Productive Disruptions: Building Partnerships
by Jessie L. Moore
Last month I posited that four productive disruptions (scaling access, building partnerships, thinking globally locally, and closing the loop with the scholarship of teaching and learning) can foster creative problem-solving about learning initiatives on our campuses. In this post, I examine the second productive disruption, building partnerships – particularly with students.
Partnering with students isn’t a new idea. At many institutions, students already have prominent roles as partners in the livelihood of the institution and its surrounding community. Students often are key partners in campus collaborations with community agencies for service-learning, serving both as volunteers and as project leaders who coordinate large service partnerships. Healey, Flint, and Harrington (2014) suggest engaging students as partners in four additional areas: “learning, teaching and assessment; subject-based research and inquiry; scholarship of teaching and learning; [and] curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy” (p. 36). Undergraduate research opportunities often focus on the second area – subject-based research and inquiry – and Cook-Sather, Bovill, and Felten (2014) and contributors to Werder’s and Otis’s (2009) edited collection share strategies for and outcomes of partnering with students in the other three areas.
Engaging student voices is still an underutilized practice, though, and could be a productive disruption to better understand what’s working, what isn’t, and why in engaged learning programs. As Randy Bass notes (2013 Interview), “If you are really taking learning – and the study of learning – seriously as a transactional activity between teaching and learning that really the scholarship of teaching and learning is about… it’s not a productive inquiry if you do not have all the voices in that dialogue active. It’s a different kind of research if students are silent, if students are merely research subjects.”
The following example highlights how engaging student voices can function as a productive disruption.
Desiree Porter, in the blue dress in the photo above, graduated from Elon University in May 2015 with a degree in Finance, but she also partnered in researching experiential learning at Elon with Jeffrey Coker, the professor standing behind her to the left. Together they examined Elon’s experiential learning requirement, compared Elon’s requirement to other institutions’ requirements, and interviewed seniors about their choices. Their partnership led to a presentation at AAC&U and two publications. I’ll let Desiree tell her story:
Although she underplays her role in the video, Desiree’s participation changed this research. Student participants were willing to tell her things that they might not have shared with Jeffrey, the director of Elon’s core curriculum. She also brought a different lens to analyzing the data.
As their co-authored article in Change discusses, Desiree and Jeffrey learned that campuses need to “provide a spectrum of opportunities” for and “empower all students with access” to experiential learning in order to maximize successful student learning outcomes. Student participants shared with Desiree that they often had to choose between an experiential learning option (e.g., study abroad) and cocurricular or extracurricular experiences (e.g., leadership in a Greek life organization); while students often regretted missed opportunities, they appreciated the range of options for the experiential learning requirement since that spectrum enabled them to make choices aligned with their interests, values, and career goals.
Student participants also were frank with Desiree about challenges they faced in accessing specific experiential learning options (e.g., financial burdens, identity conflicts, etc.). While some students might have shared these perspectives with Jeffrey, not all would have, so Desiree’s partnership with Jeffrey in the project became a productive disruption for gathering more comprehensive data and framing a more accurate picture of students’ experiential learning at Elon.
Learn more about Desiree’s experience in her single-author reflection for Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, and watch for the final two parts of my series on productive disruptions in the coming weeks.
Jessie L. Moore (@jessielmoore) is the Associate Director of the Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University and associate professor of Professional Writing & Rhetoric in the Department of English.