Feb. 15, 2023

Moving from ‘customers’ to ‘partners’: How students can be partners for change in education

New speaker series explores inclusive learning environments for all
Person standing on edge of a cliff looking at mountains

When you think about your learning experiences, how often did you feel like a partner in the process? For many of us, the relationship between students and instructors veered toward a one-way transaction, instead of a space where there were shared goals for learning and education.  

Changing this is the foundation of Students as Partners (SaP) work, which has an ethos “that values the collaborative interaction between all members of the university community.” It’s an important space in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), which itself is research on a teaching problem or student learning.  

It’s also the root of a new virtual speaker series, Brave Conversations in SoTL, a collaboration between the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning (TI) at University of Calgary and the Mokakiiks Centre for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Mount Royal University, starting on Feb. 22.  

“COVID-19 interrupted our execution of a speakers series but gave us the space to really think about how we could take a new approach to a topic that is an important, and growing, aspect of SoTL work across disciplines and institutions nationally and internationally,” says Dr. Heather Jamniczky, PhD, associate professor in the Cumming School of Medicine, and the academic lead for teaching and learning research at the TI.  

“We recognize that we are two very different institutions and because of that, we have an interesting breadth of understanding about what SoTL means, how it's done in two contexts, but also where we can build bridges and ultimately, capacity,” says Dr. Cherie Woolmer, PhD, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning), based at MRU.  

Portrait of Dr. Heather Jamniczky, PhD, Associate Professor in the Cumming School of Medicine, and the Academic Lead for Teaching and Learning Research at the TI.

Heather Jamniczky

Portrait of Dr. Cherie Woolmer, CRC in SoTL from MRU

Dr. Cherie Woolmer, PhD, Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning), based at the Mokakiiks Centre for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Mount Royal University.

‘Disruptive and radical’: Students as partners work 

Woolmer is the series’ first speaker on Feb. 22, who will set the foundation for the rest of the talks this spring. Her background is in strategic organizational change, but she fell into the research working with leading colleagues in the field and came to be interested in strategic change in teaching and learning. 

“This field of scholarship and the term ‘students as partners’ have taken off over the last decade but the principles and ideas have a longer history,” says Woolmer. “Thinking about it as a political act, the idea of working in partnership with students and the aspiration to make institutions more socially just places, is at its heart about disrupting power.” 

“I’ll be grounding the work in the history of this movement and this different way of relating between faculty and students,” says Woolmer. “All of this is political work — the practice of partnership, what it means and how we experience it in the academy. It’s not just about a transaction between the student and the instructor; it’s involving students in thinking about ways to be involved, co-creating curriculum, and enhancing learning.” 

Jamniczky agrees: “Student perspectives on teaching and learning have never been more central to the future of post-secondary education,” she says. “We are hoping to inspire dialogue and support a culture change in our institutions and more broadly that supports an inclusive learning environment through thought-provoking discussion, inspiration and ideas for action.” 

Register for Brave Conversations in SoTL on Feb. 22 

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