In Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching, Cook-Sather, Bovill and Felton define student partnership as:
“a collaborative, reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, although not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualisation, decision making, implementation, investigation or analysis” (p.6-7).
Instead of offering a prescriptive definition of partnership, Healey, Flint and Harrington consider partnerships to be based on the following values: authenticity, inclusivity, reciprocity, empowerment, trust, challenge, community & responsibility. They note that:
“partnership within learning and teaching is understood as highly contextual and influenced by many factors, including the experiences and expertise of partners involved, the culture and history of the setting for partnership (e.g. the course, department, institution, students’ union) and the wider social and political context of higher education” (p.14).
Student partnership is part of a continuum of student engagement that encompasses a range of different ways staff and students can work together. These forms of collaboration may be appropriate for different projects, or at different stages of a project.
Partnerships can be formed between between staff and students, or between students and their peers. They can form part of specific projects, or become an approach to existing forms of student engagement. Common forms or locations of partnership include:
- Co-creation of the curriculum
- Co-creation within the curriculum
- Educational research and evaluation
- Disciplinary research
- Enhancing the wider student experience.
The case for engaging students as partners
In their Systematic Literature Review of Students as Partners in Higher Education Mercer-Mapstone et al. identify that students who participated in partnership experienced many positive outcomes, including increased:
- Motivation for learning
- Confidence as a student
- Meta-cognitive learning and awareness
- Relationships with staff and their peers
- Sense of belonging to a university community
It also identifies positive outcomes for staff, including:
- Enhanced relationships or trust
- Development of new or better teaching or curriculum materials
- Increased understanding of students’ experiences
- New beliefs about teaching and learning that enhance existing practices
- A positive shift in power dynamics
The Framework for Student Engagement Through Partnership, developed by AdvanceHE, also identifies institutional benefits for engaging in partnership. These include the potential to increase students’ confidence that they are being given opportunities to provide feedback on their course and confidence that their opinions are being valued and acted upon.
A guide to student partnership literature
Student Partnership: A Review of and Guide to the Literature offers a review of the present literature on student partnership, or engaging students as partners (SaP). It summarises the major themes within the literature, its reasons for advocating for partnership work, and case studies and examples to inform the development of best practice. It also aims to capture the lacunae, weaknesses, and challenges of both working in student partnership and in the partnership literature more broadly, so that readers can identify potential problems to troubleshoot in their own work, as well as areas to encourage further research and partnership practice.