Students as Partners Interview with Dr Vincent Tong
What is your working definition of Student-Staff Partnership (SSP) or Students as Partners (SaP)?
My working definition of SSP is working in partnership with students based on mutual inspiration and mutual growth. It’s also the message I would like to give to colleagues who are interested in trying SSP/SaP. Mutual inspiration and mutual growth? It’s really that good. Need a lot of extra effort and time? Once you have tried this values-based approach, you will never ever go back.
What metaphor would you use to describe the relationship with your student partners?
Coral and fish on the Great Barrier Reef. Who is coral and who is fish? Students and academics are a bit of both most of the time. It needs both to exist and needs both to flourish.
Can you share a specific project wherein you engaged in student-staff partnerships? Tell us more about the project?
In UCL, a book project was conceived with the idea that students work with academics and other staff in a consortium of partnerships to widen the impact of scholarship of teaching and learning. We launched our R=T (Research equals Teaching) initiative at UCL to advance research-based education through student-staff partnership. It is part of the UCL Connected Curriculum initiative. Apart from promoting research-based education across UCL, the activities jointly led by the students and staff in the R=T initiative were designed to help the student teams prepare, write and edit their chapters on connecting research and education through learning. The student author and editorial teams have worked with the R=T core staff team throughout the book project, adding another dimension to the Student-staff partnership.
Student and staff teams in the consortium conducted student-staff partnership activities in six stages:
- Student author team co-hosting university-wide discussion events on research-based education with a team of invited researcher-educators (the ‘R=T Professors’)
- Student author team conducting focus groups, and writing up their findings and critical reflections with their partner R=T Professors and the R=T core staff team
- Student author team peer-reviewing their book chapters using the guidelines from R=T core staff team
- Student editorial team co-developing a common framework on research-based education through student-staff partnership (the ‘R=T Framework’) with the R=T core staff team
- Student editorial team working with the R=T core staff team on writing editorial commentaries based on the R=T Framework
- Lead of the student editorial team working with the R=T core staff team to write the lead introductory pieces for the three sections of the book
What lessons did you learn or what benefits did you see from engaging in student-staff partnerships?
Working with students closely in these learning communities for our own development as teachers – asking students to help ‘teach’ us as a group how to teach, to put it in a somewhat provocative way – can be radical. This involves challenging the very core of the role of teachers and students, and pushing the frontier of student-staff partnership. In this project, we and students co-developed the R=T Framework which summaries the key challenges, opportunities, and principles in research-based education through student-staff partnership. Among the five principles, we found that it is the most important to change the “traditional relationship between academics and students”. A detailed explanation of these is available in the book, Shaping Higher Education with students – Ways to Connect Research and Teaching.
What did your students gain from the student-staff partnership?
One of the student co-authors, Joe, had found the partnership to be an effective method of improving teaching and learning experience in higher education. With that partnership, he gained the authority, confidence, and experience to articulate his idea about teaching and pedagogy. He also considered the partnership with staff as a preparation for a future academic career which “undoubtedly helped me secure my first academic position”.