $2000 for students and the projects last for 8 weeks with the expectation of each team member spending 20 hours per week on the project. The faculty-student teams are expected to present their work at the CTL workshop.
Since 1991, the Students Consulting on Teaching (SCOT) program at Brigham Young University has allowed trained students to work with faculty in order to improve teaching and learning. During this time, the SCOT program has employed 10 to 25 students annually, and approximately 33 professors each semester have used this service.
Students who are employed and trained by the Center for Teaching and Learning at BYU usually have one or more of the following roles: observer and recorder; video-recorder; faux student; interviewer (of the students enrolled in the course); primed student (student meets with the professor prior to class to receive instructions on what the instructor wishes him/her to observe; and student consultant (who gives instructor feedback and suggestions on a number course related issues).
Modeled after the Student Consultant Program developed by Dr. Alison Cook-Sather, the Faculty-Student Partner Program at Lewis & Clark, the Student Observer Program at Carleton College, and the Student and Faculty Partnership Program at Oberlin College follow similar procedures and have successfully run their programs for several years.
In conclusion, in order to foster conversation about these issues, I want to pose a couple of questions for readers’ consideration. Most of these colleges have created a structured process of hiring students and training them as student consultants. While listening to student voices and acting on the advice coming from them is admirable, I wonder about the power dynamics that have developed throughout the years between faculty members participating in these programs, administrators of the teaching and learning centers, and student consultants. To what extent have these programs established true partnerships between faculty and students? Could one consider the student selection process, which is rigorous and lengthy in many cases, equal to that of inviting faculty to participate in the program? Has framing the process as one that aims at “improving teaching” worked for faculty in their intent to establish partnership with student consultants? In the end, have these programs successfully created “partnerships,” i.e. relationships that are fundamentally egalitarian, between all involved parties?
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.