McMaster University initiatives

Our approach to supporting pedagogical partnerships at McMaster has been organic in many senses, but strategic in others, and has, consequently, led to incremental growth within the institution over a period of five years. While partnership occurs in many ways and in various contexts at the university, we focus in this chapter on three flagship initiatives supported by the university’s central teaching and learning institute: the Student Partners Program (SPP), the International Students as Partners Institute (ISaPI), and the International Journal for Students as Partners (IJSaP).

McMaster’s Student Partners Program (SPP)

The Student Partners Program (SPP) began in 2013-14 as a collaboration between the Arts and Science Program at McMaster and the Teaching and Learning Institute. The SPP was designed to establish meaningful partnerships between students and staff on teaching and learning projects. Each year, there are three opportunities for students and staff to submit project proposals, which outline the details of their projects as well as their connections to partnership principles. Through this process, we attempt to ensure that partnership projects included in the program allow for meaningful engagement and connections, and do not fall into patterns common to unpaid internships or more traditional research assistant relationships. A team of staff and students reviews submitted proposals, and successfill projects receive funding to support student involvement in the work. Typically, students work for approximately five hours per week on their projects, in paid positions.

Since the program’s inception, participating staff and students have worked on projects that may involve, but are not limited to, designing and developing courses and curricula, creating resources, and collaborating on pedagogical research. Many have co-authored research articles and co-presented at conferences (e.g., Ahmad, Ali, VanMaaren, Barrington, Merritt and Ansilio, 2017; Johnstone, Marquis and Puri, 2018; Marquis, Redda and Twells, 2018), demonstrating partnership in the academic community. Participants have been drawn from all faculties on our campus, and have included students ranging from first year undergraduates through to senior PhD candidates. The program has grown substantially since its establishment, and in 2017-18 more than 200 staff and students were involved. Given this scope, and the substantial and tangible benefits connected to partnership, this program has been gaining attention in the higher education sector (Healey, Flint and Harrington, 2016; Cook-Sather, Bahti and Ntem, forthcoming). See Marquis et al., 2016, Marquis, Haqqee, Kirby, Liu, Puri, Cockcroft, Goff and Knorr, 2017 for further detail.

International Students as Partners Institute (ISaPI)

The International Institute on Students as Partners was developed in 2015 by two staff members and one student working in partnership via the SPP. The aim of this institute was to gather people from different countries together, and create a space where partnerships and projects could flourish. As a result of this partnership project, the first International Institute was held in May 2016, with nearly 100 participants from seven countries. These participants could participate in either one or two workshops or a three-day Change Institute. Each of the workshops focused on engaging students as partners in a different context or domain, including learning, teaching and assessment, subject-based research and inquiry, SoTL, and curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy (see Healey, Flint and Harrington, 2014). Local and international students and staff worked together to organize and facilitate these workshops. The Change Institute invited teams consisting of four to six students and staff to work on developing a specific partnership initiative they could implement on their home campus. Student and staff facilitators worked to support teams and their project development. Participants in the Change Institute came from a range of different countries and institutions, making ISaPI a global event.

Given the successes of this initial offering, ISaPI has since become an annual event, and continues to draw participants from around the world. In its first two years, 170 students and staff have participated (some both times), coming from ten countries worldwide. See Acai, Kirby and Shammas 2017; Marquis, Black and Healey, 2017; Marquis, Guitman, Black, Healey, Matthews and Dvorakova, 2018 for more detail).

International Journal for Students as Partners (IJSaP)

The idea to establish IJSaP arose from conversations at the first ISaPI meeting in May 2016. It was clear there was demand for an international scholarly journal where we could continue the debates and exchanges of ideas, practices and policies stimulated by ISaPI. Our vision was to create an ‘inclusive scholarly knowledge-building community’ (Brew 2006, xiii), which would bring staff and students together in partnership, not only as authors, but also as reviewers and editors; and hence challenge the traditional absence of students from academic publishing (Healey, Healey and Cliffe, 2018).

The Teaching and Learning Institute at McMaster offered to host the journal, seeing this as a logical next step in a strategy to make partnerships central to the operation of the Institute and to demonstrate leadership in teaching and learning. McMaster University Library Press agreed to publish IJSaP as an open access journal with no author charges. The international dimension was built into the structure by having editorial teams in four different countries - Australia, Canada, UK and US - and an International Advisory Group of academics, learning support staff and students, initially from eight countries (Cliffe, Cook-Sather, Healey, Healey, Marquis, Matthews, Mercer-Mapstone, Ntem, Puri and Woolmer, 2017).

The journal is guided by the principles and values underlying student partnership (Higher Education Academy, 2015; Matthews, 2017), emphasizing inclusivity, with students and staff working together in partnership as co-editors, and sharing power in that all major decisions are discussed together in a transparent manner. Articles are reviewed by both students and staff, who, if inexperienced, are supported with co-developed resources. The experience has been rewarding, but also at times challenging. For example, we have had to confront and navigate existing norms and assumptions about publishing and expertise, take time to learn about the different perspectives and experiences we each bring, and work to genuinely integrate a wide variety of perspectives while still moving forward with clarity (Cliffe et al., 2017). It takes time to develop the mutual respect and trust needed for successful partnership.

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