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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