Partnering with students in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Ways to inspire, engage, and support – Tracy Zou and Lily Leung
As part of a Teaching Development Project, Ms. Lily Leung and I have been partnering with five interdisciplinary undergraduate student teams to explore student learning experiences during the COVID-19 period. The purpose of conducting the research in partnership with students is two-fold. One of our aims is to develop students’ ownership of their learning as well as their research capabilities to carry out independent, critical inquiries into a problem of their choice. Meanwhile, we also hope to obtain more reliable and insightful research findings of students’ learning experiences during the COVID-19 period by drawing upon the expertise of students who probably know best the challenges and opportunities of online learning. Their different disciplinary and cultural backgrounds also allow them to research into various aspects of online or hybrid learning.
This partnership unfolds in a way that students decide and define what they would like to investigate based on their own observation and experience whilst we, as more experienced researchers, provide guidance and coaching on the research methodology and procedure in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). The partnership has been fascinating yet challenging. On the one hand, we had the opportunity to understand students’ inspirations and concerns as we discussed, in a mutually respectful manner, what each student team would finally focus on as a SoTL topic. On the other hand, we could feel the uncertainty expressed by our student partners regarding the value of their chosen research topic. A common question asked by our student partners was: “This is simply based on my own experience or the experience of just a few of my classmates. Would it be something of interest to professors?”
Reflecting on this question along with some similar questions, we believe that we need to find suitable ways to inspire, engage, and support our student partners to enable this partnership to achieve fruitful results. Our response to students’ uncertainties about the value of their research was to ensure them that starting research based on real issues and problems in our life is extremely valuable. Though some more efforts would be needed to explore how the issue is situated in the current research, identifying issues from students’ own experience makes a good start.
Through our continuous interactions with our students, we notice that identifying their inspirations – what excites them or what surprises them, and working together with students to turn these inspirations into research opportunities constitutes an effective means to both inspire and engage. In terms of support, we suggest that it is essential to provide a structure while leaving sufficient flexibility. The structure includes letting students know the key stages of a SoTL inquiry, whilst the flexibility allows students to propose and negotiate with us the alternatives. Indeed, and not surprisingly, the student partners working with us did not know that they could negotiate at the beginning as they never really thought of ‘negotiation’ as part of their role as students. This triggers us to make it very explicit about our roles in each of our meetings, and we made sure that students understand it is their SoTL work mentored by us.
As Felten (2013) highlights in his widely cited article ‘Principles of good practice in SoTL’, high-quality SoTL is conducted in partnership with students. Our implementation experiences make us realise that establishing a true partnership with students in SoTL is challenging because we are always seen as more experienced, more senior researchers in front of our students. That said, there are ways to build a fruitful partnership with students in SoTL and a critical element, according to our reflection on the partnership experience over the past three months, is to make sure that students own their SoTL work, and they know about it.
The authors would like to thank Prof. Kochhar-Lindgren for providing valuable advice on working with students as partners in an interdisciplinary context. The authors are also grateful to the University of Hong Kong for funding the Teaching Development Project entitled ‘Developing student researchers: Partnering with students to enhance undergraduate research experiences across HKU’.
- Felten, P. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 1(1), 121-125. http://dx.doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.1.1.121