A whole cohort approach to working in partnership between students and staff: problematising the issues and evaluating the outcomes
Staff and students working together in partnership is now commended as excellent practice which offers many benefits to both, as well as enhancing authentic student engagement. We investigate a ‘whole cohort’ approach, practising multiple forms of partnership; whole class (in the curriculum), role based and project based. We critically evaluate if these benefits are realised and to what extent, by the different modes. This study is conducted through interviews with students in the setting of a single degree in a research intensive university. The lenses of engagement, empowerment, sense of collaboration and trust, and learning and development are used to assess benefits. The rich accounts of the students present a complex and nuanced picture as their personal perspectives are diverse and unique to them. There is not one mode of partnership that is guaranteed to deliver the most powerful benefits and development. Instead we note how the same, or very similar experiences have manifested different benefits and challenges for each individual. We tentatively suggest that offering and engaging in multiple forms of partnership over a longer duration, deepens benefits. We note both tensions and flipsides e.g. to greater autonomy and empowerment. However overall, the benefits outweighed any negatives, and enabled transformation for some students, and in more inclusive ways than in singular forms of partnership. We commend the whole cohort approach to partnership although it is not easy, and requires both perseverance and continuous reflection, consideration and care to ensure responsiveness and sensitivity to who the partners are.
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