Mini-Book Review – Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching – Cassidy Gagnon

In the eternal battle for power in the classroom, instructors and students butt heads for who should hold the power when it comes to how a course is handled and taught. And both parties’ have arguments to why each side sho3358374569_83a39b6ee8_muld have power.

Instructors argue that students would abuse the control of having any say in how a course is handled. Students argue that instructors are out of touch with what students want and that they forget what it feels to be a student again. Instructors have started to listen to students about these problems, but there is still a large amount of instructors using instructor-centered teaching, which is generally taught in a way that is ineffective in teaching students. And as it is, all instructors hold all the power. This, as a student, seems like a horrible thing. But there is a better way.

I decided to read “Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching”, one of the new books in the CTE library. In the book, authors Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bavill, and Peter Felten make the argument of allowing instructors to keep holding on to power in the classroom, but giving students a voice (besides written feedback at the end of the term). They make the argument that unless instructors make the actual attempt to listen to their audience, the students will be disengaged from the material taught. The partnership they describe rests on four main pillars: trust and respect, shared power, shared risks, and shared learning. The book also goes through many case studies and exemplars from different schools around the world, and the different methods that these professors use are also outlined as well.

The benefits are extensive as well. For one, you can control the amount of student contribution that students make to change the curriculum, whether you want to redesign how an assignment is given or want to overhaul the entire course. The ways that the students contribute are also extensive, and the ways to leverage students are outlined in the book as well. And finally, there are almost an infinite amount of ideas that students and professors can produce together.

This being said, partnering with students and redesigning something as small as an assignment is difficult. It involves a lot of student participation and the ability of the instructor to use feedback from the student ambassadors and the classroom to modify what needs to change. Sometimes, it can take several classes and a large amount of student data to change the way an entire course is implemented. As a new instructor, this would be incredibly difficult to achieve since you are dealing with the new challenge of teaching. The final barrier is the instructor’s acceptance to change: if instructors are stuck in their own methodology of teaching, then they will have created a huge barrier of what they think the students need versus what the students want. Because of this barrier, students will lose interest with the material after the first lecture.

I encourage not only new and old faculty instructors to read up on partnerships in the classroom, but also students. Speaking as a student, it is important to remember that we have a voice in the classroom. Instructors, it is important to remember that you have the ears to listen to students. And when both parties work together, hand in hand, we can mold the future of learning.

For interested readers, this book is available at the Centre for Teaching Excellence library (EV1 325).

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

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Cassidy Gagnon

Special Projects Assistant for the Centre for Teaching Excellence for the Winter 2015 term. Currently a 3A B.Sc. psychology co-op undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo. Previous don at Waterloo Residences and current member of the UW Neuroscience Club. Loves to play a variety of musical instruments, reading, soccer and watching a lot of television in his spare time.

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