Bridging the Power Gap: GTAs and Student-Staff Partnership

Lauren Clark


Drawing on previous work done on student-staff partnership (SSP), this paper will consider how involving GTAs in SSP could help bridge the gap between students and staff, with GTAs bringing a unique perspective to their teaching since they are simultaneously students and teachers (Standen, 2018). To do so, this article will build on and contribute to existing literature on SSP and how engaging in SSP can be a transformative learning experience for staff and students at different levels (Healey & Jenkins 2009; Cook-Sather 2014). While SSP has been shown to improve student engagement and outcomes and bridge the gap between research and teaching, it is not without challenges (Bovill, Cook-Sather, Felten, Millard & Moore-Cherry 2016). One key issue around SSP is naturally the concept of partnership, which can be challenging for staff and students alike who may be more accustomed to a hierarchical power dynamic (Cook-Sather 2014). Some forms of research collaboration that are typical in HE can involve SSP, but they often focus more on collaboration between students and staff, perhaps relying more on an apprenticeship model of teaching, which is intrinsically more hierarchical. This paper will consider the relationship between power and participation through the work of Arnstein (1968), arguing that it is important to place GTAs in this liminal space to bridge the power gap. Reflecting on my own experience across two SSP projects as both student and GTA, I argue that being both a student and teacher made me more aware of how I learned and how I could bring that knowledge to my teaching practice and collaboration with other students. As research students, GTAs can also engage in a kind of praxis (cycle of theory, action and reflection) when using SSP in their teaching. In this way, they are uniquely positioned to demonstrate how SSP empowers both students and staff to learn from each other and produce innovative research and ideas (Cook-Sather 2014).

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