There is an increasing body of evidence suggesting the benefits of students as partners (SaP) in engaging students in their learning, resulting in positive learning experiences and increased learning outcomes. Where there is genuine collaboration between students and academics in the process of student learning, it can result in respectful, mutually beneficial learning partnerships.
The majority of studies have been undertaken in Western countries, where the dynamic or power relationship between students and academics is more fluid. The premise of this current study was to see if Asian study programs could positively adopt this strategy to engage students, resulting in richer learning outcomes. It was thought that the student-teacher relationship in Eastern countries is more hierarchical than the West, and while any redressing of power dynamics has the potential to be problematic in any institution, it may be a more difficult hurdle for Eastern cultures to overcome.
The researchers in this current study looked at an example of SaP in a master’s degree program at the faculty of education in Malaysia, ‘with the aim to describe the following:
(1) Students’ perception of the benefits of partnering with their faculty in co-creating and delivering the classroom instruction and
(2) The strategies students utilize to negotiate their new role to forge a partnership with their faculty?’
Instructors were to work together with students, as partners, in designing instruction. The student groups would work together to plan, design and deliver the instruction, and the academic was there as a facilitator, if required.
There were some initial concerns from approximately 50% of students about their new role within the classroom. Some students were reluctant at first to participate, giving reasons such as they did not consider themselves ‘experts’, they don’t have the time to complete the tasks, and they are ‘here to learn not to teach’. It was demonstrated, however, that with reassurance from the academics and the communications that developed between the student groups, bonds started to form resulting in increased confidence, such that their views changed over time.
Feedback suggested that over 80% of students felt that this process resulted in deeper learning of material, as they needed to be sure and confident that they were delivering robust material to the class. Discussions in the lead up to the teaching activities were vibrant and respectful, with students wanting to justify their views and providing supportive literature. It was noted that approximately 68% of students felt more empowered and competent. They believed that the instructor thought they were competent to succeed and this increased their level of confidence, resulting in them feeling empowered to voice their views. They also enjoyed the freedom of content delivery that was thought to be more engaging to the class and which they believed benefitted the instructor too. As the students had various levels of experience in teaching, they felt confident to discuss modes of delivery that they found to be successful.
These results did challenge the belief that ‘Asian students are passive learners that preferred structured, controlling and unidirectional interactions’. Although there were obvious benefits for students in this study, it was noted that the participants were master’s students with a varied amount of teaching experience between them and that more in-depth studies, especially involving undergraduate students, would provide more insight into the benefits of SaP in the classroom. However, it was considered that on the whole there were immense benefits for both the students and instructors, who were able to develop stronger bonds and appreciate teaching and learning from different perspectives.
It appears that engaging students as partners with academics within a topic can have beneficial outcomes for student success along with academic satisfaction. There are several examples of SaP being undertaken currently at Flinders University. We have recently introduced topic representatives into many topics as a liaison between students and teaching staff. We are also currently looking for case studies to highlight the range of ways that student partnerships can be achieved. If you feel that you have a great example of SaP in your topic, please contact Debbie Charter (email@example.com).
Full paper by A. Kaur, R. Awang-Hashim & M. Kaur (2018) Students’ experiences of co-creating classroom instruction with faculty – a case study in eastern context, Teaching in Higher Education.
Contributed by Dr Debbie Charter
Lecturer in Higher Education – CILT