Best Practices for Integrating Student Voices in SoTL

Best Practices for Integrating Student Voices in SoTL

September 22, 2019 1 By Ronny Jaskolski


A tip that I would offer for anybody
who’s wanting to start up this work would be think clearly about what you want to get
out of this work. What are you open to? What are you
receptive to in terms of collaborating with students? And from the faculty side, what do you want to get out at the
partnerships? And I don’t mean have clear learning outcomes necessarily,
but why do you want the partnership? So I would say that’s one piece
of advice. And then, another piece of advice would
be recognize that there’s going to need to be a lot of ground laying and relationship-building and learning about one another’s
perspectives, and be patient with that process, and be receptive to the idea that it may go in fits and starts. That you
may need to dive really deeply in, and then
step back and say oh wait a minute, maybe that’s not the direction I want to go. Just
know that it’s not going to be a simple linear progression of some kind and so take the time to let that relationship
build. Think big, Start small. Do something
which you have some control over. To begin with, build up your own
confidence. As much as I think it’s confidence that the students will deliver, I continue to be amazed
of the quality of work students produce in this sort of area. And often it’s as good as, and
sometimes better than the faculty. I think
we’ve seen students at this conference when they’ve been acting ,and I’ve seen
them at the last conference, which really excited me — running a whole session where faculty was there, but the students ran the session, they chaired the session, and to be honest they did a lot better
than I’ve seen many faculty do and I think it’s building up confidence. People who are interested in it probably have
that confidence, but their colleagues probably lack it. You’ll often think that we can’t let students do that, because it’s too much. Well give them the go-ahead and I’m just amazed at the quality of what they can do. Make yourself open, but also understand where you’re boundaries
are, and to make those clear as well, if you
start to feel that you’re being pushed to far, and then to know that the students mean best. I don’t know any other student consultants who would ever
say that they’re trying on purpose to
criticize, or over criticize, or over push a professor. Not at all.
We, from my perspective at least, I want to
be a resource, and I want to be someone as a
partner and a help for the classroom. So, it can feel
like pushing too far, but we don’t mean it to be that. You don’t
have to come into something knowing what you want to do with it,
and in fact that might guide your partnership in a way that’s too forceful. So if you sort of just let it
evolve organically, that’s often when you come up with the best progress in stead of when you go
in there and say that “I want to change this about this
professor, or this classroom” because then you’re kind of just on a one way
street in terms of being able to be flexible. As a partnership goes on its very
important to keep in mind that you’re working with the faculty. You have to you stand on his or her position to think about how these classes will go. And to really appreciate how much, and how vulnerable this position and this process can be for them. And really
appreciate this chance that you’re involved, that you’re invited to be involved in this
process. Really focus on the language that you use and develop together. That people use the same term and don’t necessarily mean the same
thing by it even though they think they might be meaning the same thing by
it. So unpacking the terms that you use to
describe your commitments and your work is very important, and really spending
time saying; “What do you mean by that? What is your goal with that? How do you
understand that? How have you experienced that?” Really digging into the terms that we
take for granted. Like teaching and learning, all of those
and everything else that comes in relation to those, I think we think
that we mean similar things, and we don’t. So my advice would be spend time
talking about those terms. Get different perspectives, do they
mean different things at different moments, or in different contexts. Go in with open mind. Don’t go in with the
idea that you’re bent on changing something because that’s going to leave you in a spot where
if they’re is something else that becomes the focus of the partnership,
then you won’t necessarily be comfortable with that because
you wanted something so far from the beginning. so maintain an open mind, be flexible
for your professor, but also rely on your
experience as a student, because that is what you bring to this partnership, is the fact
that you have been a student, and you know what works and you know
what doesn’t. So really don’t be afraid to bring in your personal experience and feelings toward
certain pedagogical methods into this partnership because that is
where you drive your strength from, it’s what you know. First of all, you’re a
student , and you’re coming into the class with that perspective, which is invaluable because this is a teacher, and
they may have been a student, but there’s that gap between the time that they were
in class, and the time that they’ve been learning to, or preparing to
teach. So that in itself is great. And then the other thing is you’re
not meant to change the class. You’re not the person who’s going to fix
everything. I think that really unburdens a
lot of student consultants when they know that
that’s not our role. Our role is to go in there and to see what’s happening and to show that to the professor,
so that they can make the choices that are happening in the class, and to evolve the
class in the choices that they make. And so we’re basically mirroring
what’s happening, but also given a chance to understand and process what’s
happening. So definitely no student consultant should
feel like they have to fix what’s going on. They may observe things, and talk about
them, but not necessarily fix anything. For some like TLI to
work, I guess I feel very strongly
that it needs to have a physical, spiritual, and intellectual
home. And it has to have a program, a department, a space, and some people, who are rooting it, and
really perpetuating it. And others may come in and out of it, but it
has to have that. But the other thing it has to have, is really significant and very real
financial support. Getting a range of student voices, I
think of one school that we’ve worked with that made a point of inviting only associated student leaders. And while I
think they’re great to bring in, we’re missing out on
some of the voices that we most need to hear. And those are the people that don’t feel engaged, that feel
disenfranchised, and I think that’s where the whole
notion of incentives too. It took us not very long to figure
out that for students, credit to sustain them, and to get a broad range
of voices, and some of our students say “I came in because I needed a credit at the 300 level. So I think not diminish
that, but at the same time, I’m really
impressed with how students, once they get… well Kara used the term “reeled in”, with credit, then they sort of get reeled in by the real conversation that happens
and the genuineness that happens. So I think we have to be
very careful of honoring student voices in
terms of what they need, for example credits, which is not the only way. If you’re going to bring students in and position them as partners and
consultants & co-inquirers, and all of these shared responsibility
kinds of roles, students need support in that, because
they haven’t necessarily been asked to take this kind of responsibility before, they don’t necessarily have language to
name what it is they know about teaching and learning, even though
they feel what they know. So they also need support in
developing that language, and developing the confidence in the
capacity to talk to faculty in ways that are respectful, but that are also honest and direct. I work a lot with students on developing
that kind of language, on couching their statements in
terms of what they might experience if they were students in that class. Not you know, like; “that approach just
doesn’t work!” You know, that’s not useful as a thing to say to a
faculty member. What you should say is; “if I were a student in this class, I might feel X,Y, or Z. And then that’s
something faculty can hear, and then they could say “Well why? Why
would you feel that way?” and so helping students learn how to have those kinds
of conversations with people who have more power, but are also very
vulnerable in doing this kind of work. I think that’s very important for
students. And once they develop that language, and that capacity, it transfers over to other courses, other relationships. But
initially, it’s new, and it’s scary, and its unknown, and it has to be built with a lot of trust, and really it’s
building relationships with people in different
positions and in different amounts of power. Again, I would definitely go back to
thinking about sustainably thinking about, “How is this going to keep going?”
Because while I’ve been involved in certain
projects, definitely a few of them have tapered off because they’ve been
contingent upon a certain faculty or a certain student (oftentimes myself) et cetera. An example which being that, at one point I was on a committee board and I was the student representative for three different programs. That first of all, was very stressful as
an individual, but on top of that it just wasn’t realistic, because then as soon as
I graduated, everybody started panicking that “we need three students, we need them right away”,
and nobody had thought past the fact that I was there. And again, I
mean it’s just that can be contingent on an administrator, it can
be whatever it happens to be, but really
thinking about long-term, how are we going to keep this program going, or this research project. Where is it going, who is going to be involved, how do we keep those positions continually open and offered to individuals who are interested. How to invite other people into the
conversation, just make sure that it really continues in terms of recruitment in I guess integration, for sure.