Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Students as Partners?

Yesterday I attended a workshop and planning session on "Students as Partners" at University of Canberra. These were run by Kelly Matthews and Jarred Turner from the Students as Partners Project at University of Queensland. As it says on the project about page: "Partnership is a mindset that positions students as respected and trusted adults with active responsibility for their learning.".

The project website provides  resources on students as partners and an "Australian Students as Partners Network" which those interested in this area can join (I have). The project is also seeking more case studies.

One aspect the project I suggest needs more work is defining the limits to partnerships with students. It must not be forgotten that teachers have a duty of care for students. A true partnership requires shared risks and benefits, but the student/teacher relationship cannot be of that nature.

While the students as partners project is well researched and the aims well thought out, this project suffers similar implementation problems to many seeking to change the way education is provided in Australian universities. The project assumes that if university educators are presented with a new approach and the benefits to the student and the university are explained, then this will be implemented. However, learning a new teaching  technique requires considerable effort from each individual academic and they need a strong personal motivation to do this.

For Australian academics to adopt Students as Partners, they first need to be convinced this will be of benefit to their own individual career. Once convinced it is a good career move, academics will need formal training in how to apply the technique.

This is not to say that academics are motivated purely by self interest, they also have to consider if techniques can be implemented with the resources available. For a student to be a true "partner", the academic would have to devote hours per week to that one student, not the few minutes of staff time available to each student in a class. There are techniques which can allow large numbers of students to have some of the experience of being a researcher, for example though peer based activities. However, to label this as "Students as Partners" would be misleading.

One interesting aspect is how on-line techniques can be applied to give students a more collegiate experience. For the last four years I have been learning distance education course design and delivery techniques. These are normally assumed to be about very narrow, scripted learning. However, Lindley (2007), adapted the DE approach to professional education of graduate students, using  individual project based work. I have been applying that approach to graduate students (and some undergraduates) for seven years on-line at the Australian National University (Worthington, 2012).

ps: One way to translate the Students as Partners idea into action would be to use the approach of CSER with their Digital Technologies MOOC (Falkner, Vivian & Falkner, 2015). Academics could learn the technique in an on-line course which applies it.


Falkner, K., Vivian, R., & Falkner, N. (2015, January). Teaching Computational Thinking in K-6: The CSER Digital Technologies MOOC. In Proceedings of the 17th Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE 2015) (Vol. 27, p. 30). Retrieved from

Lindley, D. (2007, November). Computer professional education using mentored and collaborative online learning. In SEARCC 2007, Proceedings of the South East Asia Regional Computer Conference (pp. 18-19). Retrieved from

Worthington, T. (2012, July). A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012 7th International Conference on (pp. 263-266). IEEE. Retrieved from

1 comment:

  1. Good to meet you Tom and read your reflection on the workshop.

    For clarity's sake, the 'project' is a fellowship (funded for 1 year) and does not aim to change practices in that time span. As a new language for existing and new practices, the fellowship aim is to open the conversation about 'students as partners' in Australian Higher Education. Your blog post is doing exactly that - thanks!

    Another aim is to bring together a network of folks working/interesting in this space. We have an Australian Students as Partners Network (join here: that fosters ongoing collaborations and activities.

    I appreciate that you are thinking about how academics change teaching practices and their motivations. As an academic, like you, I get that point of view. I want to change they way we see learning and view the role of students in their learning. Changes in practices, as needed, will flow from that.

    -Kelly Matthews