Reflections on the “Messaging” of Student-Faculty Partnerships
by Ketevan Kupatadze
The following reflection was provoked by my personal experience not long ago. When enthusiastically pointing out the very transformative nature of student-faculty partnerships, I was confronted with surprising skepticism and uncertainty from my listeners. It made me go back and think about my own reasons for engaging in this practice, as well as reevaluate my excitement for student-faculty partnership as a practice that would offer us the opportunity to revolutionize the higher education system.
The proponents of student-faculty partnerships in teaching and learning frequently highlight the transformative power of this practice suggesting that it a) democratizes higher education, creating non-hierarchical relationships or breaking down the traditionally unequal ones between students and faculty; b) goes against current trends of viewing students as clients or consumers and education as a product; and c) views learning as an open-ended, exploratory process rather than a pre-determined, goal, or outcomes-driven one. While these almost revolutionary characteristics of student-faculty partnership are extremely appealing for some (of us), I have to say that precisely because of their highly transformative nature, they are frequently met with doubt and skepticism by many others. After all, no matter how strongly we believe that the relationship between faculty and students should not resemble that of a consumer and a provider, the reality is that we live in a world in which education costs money and is of transactional nature. Similarly, our education system is goals and outcomes-driven. Starting with the way we conceive of our courses, the way we build our syllabi, incorporate assessment, ask for feedback from students, and describe many different professions in which their education can be used – it is all about determining from the very beginning what we want students to achieve, how we want them to grow and how we expect them to make use of their education, what we want them to learn and take away from the specific course, set of courses, curriculum, etc.
Don’t get me wrong. I welcome the transformative elements of student-faculty partnerships. But I am trying to be realistic and wonder if characterizing this practice as so radical deters many from experimenting with it. There are other, perhaps less transformative, benefits of student-faculty partnerships that fall in line with the current discourse about the nature and the goals of higher education system:
- Through partnership, students and faculty develop better, closer, and more equal relationships;
- These relationships transcend the boundaries of a classroom or a course and can potentially turn into lifelong friendships;
- As both students and faculty understand the reciprocal nature of teaching and learning, they become considerably more aware and reflective of the process, which enhances their responsibility towards each other and towards the common and shared goal of teaching and learning;
- Students become more active and engaged learners; and
- Both students and faculty become more conscientious of each others’ work and come to value more the effort that each side puts into ensuring the success of the process of teaching and learning.
These documented outcomes of student-faculty partnerships might be less revolutionary, but are still extremely valuable and fall within the parameters of current goals and aspirations of higher education institutions.
So, my question is: How helpful and successful is the message about the transformative aspects of student-faculty partnership as a practice, if we want to turn student-faculty partnership into a commonly accepted practice that forms part of institutional culture of the contemporary higher education system? Does it encourage those who want to experiment with this pedagogy or does it increase their skepticism? Will a less revolutionary message about student-faculty partnership – that it improves student engagement and generates more active learning experiences, that it develops the understanding of teaching and learning as more reciprocal processes and promotes more egalitarian and collaborative relationships between students, faculty and staff – be better received and more easily absorbed?
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.