Students as Partners

In the November edition of Edubytes, we welcome guest editors Roselynn Verwoord, PhD, Curriculum Consultant with the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) and Strategist, Students as Partners (SaP) Initiative; Polina Petlitsyna, SaP Student Coordinator; and Marissa Hall, SaP Evaluation Specialist.

Together, they share an update on Students as Partners activity at UBC Vancouver.


Students as Partners in Course Design: Amplifying student voices to develop learner-centered courses

Within higher education, there is growing recognition of the importance of students’ active engagement in their learning. In parallel, educators are increasingly inviting students to contribute to teaching and learning through a myriad of roles, including formally as partners. This is in part due to recognition of learners’ expertise of what it means to be a learner and recognition of the potential to apply this knowledge to enhance teaching and learning.

SaP is a popular and growing field, both within and beyond Canada. Several post-secondary institutions, including McMaster University and Carleton University, offer ‘students as partners’ initiatives. Occurring annually, the multi-day International Students as Partners Institute is designed to build the capacity of faculty, staff and students to develop, design and implement initiatives that promote the practice of students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. The International Journal for Students as Partners publishes partnership-focused articles written collaboratively by students and staff.


Students as Partners at UBC

In 2021, UBC Vancouver made an approximately $600,000 commitment to position students as collaborators in the academic mission of the university through the Students as Partners Initiative. It conceptualizes partnership as a process of student engagement involving faculty, students, and staff learning and working together with the goal of enhancing learning and teaching (Bell, 2016; Curran, 2017; Healey, Flint, & Harrington, 2014).

Two grants are funded through the SaP Initiative:

  • Course Design grants are intended to support student-centered course renewal;
  • Dissemination grants (up to $1,000 per project) are intended to support students in sharing the findings of their SaP work.

Proposals for SaP Course Design grants are adjudicated by a team of faculty, students and staff from across UBC Vancouver. Applicants indicate:

  • why the course needs to be re-designed;
  • how it will benefit from a partnership approach to redesign;
  • how partnership will be conceptualized and operationalized in the work; and
  • how diverse student voices will be considered in the work.

Successful applicants receive:

  • up to $7,000 to compensate student partners;
  • up to $100 in incentive funding for evaluation;
  • dedicated learning design, evaluation and partnership support from CTLT staff; and
  • membership in a SaP cohort, which includes workshops on topics such as inclusive teaching and student-centered course design.

To date, there have been two calls for proposals with 23 projects funded across 7 Faculties. Cohort 1 is comprised of 41 members and Cohort 2 includes 32 members.


Project profile

One of the funded projects from Cohort 1 involves Dr. Jackie Dee, a faculty member in Biology and Dede Nelson, a student partner in the Faculty of Education. Together, they are revising an existing introductory-level Biology course for non-Biology majors, to promote critical thinking habits and intrinsic motivation for learning about the subject. Their approach to accomplishing this goal was to center student perspectives and experiences through student interviews, and to collaborate to develop and revise classroom activities and projects. The pair was able to identify topics within Biology that interest students and also understand which learning tools and activities students value in the current iteration of the course. Through the partnership, they learned how to overcome some of the boundaries created by the hierarchy that exists in academia in order to engage effectively in authentic partnership.

Speaking about the experience, Dede noted that “while it is still hard to get used to being an equal with my faculty partner, seeing Jackie actually make the course changes that I am suggesting made me feel included. I had the satisfaction of knowing that I am making a difference in the education that people receive.”

Jackie found the experience personally rewarding, stating: “I’ve enjoyed hearing honest perspectives and feedback on my teaching and pedagogical choices from my student partner. In my efforts to respond to feedback, I’ve been making changes to my course design that were made possible by the new ideas that I’ve gotten from Dede and rallying back and forth with her to develop potential solutions. As a teacher striving to make my class learner-centered, it is personally satisfying to know that I am making changes to my course that are based on both evidence from the literature and the student experience.”

The above highlights the transformative potential of partnership projects for faculty, student and staff partners. Partnership work also aligns with two core areas and several priorities in UBC’s Strategic Plan, including:

  1. Transformative Learning: Education Renewal, Practical Learning, Interdisciplinary Education, and Student Experience;
  2. People and Places: Inclusive Excellence.


Additional resources

These resources from the Elon University Center for Engaged Learning describe the theory and practice of partnership:

The CTLT’s July 2019 Edubytes newsletter explored the Students as Partners topic and provides additional resources for readers.


Call for new SaP project proposals at UBC Vancouver

A new call for proposals for Students as Partners in Course Design grants will occur in February, 2023. For more information on the UBC SaP Initiative, visit the SaP website or e-mail the SaP team.


Enjoyed reading about Students as Partners? Learn about other topics we covered in the November 2022 edition by reading the complete Edubytes newsletter. To view past issues, visit the Edubytes archive.

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