Making Sense of Partnership in SoTL

Rachel Braun, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

October 31, 2017


Partnership is broadly understood as a process rather than a product. As such, it offers awesome collaborative potential and possibilities in understanding student learning, changing campus culture, and critically reflecting on assumptions about teaching and learning


Earlier this month, Christopher Ostrowski and I facilitated the second installment of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Series in the session, “Partnering with Students.” The goal of this session was to invite participants (academic and university staff, postdocs, and graduate students from across eight faculties) to consider student-faculty partnerships within the context of their own SoTL inquiry. I would like to extend Chris’s and my invitation here by sharing my opening materials on making sense of partnership in SoTL. These considerations are at the heart of the growing body of partnership literature, the Taylor Institute’s SoTL Strategic Plan, and the theme for the University of Calgary’s 2018 Conference on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching.

Simply put, partnership is good practice in SoTL.

Partnership is increasingly recognized within the literature as a component of effective SoTL inquiry. Felten (2013), Werder & Otis (2010), Cook-Sather, Bovill & Felten (2014), Healey, Flint & Harrington (2014) and the brand new International Journal on Students as Partners offer significant evidence, theoretical mapping, and critically reflective discussion on the evolving nature of partnership within diverse SoTL inquiries and collaborations from across the globe.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Critically consider your context. 

As Felten (2013) asserts in his brief but mighty article, “Principles of good practice in SoTL,” good SoTL practice requires partnering with students in SoTL inquiry, but full partnership may not be practical or appropriate in all SoTL projects. Like much SoTL work, the life and success of a partnership depends on context, be it disciplinary, program, curriculum, etc. I suggest looking at various partnership frameworks to see what partnership looks like in contexts similar to your own. Notably, Healey, Flint & Harrington (2014) offer a detailed framework for partnership as a process of student engagement, Dunne & Zandstra (2011) map the drivers of partnership on a continuum, and Bovill & Bulley (2011) build a ladder of partnership in curriculum design. Throughout your considerations, keep in mind that at minimum, partnership in SoTL inquiry must follow basic tenants of human subject research (Felten, 2013: 123).

From here, venture into the awesome collaborative possibilities and potential. 

Felten (2013) builds his assertion that partnering with students is good SoTL practice upon Huber & Hutching’s (2005) canonical call for the expansion of the “teaching commons” to include students. As Felten highlights, Huber & Hutching’s (2010) later emphasis for higher education’s need for “a commitment to more shared responsibility for learning among students and teachers, a more democratic intellectual community, and more authentic co-inquiry” illuminates the potential benefits of partnership in SoTL inquiry (Felten, 2013: 123. For Hutchings & Huber’s original passage, see Hutchings & Huber in Werder & Otis, 2010, p. xii). With this call at heart, partnership is broadly understood as a process rather than a product. As such, it offers awesome collaborative potential and possibilities in understanding student learning, changing campus culture, and critically reflecting on assumptions about teaching and learning. This video from the Centre for Engaged Learning at Elon showcases student, instructor, and staff reflections on their own partnership experiences in 2013.

Benefits of integrating student voices into scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) projects.

Related content

How to Do Qualitative SoTL Research in Six Easy Steps



Planning a SoTL Lesson Study: Step 1 - Lesson Plan and Study Design 




Allin, L. (2014). Collaboration Between Staff and Students in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: The Potential and the Problems. Teaching & Learning Inquiry The ISSOTL Journal2(1), 95–102.

Bovill, C., & Bulley, C. J. (2011). A model of active student participation in curriculum design: exploring desirability and possibility, (18), 176–188. Retrieved from

Bovill, C. Cook-Sather, A. and Felten, P. (2011) Changing Participants in Pedagogical Planning: Students as Co-Creators of Teaching approaches, Course Design and Curricula. International Journal for Academic Development 16 (2) 133-145.

Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2016). Cultivating student–staff partnerships through research and practice. International Journal for Academic Development21(1), 1–3.

Cook-Sather, A., & Abbot, S. (2016). Translating Partnerships: How Faculty-Student Collaboration in Explorations of Teaching and Learning Can Transform Perceptions, Terms, and Selves. Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal4(2), 1–14.

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C. and Felten, P. (2014) Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: a guide for faculty. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Dunne, E., and Nurser, T. (2011). Students as change agents: New ways of engaging in learning and teaching in higher education. Retrieved from:

Felten, P. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry 1(1): 121-125.

Healey, M., Flint, A., Harrington. (2014). Engagement through partnership: Students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. The Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from:

Higher Education Academy. (n.d.). Student engagement through partnership toolkit. Retrieved from:

Huber, M.T., & Hutchings, P. (2005). The advancement of learning: Building the teaching commons. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hutchings, P. (2002). Ethics of Inquiry: Issues in the Scholarship of Teaching. Palo Alto, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Hutchings, P. (2000). Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Palo Alto, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Werder, C. & Otis, M., eds. (2010). Engaging Student Voices in the Study of Teaching and Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Werder, C., Thibou, S., Simkins, S., Hornsby, K., Legg, K., & Franklin, T. (2016). Co-Inquiry with Students: When Shared Questions Lead the Way. Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal4(2), 1–15.