Need for institutionalizing student-faculty partnership

written by admin on September 6, 2018 in CEL Scholar and Doing EL and Engaged Learning and Student-Faculty Partnership with no comments

by Ketevan Kupatadze

Student-faculty partnership as an institutional practice is an integral part of (higher) education systems and, in my opinion, essential for student-faculty partnership success. It is very difficult to engage in student-faculty partnership in an environment in which it is not an institutional culture for two reasons, both of which put faculty in an extremely vulnerable position vis-à-vis students and administration. If not part of institutional culture or larger education system, student-faculty partnerships:

  • ask faculty to perform a highly difficult task of convincing students in the value of partnership, and
  • remain an experimental pedagogy that might jeopardize faculty careers.

Several transformative features of partnership-based pedagogy are frequently pointed out:

  • Students as Partners (SaP) democratizes education because of its dialogic nature (Werder et al., 2012);
  • With its focus on the process of learning rather than results, and the view of education as an exploratory process, it revolutionizes the contemporary higher education system (Healey et al., 2014; Matthews, 2016; Bovill & Bulley, 2011);
  • SaP also changes the growing trend in our (western) neo-liberal institutional culture of viewing students (and parents) as consumers, and education as a product that is being advertised to them. It promises to establish a reciprocal relationship between teachers and students as they share power through pedagogical decision-making, thus placing the responsibility for teaching and learning on both (Manor et al., 2010; Cook-Sather et al., 2014; Cook-Sather & Alter, 2011; Werder et al., 2012).

All of these features, while incredibly appealing, might also seem daunting to many. If not part of the institutional system, anyone experimenting with student-faculty partnership would have to recognize from the very beginning that they are working against currently accepted and valued modes of thinking and first and foremost start convincing students in the value of such endeavor. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this can be an incredibly time-consuming and difficult task, especially for faculty who either self-identify as under-represented or are identified by students as such.

For this very reason, student-faculty partnership as an experimental pedagogy brings up questions about SaP in relation to career stages and tenure and promotion processes. When it is not part of the shared system of values and objectives, unsuccessful partnership attempts will work against faculty. Even when successful, SaP will require considerable time commitment that will take away time from other projects and might jeopardize one’s career. In my conversations with colleagues, administrative staff, and students from the universities in which SaP is an unknown or new concept, I have noticed that the transformative element of this practice is received with some ambivalence. With concerned faces and unconvinced attitudes people ask: Won’t this question my expertise in the eyes of my students? How will I negotiate power and hierarchy with them? How do I find time to do it? How do I find funding necessary to do it? What will my superiors say? Won’t I look vulnerable in their eyes? What about assessment? What if through partnership I don’t reach the existing learning goals and outcomes? Etc.

So, the question is: How can we support student-faculty partnerships to become part of the institutional culture? I deeply believe that one has to think of ways to turn this pedagogy, which is at this point experimental, transformative, counter-institutional, into an integral part of higher education culture.


  • Bovill, C., Bulley, C. J., & Morss, K. (2011). Engaging and empowering first-year students through curriculum design: perspectives from the literature. Teaching in Higher Education16(2), 197–209.
  • Cook-Sather, A. and Alter, Z. “What Is and What Can Be: How a Liminal Position Can Change Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 2011, 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, California: Jossey-Bass.
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.