The power of students is unmistakeable. Apart from the sheer number present at universities, they make their voices heard through activism on campus, participation on university committees, and their very presence. It is a power that is often acknowledge in university communities but also, just as often, underutilized.
Universities across the world recognize and engage students as co-creators, students as change makers, and students as partners. But it persists as a rich resource that universities must continue to develop, nurture, and expand. Whether in small scale projects that look at assessment strategies in classrooms or in institution-wide initiatives aimed at large scale change, students offer a perspective that complements, extends, and even challenges the existing resources employed in these projects.
On October 10, Alison Cook-Sather, the Mary Katharine Woodworth Professor of Education at Bryn Mawr College and Director of the Teaching and Learning Institute at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, facilitated a workshop at the University of Sydney that presented both her research into projects using student partnership as well as her own project, SaLT. This workshop presented an opportunity not only to learn about what is generally happening worldwide in this space but also to hear about the specifics of her involvement and to learn firsthand what her experiences have taught her moving forward.
What is happening worldwide?
In her research, Prof. Cook-Sather explored student partnership and co-creation at a range of universities all over the world. These universities presented not only a variety of scale in their projects but also a range of purpose:
At the classroom or program level: Cook-Sather’s research pointed to several examples of institutions engaging in student-staff pedagogical partnerships at small scale levels (ranging from individual-to-individual to classroom to program).
Co-creating curriculum – Three institutions were presented (two in the US – Elon University and Haverford College – and one unnamed institution in Sweden) as drawing on these partnerships to enhance a range of curricular components, including revising content, activities, and assessments to co-creating the curriculum.
Co-creating assessment – Three cases from a global range of universities (University of Glasgow in Scotland, Northumbria University in England and Lingnan University in Hong Kong) demonstrated these student-staff partnerships focused on a co-creation of assessments.
Co-creating pedagogical approaches – The focus on this group partnerships ranged from developing pedagogical approaches aimed at increasing student engagement (Haverford College in the US) to collaborations among undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty to teach courses (University of Kansas in the US) to piloting a program focused on classroom practice (McMaster University in Canada).
At the institutional level: These partnerships have also proven effective on an institutional level. In her workshop, Cook-Sather presented examples of institutional student-staff partnerships that provided institution-wide assessment services (University of California, Merced in the US), supported student-led action research projects (University of Exeter, England), and developed a program supporting active student engagement (Uppsala University, Sweden).
What is SaLT and what is the project doing?
Alongside her research on student-staff partnerships, Cook-Sather discussed her own project: SaLT (Students as Learners and Teachers). SaLT is a program Cook-Sather leads that links teacher certification candidates with secondary students. It was developed through a collaborative effort between academic and support staff and students. The partnerships between staff members and undergraduate student members include both those focused on affecting pedagogy and those focused on affecting curriculum. They least either a semester or a year, during which partners meet on a regular (weekly or biweekly) basis.
Why are student-staff pedagogical partnerships important?
In the end, it comes down to why are these partnerships important. The answer returns to the first line of this post: The power of students is unmistakeable. Beyond that, however, by fostering relationships in which students are empowered, respected, and engaged, universities are not only tapping a powerful resource but also encouraging its development, as well as growing ourselves as educators. For some, these partnerships are natural. For others, it may not be quite so simple. But, learning is not always about comfort – or simplicity.
But why are they important here, at Macquarie University, and now?
My initial response would be if not here, where, and if not now, when? More specifically, though, as we embark on implementing a learning and teaching strategic framework (Learning for the future) that focuses on connectedness and student engagement, we – as a community – would be foolish to not include ALL of its members. And not only include them – involve them. Our evolution and our growth can only benefit from the contributions and insight that are unique to those offered by our students. Further, if there’s any truth to the expression, “There’s power in numbers,” we grow stronger as an institution by partnering with any number of the 40,000+ potential candidates available in our student body.
Cook-Sather, Alison, “Students as Learners and Teachers: Taking Responsibility, Transforming Education, and Rede ning Accountability,” Curriculum Inquiry 40:4 (September 2010), 555-575.