Students as Partners in Teacher Education

There is a small but growing literature on dialogical, democratic and meaningful partnerships between students and staff in support of enhanced teaching and learning in higher education. 'Students as Partners' is a term that has come to describe these collaborative processes. While partnership is essentially a process for engaging students, rather than an outcome in itself, the benefits for students who have been engaged as change agents and partners in higher education curriculum renewal have been found to be multiple and wide-ranging. There is, however, a dearth of research that demonstrates sustained or program-wide adoption of 'Students as Partners' philosophies and processes, and considers the additional benefits and challenges that might be associated with recognising 'Students as Partners' in teacher education programs.

In this paper we explore how staff and students can engage as partners in teacher education and critically engage with the perspectives of student and staff partners on one undergraduate health, sport and physical education teacher education program in Australia.

We focus specifically on data generated across two academic years, where students were engaged as partners through: 1) Development and enactment of a first year 'connect' strategy, 2) Co-construction of curriculum and assessment, and 3) Facilitation of pedagogic feedback and consultancy mechanisms. These three sites of engagement might also be fruitfully conceptualised as three overlapping action research projects, as in each site students and staff pursued action and research outcomes together through participative, cyclic and reflective processes. Fifteen focus group interviews were the primary data collection method utilised to generate data for this paper. These data were subjected to a thematic analysis which involved student and staff reading and re-reading the data, identifying patterned meanings across the data set, reviewing and sharing identified themes, weaving together an analytic narrative and contextualising the findings in relation to the existing literature.

We recruit Alison Cook-Sather's (2006) revised theory of liminality to understand staff and students' complex and fluid identities in the liminal spaces, which are created through 'Students as Partners' processes.

Preliminary findings suggest that a programmatic approach to 'Students a Partners' can result in significant transformations at the individual, program and institutional level. As student and staff responsibilities are revised and renewed, traditional hierarchies are challenged and new and exciting possibilities for enhancing teaching and learning and students' sense of connection are created. The liminal spaces produced through 'Students as Partner' processes have the potential to challenge understandings about how teacher education works and could work.