Student-Faculty Partnerships at McMaster University
by Ketevan Kupatadze
In my next few blog posts my intention is to feature several higher education institutions that have been at the forefront of student-faculty partnerships with the intention of identifying some of the successful practices within this pedagogy, as well as some differences in the way it could be approached, envisioned, and developed.
Here, I focus on McMaster University’s Student Partners Program. This program was piloted in the 2013-14 academic year, in response to calls for inclusion of students as partners in teaching and learning, based on the study by Cook-Sather, Bovill, and Felten (2014). It began with 13 Arts and Sciences students who were involved mainly as co-researchers and co-designers of teaching and learning. Currently the program funds over 100 student partners to work with faculty across the university. Student Partners Program has four sub-programs: General Stream Partners, Course Design Consultants, Curriculum Consultants, and Leaders in Teaching and Learning (LTL) Fellow Partners.
McMaster Student Partners Program envisions partnership with students in several different ways:
- as an opportunity to engage students as co-researchers who shape research design, undertake data collection, and interpret it;
- as curriculum consultants who provide perspectives on the enacted curriculum, as well as co-design curriculum when possible, and
- as course design consultants who provide perspectives on content and pedagogy, and shape actions for (re)design.
Based on several years of experience with partnership, McMaster University’s MacPherson Institute has developed very precise guidelines that can be useful for anybody wishing to partner with students and thinking about the logistics, such as how to invite students for partnership, what kind of mentoring is required for a successful partnership to develop, what kind of support students can provide, how should (could) they be compensated for the work they do, etc.
One of the specific forms of partnership is Student-Consultant Partnerships with Faculty, which is a program that was specifically developed to provide support to faculty in the process of course design and delivery. For this purpose, student-consultants are available for two different projects: to partner with faculty who wish to received feedback on the course(s) they already teach and to partner with faculty who desire to (re)design a course to teach in the future.
This program is open to McMaster University’s second to fourth year students of all majors and disciplines and requires a commitment of approximately 4 hours per week. Students are not required to have discipline-specific knowledge, but rather are asked to bring their perspective as learners, combined with the mentorship provided by the coordinators of the program at MacPherson Institute. Student partners are hired to work in collaboration with faculty and, although everyone is eligible to participate, both parties have to apply.
The application process starts with faculty submitting a project proposal for consideration. The proposal is used both to evaluate its fit for student-faculty partnership and to advertise the project to students who might be interested in collaboration. When the call for applications is distributed for students, the chosen faculty projects accompany them. Students are asked to select the projects on which they would prefer to partner with faculty, and in a short statement, to describe the reasons why they are interested in the chosen projects.
MacPherson Institute has developed a list of suggestions for faculty and student-consultants for a successful partnership. One of the important elements of the program that has proven to be essential for its success is holding regular meetings between faculty and student-consultants, as well as regular meetings between program coordinators and student-consultants. During these meetings faculty, program coordinators, and student-consultants discuss pedagogical theories that support partnership and collaboration, ideas for effective mentorship and feedback, and collaborating on course (re)design.
Other suggestions stemming from the MacPherson Institute include:
- establishing goals and deadlines;
- getting to know each-other and develop relationships from the start;
- setting clear guidelines and expectations for all parties involved in the project; and
- approaching people at your institution and asking them for advice, input, feedback, etc. to try to learn from as many people as possible.
For a more detailed information about McMaster University’s Student Partner Program, please visit their webpage at https://mi.mcmaster.ca/student-partners-program/#about
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.
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.