Learning "betwixt and between": Opportunities and challenges for student-driven partnership

  • Susanna Barrineau Uppsala University
  • Lakin Anderson Uppsala University
Keywords: partnership, roles, student-driven, liminality, education for sustainable development (ESD)


This paper analyses students’ experiences of a partnership learning community in which students take on an unusual amount of power over decision-making in the design and implementation of interdisciplinary education. Student-driven contexts are largely absent in literature on partnership in higher education, which has thus far been based on empirical study of institutional contexts in which faculty have more power than students. This reveals a gap in knowledge about arrangements in which students have more control over decision-making than faculty. Drawing from in-depth interviews with student course coordinators, and using the concepts of roles and liminality, we analyse how course coordinators perceive their challenging and often ambiguous roles in which they renegotiate their relationships to staff, students, and the university itself. We then identify some challenges and opportunities for partnership within this context.


Arnstein, S. R. (1969). A ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American Planning Association, 35(4), 216-224.

Barrineau, S., Schnaas, U., Engström, A., & Härlin, F. (2016). Breaking ground and building bridges: a critical reflection on student-faculty partnerships in academic development. International Journal for Academic Development, 21(1), 79-83.

Barth, M. (2014). Implementing sustainability in higher education: Learning in an age of transformation. London: Routledge.

Boud, D., Cohen, R., & Sampson, J. (2001). Peer learning in higher education: Learning from and with each other. London: Kogan Page.

Bovill, C. (2014). An investigation of co-created curricula within higher education in the UK, Ireland, and the USA. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 51(1), 15-25.

Bovill, C., & Bulley, C. J. (2011). A model of active student participation in curriculum design: Exploring desirability and possibility. In C. Rust (Ed.), Improving student learning (ISL) 18: Global theories and local practices: Institutional, disciplinary, and cultural variations (pp. 176-188). Oxford Brookes University: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.

Bovill, C., Cook-Sather, A., Felten, P., Millard, L., & Moore-Cherry, N. (2016). Addressing potential challenges in co-creating learning and teaching: Overcoming resistance, navigating institutional norms, and ensuring inclusivity in student-staff partnerships. Higher Education, 71, 195-208.

Bryson, C. (2014). Understanding and developing student engagement. London and New York: Routledge.

Cook-Sather, A., & Alter, Z. (2011). What is and what can be: How a liminal position can change learning and teaching in higher education. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 42(1), 37-53.

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

Cortese, A. D. (2003). The critical role of higher education in creating a sustainable future. Planning for Higher Education, 31(3), 15-22.

Davison, A., Brown, P., Pharo, E., Warr, K., McGregor, H., Terkes, S., Boyd, D., & Abuodha, P. (2013). Distributed leadership: Building capacity for interdisciplinary climate change teaching at four universities. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 15(1), 98-110.

Dunne, E., & Zandstra, R. (2011). Students as change agents: new ways of engaging with learning and teaching in Higher Education. ESCalate, Bristol. Retrieved from http://escalate.ac.uk/8242.

Felder, R. M., & Brent, R. (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction. College Teaching, 44(2), 43-47.

Fielding, M. (1999). Radical collegiality: Affirming teaching as an inclusive professional practice. Australian Educational Researcher: A publication of the Australian Association for Research in Education, 26, 1-34.

Gärdebo, J., & Wiggberg, M. (Eds.) (2012). Students, the university’s unspent resource: Revolutionising higher education through active student participation. Report series 12, Division for Development of Teaching and Learning, Uppsala University.

Hald, M. (Ed.) (2011). Transcending boundaries: How CEMUS is changing how we teach, meet, and learn. Uppsala, Sweden: CEMUS, Uppsala Centre for Sustainable Development, Uppsala University and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: Students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. York: Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/resources/engagement_through_partnership.pdf

Healey, M. (2017). Students as partners and change agents in learning and teaching in higher education. Retrieved from http://www.mickhealey.co.uk/resources

Iversen, A., Pedersen, A. S., Krogh, L., & Jensen, A. A. (2015). Learning, leading, and letting go of control: Learner-led approaches in education. Sage Open, 5(4).

Holmberg, J., Lundqvist, U., Svanström, M., & Arehag, M. (2012). The university and transformation towards sustainability: The strategy used at Chalmers University of Technology. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 13(3), 219-231.

Krizek, K. J., Newport, D., White, J., & Townsend, A. R. (2012). Higher education’s sustainability imperative: How to practically respond? International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 13(1), 19-33.

Lozano, R. (2006). Incorporation and institutionalization of SD into universities: Breaking through barriers to change. Journal of Cleaner Production, 14(9-11), 787-796.

National Union of Students (NUS) (2015). A manifesto for partnership. Retrieved from https://www.nusconnect.org.uk/resources/a-manifesto-for-partnership.

Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Singer-Brodowski, M., & Bever, H. (2016). At the bottom lines: Student initiatives for sustainable development in higher education. In L. Kruse (Ed.), Human ecology studies and higher education for sustainable development: European experiences and examples. Munich: oekm verlag.

Sterling, S. (2001). Sustainable education: Revisioning learning and change. Totnes: UIT Cambridge Ltd.

Stoddard, I., Rieser, I., Andersson, S., & Friman, E. (2012). Igniting a learning revolution: Student-run higher education for sustainable development. The Solutions Journal, 3(5), 34-39. Retrieved from https://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/article/igniting-alearning-revolution-student-run-higher-education-for-sustainable-development/

Sveriges förenade studentkårer (SFS) (2013). Studentens lärande i centrum. SFS om pedagogik i högskolan. Dnr: PU1-1/ 1213.

Topping, K. (2005). Trends in peer learning. Educational Psychology, 25(6), 631-645.

Turner, V. (1967). Betwixt-and-between: The liminal period in rites de passage. In V. Turner (Ed.), The forest of symbols: aspects of Ndembu ritual Ithaca (pp 46-55). NY: Cornell University Press.

Wals, A. (2012). Shaping the education of tomorrow: 2012 full-length report on the UN decade of education for sustainable development. UNESCO. Retrieved from http://library.wur.nl/WebQuery/wurpubs/fulltext/246667

Wals, A., & Corcoran, P. B. (2006). Sustainability as an outcome of transformative learning. In E. B. Samuelsson & J. Holmberg (Eds.), Drivers and barriers for implementing sustainable development in higher education (pp.103-108). Paris: UNESCO.

Wals, A., & Jickling, B. (2002). “Sustainability” in higher education: From doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 3(3), 221-232.

Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Wickenberg, P. (2006). Norm supporting actors and structures at the very local level of implementation of sustainable development in higher education. In E. B. Samuelsson, & J. Holmberg (Eds.), Drivers and barriers for implementing sustainable development in higher education (pp. 109-119). Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved from http://erepository.uonbi.ac.ke/handle/11295/60357

Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, C. L. (2011). Key competencies in sustainability: A reference framework for academic program development. Sustainability Science, 6(2), 203-218.

How to Cite
Barrineau, S., & Anderson, L. (2018). Learning "betwixt and between": Opportunities and challenges for student-driven partnership. International Journal for Students As Partners, 2(1), 16-32. https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v2i1.3224
Research Articles