Frequently Asked Questions
Here we have collected experiences from many others, both students and staff, who have worked with active student participation in order to give tips and advice on the most regular challenges and questions. Since active student participation can take so many different forms, we are appreciative of your input, too! Do you have a question or challenge that is not covered by this list or advice that should be included? In several of the "good examples" you can find people at Uppsala University that are happy to share their experiences. Feel free to also contact us and share your ideas!
- Why Active Student Participation?
- How can we as students, who are neither experts on the course content nor pedagogics, help to create and further develop learning and teaching?
- Don’t students lack the disciplinary knowledge to be able to lead study sessions for their peers, for example, within the framework of Supplemental Instruction?
- I am a teacher and interested in “students as partners” but do not have much time. What can I do?
- Can I work with ASP even though I teach a large course?
- If students have a bigger influence on course content, how can we ensure the quality?
- It is already a challenge to get students to fill out course evaluations, how can I help my students take a bigger responsibility for their own learning and start discussing ASP with my students?
- Does ASP mean that students take over the teacher's role?
There is a growing amount of literature which argues that a partnership approach in higher education counteracts the tendency of students to be seen or see themselves as customers in higher education. Hence a partnership approach is not only about employing certain pedagogical methods, but first and foremost about an ethos where teaching is seen as a shared responsibility. Students are invited to participate and contribute their special skills; teachers can interact with the students' perspectives and experiences in a more profound way than course evaluations can provide. Many teachers suggest that students' produce high quality work, but that it is also important not to focus solely on a product without seeing a partnership approach as a process and an opportunity for mutual learning.
Literature on "peer learning", "peer teaching" and "students as partners," maintains that it increases student motivation, supports deep-oriented learning and promotes understanding of the topic, contributes to an increased throughput in difficult courses and that students pass the examination with higher marks, that it develops students' metacognitive skills, i.e. an understanding of their own and others' learning, and that it has a social and inclusivity dimension which can be linked to the university's democratic mandate by preparing students for active and responsible citizenship (see, for example, Topping 1996; Falchikov, 2001; Cook-Sather, Bovill, and Felten, 2014).
In a summary of the characteristics of excellent learning environments, Laksov, Kettis, and Alexandersson (2014) emphasize that one overarching factor in these environments is the presence of students who are directly involved in decisions relating to education development in terms of both implementation and evaluation.
Students' expertise lies in being a student and learning specific course content, a perspective that most teachers no longer have. Students' different backgrounds and perspectives can help teachers understand student learning and how they experience the teaching. A dialogue with students can provide an opportunity for teachers to critically reflect on their teaching methods, while students will find it easier to understand teachers’ pedagogical choices.
Researcher Cherie Woolmer from University of Glasgow articulates her thoughts on the matter:
“[S]taff are feeling really energized in their own teaching practice...staff comments from my own interviews like I know it's quite difficult, it’s been a long time since I've been a student, it's really difficult for me to understand what it’s like to be in the student perspective, to learn this material again or engage with this theory. Staff gaining a new insight into the learning process, from a different perspective obviously but again I think the benefits of staff and students working together are not suggesting that in the partnership that staff and students bring the same thing. Actually the richness of that partnership is that they bring different things, they bring different perspectives.” (Interview, March 2015)
As in the previous point, the students' contribution is not content-oriented but more about their insights on learning. Supplemental Instruction is based on students guiding other students by asking questions and problematizing their reasoning. Students who have recently taken a course can easily remember what it was like to not understand and therefore can more easily understand the various steps needed to learn the material. Furthermore, students have strong legitimacy concerning studying strategies, for example, it usually weighs heavier for students when another student explains how important it is to buy the course literature and to start early in familiarizing yourself with the course material.
Start small and simple! Do not start with substantial changes in a program, but start, for example, collaborating with students concerning a specific assignment or planning a certain session together. Many testify that, as teachers, you do not necessarily save time by working with students, but that you have a richer dialogue with the students who volunteer their efforts and a mutual understanding of each other's perspective. Finding interested colleagues or students can be a good support.
Check out the resource page where you can find concrete ideas on how to start.
There are many ways to approach teaching large groups. One can, for example, invite students who have already completed the course and, in collaboration, further develop specific parts of the course. On the resource page, you can find concrete examples of ways to work.
Course objectives that describe what students should know after the course should be a natural starting point for a conversation with students about working towards common goals. As Cook-Sather et al. maintain, “Knowing the aims and outcomes of a course and contributing to ways of meeting those can facilitate students’ developing greater metacognitive awareness. Such metacognitive awareness - understanding why we learn the way we do and making choices to learn more effectively - can, in turn, contribute to students’ capacity to meet course goals” (Cook-Sather, Bovill, Felten, 2014).
The first step is to start with the question “why?” - to explain the reasoning behind your didactic choices strengthens students' ability to give constructive and valuable feedback. Students are often strategic in their learning and we cannot take for granted that they will automatically embrace the changes that create uncertainty for both practice and what can be expected from a course or program. Just as teachers need to be informed about the positive aspects of student-centered learning, active student participation, and other elevated forms of student engagement, students must be given time to understand and reflect on the consequences and the positive aspects of this change in practice.
It is important to think carefully and to be clear with the goals and rules in order to reduce misunderstanding and even resistance to different approaches: be transparent. You can start by:
- establishing a common understanding,
- discussing the purpose of why students should work in this particular way, and
- put time into clarifying the roles that students and teachers will have.
As for the longer and more in-depth collaboration between teachers and students, it may help to start by talking about the ideas and interests of each person in the cooperation, which can help to make visible what the expectations are and the responsibility that each person has. Read more about working through potential resistance to working with a more student-centered learning style.
Pedagogical literature emphasizes that active student participation is not about replacing teachers, but supplementing the regular curriculum by giving students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge, to train general skills such as oral presentation or leading groups, and to raise awareness about their own and other’s learning. The literature about partnership work between teachers and students ("students as partners") emphasizes that the teacher has the ultimate responsibility for teaching and that students' knowledge and skills are not the same as the teacher’s. Students have a particular expertise in learning their subject and a partnership approach is not intended to blur the roles of student and teacher, but to learn from and with each other and take joint responsibility for education.