Learning with Others: Convergence of Students as Partners & Global Learning.

By Kelly Matthews, University of Queensland, Australia

Originally posted 28 April 2017

Here is my confession…. I don’t know much about ‘global learning’. Although, I am an immigrant to Australia and I do regularly partner with international students as co-researchers, I don’t feel like I know much about global learning as a body of knowledge. I understand if you are wondering—given this is a forum on global learning—why am I reading a blog post from you? And I forgive you completely if you stop reading at this precise moment. Although, if you venture to read on….

You might find some insights and relevance because I want to link what I learned recently about global learning to the emerging idea that I have been thinking about deeply for some time now—engaging ‘students as partners’ in higher education.

Students as partners in learning & teaching

Students as partners is fundamentally about relationships. I think of them as learning relationships because higher education is a place for learning where learners, and those who support learning, should be partners for learning. It is a metaphor that re-imagines the assumed positions and identities of ‘students’ and ‘staff’ as partners in learning.

Partnership is grounded in values that resonate with me. My colleagues summarise these values as respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility for learning and teaching (Cook-Sather, Bovill, & Felten, 2014) while others (Healey, Flint, & Harrington, 2014) have a longer list of partnership values (e.g. authenticity, trust). Really, student-staff partnerships is about creating space for dialogue about teaching and learning that recognises the shared goals that learners and teachers have for learning and teaching in higher education so all involved can take ownership for learning. It challenges the transactional, hierarchical model of higher education where passive, complicit students dutifully receive the knowledge handed down by academic experts. Indeed, partnership upends that model and argues that students have expertise to bring to the learning relationship and there should be more equality between learners and teachers within a ‘mutual learning’ model for higher education.

If this sounds like a radical idea that is because it is!

And yet, the emergence of engaging students and staff as partners in learning and teaching is gaining traction in Australia. It resonates with students and staff seeking a more human, relational experience in higher education where learning is grounded in social interaction that reaches far beyond knowledge transmission from experts to novices.

If this sounds interesting or you are simply curious to learn more, join the Australian Students as Partners Network.

Convergence of thinking: Partnership & global learning

Attending Wendy Green's Round Table on Engaging Students as Partners in Global Learning expanded my thoughts about partner while educating me on global learning. Listening to Betty Leask discuss global learning at the Round Table, I heard similar values being discussed—respect, trust, authenticity—in the context of students and staff with diverse and differing worldviews making space to listen and learn not just from each other, but with each other.

As I understood it, this space that global learning advocates for is predicated on dialogue, open-mindedness, and a willingness to learn from someone else who has differing knowledge and experiences (we would translate this to ‘expertise’ in students as partners language).

In global learning language, I heard seeing the world through someone’s eyes and valuing differing perspectives. I translated this to partnership talk that espouses a key benefit of engaging in such experiences is that students and teachers come to see the other’s experience and develop a new, richer understanding of the other. In this way, partnership breaks down the barriers of ‘the other’ and makes space for students and staff to act as collaborators, as partners in the shared endeavour of learning.

Learning with ‘others’—who have differing views, values, experiences, expertise—is a key point of convergence between global learning and students as partners.

If we think of learning as transforming how we see ourselves in the world by challenging our assumptions and identities, then we must engage in mutually beneficially dialogue with people who see the world differently to us. The synergies between global learning and engaging students as partners are now clearer for me. Through Wendy Green’s Fellowship, we will all learn more about engaging students as partners for global learning.