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 based on our experience.
Those who have experimented with and written about student-faculty partnerships on teaching and learning point out several of its transformative features. Student-faculty partnerships, among other things, promise to:
- Build relationships between faculty and students that are based on trust, mutual respect, responsibility, and equality, changing the relationships that traditionally have been understood as hierarchical into ones that are founded on the democratic principles of equality and shared responsibility; and
- Turn the process of teaching and learning into a collaborative activity, one that is dialogic in nature (as opposed to viewing education in transactional terms, students as clients and university/faculty as the owner of the knowledge).
We comment below on our experience with these aforementioned concepts.
I find these features of student-faculty partnerships valuable. I felt a deeper connection and relationship with my professor and was able to work with her very well throughout the process.
The student-faculty relationship is often a hierarchical relationship involving a strict power dynamic. While this is less present at Elon than it may be at other universities, it still dominates university culture. Relationships may be personal in nature but are very rarely professional in the way that student-faculty partnerships offer. I have had experiences inside the classroom in which a student offers insight related to class discussion and a professor will entertain the idea or praise it; the professor may even share this idea in future classes. However, the relationship is still unequal. Many of my peers (myself included) feel afraid to speak in class because they fear their ideas are not worthy of discussion – this is a major issue in undergraduate culture that student-faculty partnership can help mitigate.
If students know that a peer has helped to design class discussion and assignments, they may be more willing to participate and share ideas than in a traditional classroom setting that maintains a hierarchy of power. To participate in such an experience has been quite powerful in breaking down that hierarchy. Being able to see that your professor is a human being who can be unsure and make mistakes is a crucial step in viewing a class more as a knowledge-sharing experience. We’re not quite there in terms of viewing professors as peers who are willing and eager to learn from students, but student-faculty partnership is a good step in the right direction.
These transformative features of partnership are what attracted me to this pedagogy to begin with. I hope to develop more egalitarian relationships with my students and to support their exploration of education and learning as a process that highly depends on their sense of responsibility; I also hope to support students’ understanding that teaching and learning are dialogic, i.e. a processes that depend upon communication and collaboration between both parties (faculty and students).
I would say that, in my experience, all of this is easier said than done. Students are very much used to a hierarchical structure of education. They rarely dare to express their opinion(s) about how they would prefer to be taught or, rather, how and what they prefer to be learning. And, inversely, faculty (including me) rarely offer students this opportunity. We are much too comfortable in unchallenged authoritative positions vis-à-vis students. So, it is essential to constantly and consistently work towards achieving a mindset that would allow both parties to view differently their traditional roles, or to trespass the pre-established barriers.
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.