Students as Partners


Students as Partners in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, or simply Students as Partners (SaP), is a pedagogical approach that has been embraced recently by many higher education institutions primarily in the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. SaP implies students and faculty/academic staff working in collaboration, as partners, to improve teaching and learning experiences (Mercer-Mapstone et al., 2017).

Healey et al. describe SaP as “a relationship in which all involved – students, academics, professional services staff, senior managers, students’ unions, and so on – are actively engaged in and stand to gain from the process of learning and working together”(2014, p. 12).

Considerable attention has been given to the terms “partner” and “partnership,” especially considering the traditionally unequal relationship that develops between faculty and students, a relationship in which faculty assume the role of experts who take on the responsibility of sharing their expertise with students. For example, Bovill, Cook-Sather and Felten define student-faculty partnership as a “reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, although not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualization, decision-making, implementation, investigation, or analysis” (2014, p. 6-7). They suggest that in order to be successful, partnership between students and faculty should be based on three principles: respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility in learning. These principles, as the authors argue, fundamentally reshape the relationship that is currently established between faculty and students. Throughout their book, they advocate that both – faculty and students – see each other as peers, as people who can meaningfully (albeit in diverse ways) contribute to the process of teaching and learning.

Within the framework of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) research, student-faculty partnership, according to Manor et al. (2010), shifts the focus from faculty to students, i.e. from teaching to learning. Manor et al. argue that while it is understandable that the scholarship is faculty driven – faculty asking research questions and determining the direction of the SoTL research – involving student voices in the process means that students also get to ask research questions and thus participate in the scholarly inquiry about their own learning. Hence, SaP destabilizes several aspects of traditional dynamic between faculty and students that has been based on inequality and has given an almost unlimited decision-making authority about curricular development to faculty rather than students. Contrary to this system, SaP suggests that faculty/academic staff develop partnerships with students, since all have something to teach and to learn and it is our shared responsibility to exchange the knowledge that we all have. SaP places responsibility of teaching and learning on both teachers and students, arguing that students have an active role to play in the decisions about what and how to learn.

The Students as Partners model challenges and scrutinize several foundational features of current higher education system:

  1. Its non-democratic, hierarchical structures;
  2. Its focus on predetermined learning outcome;
  3. Its view of student as client.

Students normally come to us after having been used to a “transmission model of teaching” that promotes passive learning through standardized tests and discourages curiosity and inquiry (Cook-Sather et al., 2014, p. 17). Colleges, for their part, frequently treat students as consumers and advertise education as a product that faculty deliver to them. This practice comes from a flawed understanding of education as a one-way process in which faculty have knowledge that can be seamlessly transmitted to students. Such attitude towards education encourages students’ passive behavior, as well as establishes clear power structures in the relationships between faculty and students in which faculty have all the expertise and, consequently, all the power to make decisions about students’ education. As a result, “students’ perceived powerlessness in their own education translates into a lack of their taking responsibility for their own education” (Manor et al., 2010, p. 10).

The students as partners model questions this premise, suggesting that our understanding of how learning happens should change. We all, faculty and students, have something to teach and learn and it is our shared responsibility, as faculty and students, to exchange our knowledge. While faculty know what to teach, students might know better how they learn; hence, they can and should play an active role in the decisions about what and how to learn (Cook-Sather et al., 2014). Furthermore, student involvement in the process of course and curricular development fosters more responsibility for and engagement with learning in students. Students as partners start viewing education differently and take on a more active role, becoming more engaged with learning as they develop a greater sense of responsibility (Cook-Sather and Alter, 2011; Manor et al., 2010; Werder et al., 2012). The students as partners model offers an opportunity for faculty and students to work together towards one goal instead of one working for another (Cook-Sather et al., 2014). Matthews (2016) puts it nicely, writing that students as partners views partnership as a process of “engaging with rather than doing to or doing for students” (p. 2).

As Werder et al. (2012) argue, through partnership, done correctly, students start to understand learning as a dialogic experience that is divergent and difference driven and question the hierarchical dynamics inherent in contemporary education system that make it difficult for students to be active learners. Both faculty and students come to value the equality that comes with partnership and that enables all participants to have a voice in the decision making process.

There seems to exist a tension, though, between the policies at the institutional and supra-institutional levels that aim to assure the quality and standards of education through continuous assessment. In their article titled “A Model of Active Student Participation in Curriculum Design: Exploring Desirability and Possibility,” Bovill and Bulley (2011) state that “our systems of quality assurance require courses to be validated and reviewed on the basis of clear intended learning outcomes and assessments” (p. 6). In the same vain, Healey et al. (2014) recognize the important role of institutions and professional organizations in setting guidelines and standards for educational goals and outcomes. In contrast, the pedagogical philosophy rooted in the principles of partnership between students and educators is process-oriented and, as such, undetermined and unpredictable. For example, Matthews (2016) claims that SaP is process-oriented rather than outcomes-driven (p. 1), and Healey et al. (2014) argue that “[p]artnership is essentially a process of engagement, not a product. It is a way of doing things, rather than an outcome in itself”(p. 7). Healey et al. (2014) maintain that unlike the current model that is end-oriented, the student-faculty partnership is pedagogy that is “(radically) open to and creating possibilities for discovering and learning something that cannot be known beforehand”(p. 9).

What makes it a high-impact practice?

Student-faculty partnership offers ideal opportunities for creating environments consistent with many characteristics of high-impact practices as described by NSSE, National Survey of Student Engagement (2015). According to NSSE, high-impact practices “typically demand considerable time and effort, facilitate learning outside of the classroom, require meaningful interactions with faculty and other students, encourage collaboration with diverse others, and provide frequent and substantive feedback.”

Mercer-Mapstone et al. (2017) in their literature review on student-faculty partnerships single out student engagement, increased motivation and ownership for learning, increased sense of confidence and self-awareness, as well as a sense of belonging to university, discipline and community as some of the most important positive outcomes of the practice.

Student engagement

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 engaged in more active and reflective teaching fosters engagement in students who on their part encourage faculty to be even more engaged with, open and transparent about their teaching. Through partnership, faculty faces 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).

Cook-Sather, Bovill and Felten (2014) rely heavily on higher education’s mission of creating opportunities for meaningful engagement when guiding faculty interested in collaborating with students on the issues of teaching and learning. By ‘meaningful engagement,’ the authors refer to student-faculty collaborations that offer both parties an opportunity to have consistent authentic and transformative experiences.

Several studies highlight that students as partners start viewing education differently and take upon a more active role, become more engaged with learning, they develop a greater sense of responsibility (Cook-Sather and Alter, 2011; Manor et al., 2010). When collaborating with faculty, “students’ perceived powerlessness in their own education translates into a lack of their taking responsibility for their own education” (Manor et al., 2010, p. 10).

Motivation and ownership for learning

Student-faculty partnership is conducive to an increased sense of motivation and responsibility in students, and consequently, ownership of learning, as it challenges students’, as well as faculty’s 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” (p. 4).

This fundamental shift from passive to active learning 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 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).

Consistent contact and collaboration, including with or between diverse and different people

“SaLT provides support structures within which participants can discern differences of position, perspective, and identity, and at once respect and preserve those differences and learn from them. […]  Through engaging in reflection on (shifting) differences, participants not only embrace diversity but also, […] “make it normal”—make it normative for differences to exist and for people in relationships to benefit from them. While this is not always easy or fully achieved, faculty and student reflections offer us glimpses into the effort and the lessons such effort itself has to teach us” (Cook-Sather, 2015, p. 6)

Increased sense of community and belonging are among several enduring effects of student-faculty partnerships as shown in recent research coming out of the colleges and universities. Through partnership, students have developed an increased sense of community and belonging (Healey et al., 2014), and greater sense of belonging within the university community (Curran & Millard, 2016).

In “Dialogue Across Differences of Position, Perspective, and Identity: Reflective Practice in/on a Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnership Program” (2015) Cook-Sather explores the effects of student-faculty partnership on student and faculty’s perception of their own differences and whether this collaboration or partnership could inspire more openness, deeper connection and empathy (p. 1). Cook-Sather notes that in her research through systematic documentation, reflection upon and analysis of faculty and student experiences and voices participating in the SaTL program at Bryn Mawr, the “themes of discerning or recognizing differences, and striving to embrace and learn from differences, rather than reifying them as only divisive, have emerged repeatedly” (p. 6).

Increased confidence, transformed sense of self, and awareness of the other

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. Interestingly, Cook-Sather, Bovill and Felten (2014) note that student faculty partnership asks for a reconceptualization of learning and teaching as collaborative process and write that: “Research suggests that partnerships tend to produce similar outcomes for both students and faculty” (p. 100).

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).

Research has also shown that partnership can engage and empower traditionally marginalized students and lead to sharing authority and responsibility with staff in the development of culturally sustainable pedagogy (Cook-Sather and Agu, 2013; Healey et al., 2014).

Good practices in high-impact Students as Partners

Drawing from scholarly literature on student-faculty partnerships, Healey et al. (2014) highlights the following values underpinning the practice:

  • Authenticity: “all parties have a meaningful rationale for investing in partnership, and are honest about what they can contribute and the parameters of partnership”(p. 14)
  • Inclusivity: “partnership embraces the different talents, perspectives and experiences that all parties bring, and there are no barriers (structural or cultural) that prevent potential partners getting involved”(p. 14)
  • Reciprocity:  “all parties have an interest in, and stand to benefit from, working and/or learning in partnership”(p. 14)
  • Empowerment: “power is distributed appropriately and all parties are encouraged to constructively challenge ways of working and learning that may reinforce existing inequalities”(p. 15)
  • Trust: “all parties take time to get to know each other, engage in open and honest dialogue and are confident they will be treated with respect and fairness”(p. 15)
  • Challenge: “all parties are encouraged to constructively critique and challenge practices, structures and approaches that undermine partnership, and are enabled to take risks to develop new ways of working and learning”(p. 15)
  • Community: “all parties feel a sense of belonging and are valued fully for the unique contribution they make”(p. 15)
  • Responsibility: “all parties share collective responsibility for the aims of the partnership, and individual responsibility for the contribution they make”(p. 15)

Cook-Sather et al. (2014) identify respect, reciprocity, and responsibility as the three guiding principles of student-faculty partnerships:

  • Respect: “Respect is an attitude. It entails taking seriously and valuing what someone else or multiple others bring to tan encounter. It demands openness and receptivity, it calls for willingness to consider experiences or perspectives that are different from our own, and it often requires a withholding of judgment”(p. 2). The authors continue to quote from a student who advises faculty engaged in partnership to “be as open as you possibly can. The key to these types of exchanges is respect, honesty, and an ability to expose yourself to new and different perspectives”(p. 2). It is also important to note that authors maintain throughout their book that respect does not mean erasing differences, but rather working though and with them. They write that the reflections form faculty and students highlight that “while student and faculty experiences, perspectives, and even goals are sometimes different, each is taken into consideration and valued”(p. 2).
  • Reciprocity: Cook-Sather et al. (2014) note that respect and reciprocity are closely connected and write, “while respect is an attitude, reciprocity is a way of interacting. It is a process of balanced give-and-take; there is equity in what is exchanged and how it is exchanged” (p. 2-3). Once again, the authors clarify that while reciprocity is essential for a successful partnership, it does not mean “students and faculty get and give exactly the same things in pedagogical partnerships. Indeed, partnerships invite faculty and students to share differing experiences and perspectives; those differences are part of what can make partnerships so rich and diverse”(p. 3).
  • Responsibility: Cook-Sather et al. (2014) argue that partnership changes both students’ and faculty’s orientation towards more responsibility. When it happens, students assume some responsibility for teaching, while faculty – for learning (p. 4). To quote a faculty: “Participating in this project gave me a sense of students being able and wanting to take certain pedagogical responsibility, and the counter of that is me taking a learning responsibility”(p. 4). Students commenting on responsibility state “it is up to the entire community to make learning spaces function, so that means students have just as much responsibility as professors”(p. 4). “When both students and faculty take more responsibility for the educational project, teaching and learning become “community property” (Shurlam, 2004a), with students recognized as active members of that community and collaborative partners equally invested in the common effort to engage in, and support, learning”(p. 5).


Student-faculty partnership is relatively new practice in higher education. Hence, researchers have identifying many areas that require further study, assessment and documentation, as well as some of the challenges and areas for improvement.

Under-researched areas and/or opportunities for further study:

  • Inter-institutional and cross-disciplinary initiatives. Mercer-Mapstone et al. (2017) literature review article pointed out that further research is required to “illuminate how partnerships translate across disciplines, institutions, countries, and cultures.
  • Authorship. Based on Mercer-Mapstone et al. (2017), significantly more publications on student-faculty partnerships are authored solely by faculty. While these publications include student voices, if we are seeking more egalitarian approach to education, we have to find ways to regard student voices and their contributions as equal and co-author studies with them or allow them to be authors.
  • Partnership outcomes are predominantly “student-centric” (Mercer-Mapstone et al., 2017). There is more research to be conducted on partnership outcomes and effects on faculty. More specifically: (How) is partnership work recognized by institutions? Do faculty feel vulnerable to undertake it? What are some of the reasons for vulnerability and (how) can they be overcome?
  • Tendency of reporting positive outcomes, while ignoring some of the challenges or even unsuccessful examples of partnership (Mercer-Mapstone et al., 2017).  We could focus on the reasons for this imbalance, as well as the ways to address it.
  • Ways to expand partnership opportunities. This can be convincing more faculty to experiment with it, as well as offer more institutional support to such initiatives, i.e. ways to make student-faculty partnership part of institutional culture.
  • Expanding partnerships to include not only students and faculty/academic staff, but more student life staff and administrators. Develop partnerships between students and students, students and stakeholders external to universities, students and administrators, etc. (Marcer-Mapstone et al., 2017).
  • Partnership across contexts. There is the need for more research that offers fuller contextualization of partnership in order for others to view them as examples that can be adapted or adopted in their specific institutional, departmental and disciplinary contexts (Mercer-Mapstone et al., 2017).


Questions and options to consider when starting a student-faculty partnership:

  • What are some of the deep values that student-faculty partnership reinforces? Do you share these values, pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning, as well as human interaction?
  • Are these values shared by your colleagues and aligned with your institutional goals? (How) can you build connections and collaborate with others at your institution or at other institutions to expand the partnership work and turn it into an institutional culture?
  • What will be the initial scale of partnership? What small and individual steps might one take to initiate partnerships with students on teaching and learning? How can these steps be evolved into departmental and then institutional practices?
  • How could student-faculty partnership be an opportunity to develop a more inclusive, hospitable institutional environment in which traditionally marginalized and/or under-represented groups will feel welcomed and valued? Here one can think of both faculty that identify themselves as minority, as well as students.
  • While the research has reported positive experiences of faculty engaged in partnership with students on the issues of teaching and learning, it is still unclear how much more difficult is it for faculty who would traditionally self-identify as minority, under-represented and/or marginalized group to initiate a project that is not mainstream and might not end up being valued by the university administration?
  • How are the power dynamics addressed on many different levels in student-faculty partnerships? For example, how challenging is it for faculty to step back and refrain from exercising the traditional authority in their relationship with students? How challenging is for students to handle the newly acquired power and equality with the faculty? How challenging is for under-represented and/or non-tenured faculty to engage in student-faculty partnerships when the practice has not been established nor recognized by many institutions as part of their culture? Here is when much more research is needed on unsuccessful or problematic partnerships.
  • What guidelines should exist (whether departmental or institutional) that would support faculty who take the risk of initiating student-faculty partnership and would protect them from being penalized if their experiment were unsuccessful? Similarly, what guidelines should exist for students who engage in partnership with faculty that would protect them from being penalized by the faculty if they disagree or are critical of their pedagogy?
  • Considering that student-faculty partnerships are encouraged, what types of support- departmental, institutional, financial, intellectual, professional development, etc.-are needed to ensure their success? What kind of program-level and institutional-level approaches to student-faculty partnerships can be developed?

Key Scholarship

Bovill, Bulley,  (2011). A model of active student participation in curriculum design: exploring desirability and possibility. In C. Rust Editor (Eds.), Improving Student Learning (ISL) 18: Global Theories and Local Practices: Institutional, Disciplinary and Cultural Variations (176-188). Oxford: Oxford Brookes University Centre for Staff and Learning Development.

The authors explore the desirability and possibility of active student participation (ASP) in curriculum design. They offer the description of the levels or forms of ASP in curriculum design by adapting Sherry Arnstein’s (1969) ladder model of citizen participation from community planning literature.

The adapted ladder is of particular interest to anyone willing to experiment with active student participation in either planning the entire curriculum, course or modifying some aspects of the course or assignment(s). Although the concept of a ladder might suggest that what’s on upper level is to be considered better, the authors say that this is not the case. Different levels of student participation depend on particular circumstances, faculty goals, etc. depending on institutional setting, faculty member’s comfort level with inviting students to collaborate on course design, the level of maturity and expertise of student body, they further argue that it might be desirable to increase active student participation slowly and in stages (p. 183).

Bovill and Bulley also give specific examples of what each ladder of ASP might look like in practice. For example, ‘Partnership  – a negotiated curriculum’ could be “student experience and work used as basis for curriculum; students actively and meaningfully negotiating curriculum with tutor” (p. 181); ‘Students in control’ might involve “Student designed learning outcomes and projects. Student led journal clubs, student led journals” (p. 181). They also acknowledge that “[l]ocating examples of this top rung is challenging within the current higher education context, where our systems of quality assurance require courses to be validated and reviewed on the basis of clear intended learning outcomes and assessments”(p. 181).

As we implement more practices involving students as partners in curriculum design and development, the authors also note that there has to be more research done and evidence collected that evaluates the outcomes from different levels of ASP, as well as faculty and student experiences with partnership and its implications (p. 184).

Cook-Sather, A. Alter, Z. (2011). What Is and What Can Be: How a Liminal Position Can Change Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 42(1), 37-53.

Alison Cook-Sather and Zanny Alter focus on student experiences as pedagogical consultants in a faculty development program at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges. The authors claim that this type of collaboration between student consultants, faculty and undergraduate students enrolled in a course has “the potential to transform deep-seated societal understandings of education based on traditional hierarchies and teacher/student distinctions” (p. 37). Cook-Sather and Alter borrow anthropological concept of liminality and revise it as “a threshold between and among clearly established roles at which one can linger, from which one can depart and to which one can return” (p. 38) to describe the shift in the relationship between faculty and students and emphasize the fact that having students as educational consultants falls outside of all previously established roles and categories in higher education system.

The context of Cook-Sather and Alter’s study is Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges’ Student as Learners and Teachers (SaLT) program, which employs students as pedagogical consultants to faculty. Both students and faculty go through an established training process. The authors report several important changes in both, students’ and faculty’s perception of teaching and learning, as well as the relationship between them, as a result of the experience:

  • It prompts literal and metaphorical (re)positioning of the student consultants in the classroom, changing their perspective on learning and teaching, as well as their traditional roles as students;
  • It exposes the participants to ambiguity and vulnerability, which in the end helps in developing the capacity to be between “all fixed points of classification” (p. 48);
  • Student consultants  report becoming better students as they are able to understand better the professors’ perspectives and goals and experience deeper learning as a result of being exposed to multiple angles;
  • Faculty report being more willing to shift their teaching and more open to a dialogue with students; move towards less hierarchical and more dialogic understanding of teaching and learning; and
  • Students report being willing to take more responsibility for their education and active participants in their education.

In conclusion, the authors argue that such partnerships have a potential to move us toward a more democratic education: the potential to generate a democratic dialogue about teaching and learning between students and faculty.

Cook-Sather, Alison Bovill, Cathy Felten, Peter  (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: a guide for faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

This book written by Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bovill and Peter Felten is an invaluable guide for everybody who wishes to develop student-faculty partnership in higher education institutions. Student-faculty partnership is a relatively new concept that recently has gained much popularity in the US and internationally. The authors of Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and teaching: A Guide for Faculty offer theoretical framework for developing such partnerships combined with very practical guidelines for those interested in developing small or large scale partnerships between faculty and students. The authors do an exceptional job of combining theory with practice, grounding their ideas on evidence-based pedagogy, while offering many practical examples for those who are thinking of developing small-scale partnerships with students in their courses or large-scale partnerships on the departmental and university levels.

Starting with the basic question of how faculty together with students can deepen learning, Cook-Sather, Bovill and Felten offer a compelling analysis of the nature of student-faculty partnerships, the reasons for faculty and for students to embark on such endeavor, and the essential elements for such partnership to be successful. When defining partnership, the authors maintain that there are three important principles to be taken into account: respect, reciprocity and responsibility. All of these basic characteristics of successful partnership set faculty and students up for developing trusting and respectful relationships, for sharing not only power, but also risks and responsibilities for learning.

Cook-Sather, Bovill, and Felten also recognize the challenges that this type of partnership between faculty and students faces serious challenges in the higher education system in the US and internationally. One of the most interesting claims they make is that such partnership destabilizes the consumerist model of higher education, in which students assume passive role in their process of education being on the receiving side of the expertise that faculty share with them. Unlike this model, faculty-student partnership allows students to have an active role in this process, designing not only what but also how they wish to learn. Such a change in students’ role promotes student engagement resulting in improved learning.

In various chapters of the book, the authors provide the definition, as well as guiding principles of student-faculty partnerships; answer questions and address concerns of the faculty who might wish to initiate a partnership of this kind; offer various examples of small and large-scale partnerships based on the needs, as well as resources available for individual faculty and for administrators, departments and universities; and detailed guidelines, combined with many examples, for initiating successful student-faculty partnerships on course design, curriculum development and pedagogy.

Cook-Sather, Felten,  (2017). Ethics of academic leadership: Guiding learning and teaching. In F. Su M. Wood Editor (Eds.), Cosmopolitan perspectives on academic leadership in higher education (175-191). London: Bloomsbury.

In this article, Cook-Sather and Felten draw on Appiah’s ‘rooted’ (2005) and Hansen’s ‘embodied’ (2014) cosmopolitanism to argue that academic leadership of current higher education system should not aim for some sort of uniform and universal values, but rather embrace the differences of the people and the circumstances of local environments. Leadership should consider partnership, and reciprocity upon which partnership is based, as fundamental for its success (p. 175). The authors recognize from the start that the ethics of reciprocity and partnership challenge western higher education system and that they, by proposing it, work against current dominant model(s) of the system. Quoting Hansen (2014, p. 4), Cook-Sather and Felten agree that education should cultivate “moral sympathies, deepened democratic dispositions, and a serious sense of responsibility for the world,” but instead, as it is practiced today, it functions as a way of “training human capital” for national and multinational economic markets (p. 177). Using Walker’s (2009) description, they argue that by today’s academic leadership education is perceived as “an instrumental investment to improve productivity, […] and its] interactions are reduced to profit-seeking exchanges (p. 177).

As a counterpoint to such “dehumanized” education system, Cook-Sather and Felten employ Nixon’s “ethics of connectivity” (2012), according to which certain fundamental changes should be introduced to the education system in order to bring the ‘human’ element back into focus: it should redirect its attention at the process of teaching and learning; let go of ‘learning outcomes’ since the value of learning lies in its un-determinability, in the open, unknown outcome of the process ([education] “constitutes an uncharted, unpredictable journey into self-awareness, self-understanding, and knowledge of the world in which we live”(p. 179)); and try to develop an inclusive and collaborative relationship between teachers and students (p. 178).

Cook-Sather and Felten focus on three major concepts that should define future education philosophy: liminality, reciprocity and partnership. They employ the term ‘liminal’ or ‘liminality’ to describe an ideal space for higher education institutions. It is a stance, that in their opinion and when taken willingly (not as an imposition), embraces ambiguity, marginality and in-betweenness. It refuses to adhere to “classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space” (p. 181). When positioned in a liminal space, one acquires a unique opportunity to challenge the assumptions that had turned into unquestionable and unquestioned truths though time. They write that when someone is in a liminal space, they are “ambiguous, neither here not there, betwixt and between all fixed points of pure possibility whence novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise” (p. 181). The concept of reciprocity, as described by the authors, entails “balanced give-and-take” (p. 181), although both sides might and should have different things to offer and to contribute. The difference in experiences and perspectives is not diminished in the process, but rather acquires a heightened value. Thus, education can become a perpetual dialogue between equal, but diverse parties that collectively share responsibility (p. 182). When it comes to partnership, Cook-Sather and Felten reiterate their definition of it stating that it is “a collaborative, reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, although not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualization, decision making, implementation, investigation, or analysis” (p. 182).

Connecting these concepts back to cosmopolitanism, Cook-Sather and Felten remind us of the original Greek use of the term ‘kosmopolites’, meaning the ‘citizen of the world’ and referring to one’s obligation and responsibility towards all humans and their allegiance to humanity. But, also propose to consider the local realities, local interests, contexts and settings, following Appiah’s philosophy of ‘rooted’ cosmopolitanism in which there is no tension between the universal and the local. Viewing ‘unfinishedness’ as the very quality of education, of what “makes us educable” (p. 186), Cook-Sather and Felten propose that the leadership be open to new ideas, values and practices; that they reconsider education as a space of encounter, of a dialogue though which one acquires new identity, but this very identity is undetermined and can never be predicted.

Healey, Mick Flint, Abbi Harrington, Kathy  (2014). Engagement through partnership: Students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. York: Higher Education Academy.

Writing primarily for the teaching faculty in higher education institutions worldwide with interest in engaging students as partners in learning and teaching, as well as for the administrative staff willing to develop institutional culture of partnership, Mick Healey, Abbi Flint, and Kathy Harrington’s Report titled Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education (2014) claims that developing partnerships between faculty and students in the area of teaching and learning is a pedagogically sound endeavor for it generates student engagement and, consequently, delivers better learning experience.

As authors make a pedagogical case for developing student-faculty partnerships in learning and teaching in higher education, they offer a conceptual model for exploring the areas in which students and faculty can work together; outline the models for sustainable and successful partnerships; identify tensions that might arise with the shifts in power relationships, risk-taking, the development of trust, etc.; and, identify areas for further research.

Healey, Flint and Harrington view student-faculty partnership as a process rather than goal and outcomes driven activity and, as such, one that has the potential to dramatically transform the purpose and structure of higher education that is largely based on delivering results in the form of outcomes through assessment. The authors maintain that unlike the current model that is end-oriented, the student-faculty partnership is pedagogy that is “(radically) open to and creating possibilities for discovering and learning something that cannot be known beforehand” (p. 9).

Manor, Bloch-Shulman, Flannery, Felten,  (2010). Foundations of Student-Faculty Partnerships in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. In Carmen Werder Megan Otis Editor (Eds.), Engaging Students Voices in the Study of Teaching and Learning (3-15). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

The authors begin by outlining some of the shortcomings of the traditional instructional model in higher education, arguing that in this model students feel powerless, as if decisions were made for them instead of by them. Professors are viewed as the only experts in the room, developing in students a fundamental misconception about teaching and learning as a process through which knowledge is transferred from one to another, rather than a process during which meaning is co-constructed. Such misconception also devalues the opinions and the input of their peers, whose thoughts are dismissed as irrelevant and unimportant. All of this in the end translates into student disengagement with the process of learning, with the material and with their peers.

This traditional model of education is challenged by student-faculty partnership on the scholarship of teaching and learning. Through partnership, students acquire voice and with it, a greater responsibility for their education. Simultaneously, faculty is prompted to listen to student voices and accommodate them, relinquishing the authority that was previously assumed and unquestioned. Hence, partnership causes decentralization and disaggregation of the classroom as power is now shared between the instructor and the students, which in itself, fosters a more democratic model of teaching and learning.

From the SoTL perspective, student-faculty partnerships shift the focus from teaching (faculty) to learning (students) and allow students to ask questions related to SoTL research.

Mercer-Mapstone, L 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.

In this comprehensive literature review on the subject of Students as Partners (SaP) Mercer-Mapstone et al. are guided by an overarching question about “[h]ow are “students as partners” practices in higher education presented in the academic literature” (p. 4). The article offers a comprehensive analysis of the percentage of publications authored by faculty/academic staff, undergraduate students, and post doctoral researchers; percentage of publications coming from specific disciplines, as well as the types of partnerships frequently undertaken, a detailed and clear picture of the positive and, in some cases, negative, outcomes of student-faculty engagement, and finally, proposes areas within the subject of student-faculty partnership for further investigation and development.

The authors also address some of the major characteristics of student-faculty partnerships, highlighting the importance of reciprocity in the relationship, which can be understood as a form of shared responsibility in the process of learning, shared goals and risks, viewing students as co-learners and/or colleagues, i.e. a relationship that destabilizes the traditional power hierarchy between the faculty and students. Interestingly, the authors conclude that the analysis of current scholarship about subject of student-faculty partnerships shows that this does not always translate into shared authorship: the vast majority of research published on the topic of SaP is authored primarily by faculty, concluding that “[w]hile our literature review captured a plethora of SaP practices premised on the ideals of reciprocity and shared responsibility, the artifacts (publications) of those interactions tended to be staff-centric” (p. 14).

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.

This essay describes Carmen Werder’s, Shevell Thibou’s and Blair Kaufer’s experiences with student-faculty collaborations on course and curricular development and the ways in which these experiences have been transformational for each. This is one of the few studies co-authored by a faculty member, a graduate student and an undergraduate student who participated in student-faculty collaborative process on curricular development. The process was part of the Teaching-Learning Academy (TLA) at Western Washington University. As the authors state, the essay “explores how partnering with students to study teaching and learning constitutes a threshold concept that is trans­formational, irreversible, and discursive”(p. 34).

The authors consider student-faculty partnership to be “threshold learning” because it opens up new and previously unconceivable ways of understanding something. After the experience with such partnership, both students and faculty comment that there is no way back for them. Students have developed a new and different understanding of their learning and are more enthusiastic, more motivated to learn. They comment that learning, as a result of the partnership, has started to excite them as it turned into a dialogic and community building activity, creating a welcoming space for faculty and students to share freely what they thought and/or knew.

As the authors reflect on their experience, they point out several important shifts in their understanding of teaching and learning that seem transformational. They start to: a) understand learning as a dialogic experience that is divergent and difference driven; b) question the power structure and the hierarchical dynamics inherent in contemporary education system that make it difficult for students to be active learners; and c) value equality that comes with partnership and that enables all participants to have a voice in the decision making process.

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Model Programs

Birmingham City University, UK, has an important emphasis on student engagement and as part of it they have developed various kinds of partnerships such as Student Academic Partners, Student Academic Mentoring Partnerships, and Collaborative Partnerships. Their Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) states “student engagement at Birmingham City University encourages students to be partners with the University, and to share their ideas of learning and teaching with staff.” They believe that student engagement shouldn’t happen exclusively in the classroom and with the curriculum, but should be part of the whole experience.

Birmingham City University has developed Collaborative Projects initiative that “encourages large-scale, cross-disciplinary projects that provide opportunities for students and staff partnerships.” Their aim is to improve the learning experiences of students through the process of collaboration, partnership and sharing of knowledge. As a norm, faculty applies for funding opportunity to work on a teaching related issue with the condition that they collaborate with students. For additional information about the program, please visit the following website:

Brigham Young University has developed a program sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) called SCOT, Students Consulting on Teaching. The program employs university students to provide feedback to faculty about teaching and learning in their courses. Students serve in various forms. For example, they can record or observe a classroom, be a faux student, conduct an interview with the instructor absent, etc. To learn more about BYU’s SCOT program, visit:

The Teaching and Learning Institute at Bryn Mawr and Haverton Colleges provides forums for exploration of classroom practice. The Institute embraces a partnership model of faculty and student academic development. The goal of the institute is to promote collaboration between faculty and students by creating spaces and structures on campus that support interaction, dialogue and partnership. The Institute has also developed Students as Learners and Teachers program (SaLT) that offers a semester-long pedagogy seminar to interested faculty to collaborate one-on-one with an undergraduate student as a paid consultant. To learn more about The Teaching and Learning Institute at Bryn Mawr and Haverton Colleges, visit:

McMaster University, Macpherson Institute, Student Partners Program offers opportunities to both graduate and undergraduate students to collaborate with faculty in pedagogical research and innovation. The Student Partners Program (SPP) started in 2013 in collaboration with Arts & Sciences Program at McMaster University, Canada. Students who have participated in the program since the time of its inception “have contributed to the design and development of new courses, helped to create resources for faculty and students, and collaborated with staff and faculty partners on research projects related to teaching and learning.” McMaster currently runs an annual International Summer Institute on Student Partnerships, which is co-facilitated by student partners. Students have also co-authored articles and served as reviewers or co-editors for the International Journal for Students as Partners. For additional information, please consult the following webpage: Program leaders and participants have also developed the Program Guidebook, in which they describe the details of application process, as well as the process of the program, offer ideas on how to have a successful partnership, etc. The PDF version of the guidebook can be accessed online:

NC A&T State University, Wabash-Provost Scholars Program engages undergraduate students as co-researchers and co-inquirers. Through the program, students are trained to conduct focus group sessions, surveys, and other assessment activities designed to improve teaching and learning at the university. Their website states that “[c]omprised of students from a wide array of majors, the program illustrates how “high impact practices” such as undergraduate research experiences can be made available to all students, regardless of discipline, while also providing valuable research service to the university.” To learn more about the Wabash-Provost Scholars Program, visit:

Olin College, The Olin Collaboratory Summer Institute offers a weeklong conference titled “Designing Student-Centered Learning Experiences,” in which faculty and students can come together to collaborate on curricular change and development. Olin College of Engineering considers students as collaborators from the very beginning and claims that their 4-year curriculum gives students an opportunity to envision and develop problems and solutions for real-life situations. Describing their curriculum, they state that “[t]he academic culture at Olin is collaborative. Many of our classes are taught in a studio environment where students have dedicated space, and all classes emphasize classroom activity (not just listening) and cooperative exploration. Students have flexibility to choose projects that align with their interests; faculty act as coaches, mentors and advisers, providing just-in-time instruction and helping student teams find the resources they need.” To learn more about Olin College of Engineering and their innovative approach to teaching, visit:

Smith College, Massachussettes, Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnership Program engages students as partners to observe and offer feedback on faculty-developed courses throughout the chosen semester. Students at Smith College wishing to partner with faculty register for a two credit hour course titled “The Pedagogy of Student-Faculty Partnership,” as well as receive hourly wages for their work. Throughout the semester they observe faculty teaching the course, offer feedback, meet regularly with each other and with the director of the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning in order to “develop their theories of and vocabularies for teaching and learning.” Faculty participating in the program also receive a stipend. The program is supported by a grant from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant is intended to support Smith, Lafayette, Lewis & Clark, Oberlin, Reed, and Ursinus Colleges in developing a student-faculty partnership program. For additional information about the program, please visit the following website:

Western Washington University has a Teaching and Learning Academy (TLA) that brings together different perspectives on the scholarship of teaching and learning, among them those of faculty and students. TLA describes its mission as an endeavor: “to create a community of scholars who work together to better understand the existing learning culture, to share that understanding with others, and to enhance the learning environment for everyone.” One of TLA’s missions is to integrate student voices into this institution’s initiatives to enhance teaching and learning. To learn more about the Teaching and Learning Academy at Western Washington University, visit:

Wise Wales, The Wales Initiative for Student Engagement is an initiative that supports partnership between educators, student unions and students across Wales. This is a “cross-sector collaboration,” as stated on their website that includes student unions, Welsh government, higher education institutions of Wales, etc. Their Partnership Statement reads: “Wise Wales wants to put partnership at the heart of the higher and further education sectors in Wales. We want to encourage and develop an environment that makes students active participants in their learning process, rather than passive participants of knowledge. This means more than just listening to students, but fostering a relationship between students and staff together set the priorities and direction of the learning experience.” To learn more about the initiative, visit:

Ketevan Kupatadze

Reflections on our experiences with partnership on course (re)design

by Lucia Maribel Craige, Erin Jenkins, and Ketevan Kupatadze In this blog post we continue reflecting on our experience with student-faculty partnership on course (re)design. Here we address some of the transformational features of student-faculty partnership and offer our thoughts …

Ketevan Kupatadze

Reflections on the benefits of student-faculty partnerships

by Lucia Maribel Craige, Erin Jenkins, and Ketevan Kupatadze In this blog post we continue reflecting on our experience with student-faculty partnership on course (re)design. Here we will be responding to two reflective questions: Student-faculty partnership is a relatively new …

Ketevan Kupatadze

Reflections on our experiences with partnership on course (re)design

by Lucia Maribel Craige, Erin Jenkins, and Ketevan Kupatadze Following our recent experience with student-faculty partnership on course (re)design, we offer some thoughts on the process, its purpose, its benefits, and some of the risks involved. Throughout several future blog posts, …

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Featured Resources

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Students as Partners


Bovill, C., and Bulley, C.J. (2011) A model of active student participation in curriculum design: exploring desirability and possibility. In Rust, C. (ed.) Improving Student Learning (ISL) 18: Global Theories and Local Practices: Institutional, Disciplinary and Cultural Variations. Series: Improving Student Learning (18). Oxford Brookes University: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development: Oxford, pp. 176-188. ISBN 9781873576809

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 Development16(2), 133–145.

Cook-Sather, A. (2011) “Lessons in Higher Education: Five Pedagogical Practices That Promote Active Learning For Faculty and Students.” Journal of Faculty Development, 25(3), 33-39.

Cook-Sather, A. (2015). Dialogue Across Differences of Position, Perspective, and Identity: Reflective Practice In/On Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnership Program. Teachers College Record, 117 (2).

Cook-Sather, A., (2017). “Working Toward Greater Equity and Inclusivity Though Pedagogical Partnership.” Exploring Teaching and Learning Partnerships in Higher Education Conference. McMaster Innovation Park, Canada.

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

Cook-Sather, A. and Alter, Z. (2011). “What Is and What Can Be: How a Liminal Position Can Change Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 42(1), 37-53.

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., and Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: a guide for faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Curran, R., & Millard, L. (2016). A partnership approach to developing student capacity to engage and staff capacity to be engaging: opportunities for academic developers. International Journal for Academic Development21(1), 67–78.

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

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.

Matthews, K. E. (2016). Students as partners as the future of student engagement. Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal, 1(1) 1-5. Retrieved from

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.

NSSE, National Survey of Student Engagement. 2015. Retrieved from

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.



The Center thanks Ketevan Kupatadze, the 2017-2019 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar, for contributing the initial content for this page.