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Dialogue Across Differences of Position, Perspective, and Identity: Reflective Practice in/on a Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnership Program


by Alison Cook-Sather — 2015

Background: Inspired by various conceptualizations of both cultural diversity and cross-role partnership, this discussion challenges the assumption that holds sway in many people’s minds: Differences primarily divide us. The context for this argument is a program that pairs undergraduate students and faculty members in semester-long partnerships to explore and revise pedagogical practices.

Purpose: The purpose of this article is to explore how dialogue across differences supported by a student–faculty partnership program can inspire greater openness to and appreciation of differences. The focus is on fostering deeper connection and empathy across student and faculty positions, perspectives, and cultural identities.

Research Design: Through systematically documented reflective practice, I draw on audiorecorded conversations, mid- and end-of-semester feedback, and follow-up interviews with student and faculty participants in the program, as well as on my own reflective notes and less formal communication with participants, to identify the ways in which these faculty and students conceptualize differences as resources for learning.

Findings: Through supporting the demanding work of communicating and collaborating across differences, this program makes it normative for differences to exist and for people in relationships to benefit from them. The student–faculty partnerships evoke deliberate consideration of differences in position, perspective, and identity within collaborative work, which, in turn, generate ongoing critical reflection with the promise of changing higher educational practices.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Higher education needs to create more opportunities for students and faculty to engage in dialogue across various kinds of difference. Suggestions are offered for how to create structures and support within which faculty and students can forge new perspectives that allow them to draw on differences as a uniting rather than a dividing force.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 2, 2015, p. 1-42
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17784, Date Accessed: 5/25/2017 7:47:23 PM

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About the Author
  • Alison Cook-Sather
    Bryn Mawr College
    E-mail Author
    ALISON COOK-SATHER is the Mary Katharine Woodworth Professor of Education and Coordinator of the Teaching and Learning Institute at Bryn Mawr College. Supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Dr. Cook-Sather has developed internationally recognized programs that position students as pedagogical consultants to prospective secondary teachers and to practicing college faculty members. She has given more than 65 keynote addresses, other invited presentations, and papers at refereed conferences in Brazil, Canada, Italy, Spain, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and throughout the United States. In addition, she has authored or edited more than 70 publications on how students can become partners with teachers and scholars to make education a mutually engaging and empowering process. Among her books are Education Is Translation: A Metaphor for Change in Learning and Teaching (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006) and Engaging Students as Partners in Teaching & Learning: A Guide for Faculty, co-authored with Catherine Bovill and Peter Felten (Jossey-Bass, 2014). In 2010, Dr. Cook-Sather was named the Jean Rudduck Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge in England.
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