Relationships matter: Moving relationship-rich experiences from the periphery to the center of higher education learning and teaching

Peter Felten

Decades of rigorous research in the U.S. documents the transformative power of relationship-rich learning experiences for students in higher education. These experiences can occur in many formats and locations, including active learning exercises in lecture halls, team-based work in a community setting, and mentored research in a laboratory. Relational pedagogies contribute to everything from enhanced disciplinary learning and student engagement to identity development and a clarified sense of purpose, and these positive outcomes have long-term professional, civic, and personal significance for graduates. Yet many faculty and institutions do not focus on the centrality of relationship-rich experiences for students, and most SoTL also looks elsewhere for evidence of learning. In this session, we will explore the possibility of centering teaching practices and SoTL inquiries on the power of relationships to shape learning. This has implications not only for our classrooms and scholarly activity, but also for communities beyond the university. In a world wracked by divisions, the capacity to build and sustain relationships, particularly across differences, is vital for graduates to live fulfilling lives and to contribute to the common good. How can our teaching – and our SoTL – make that more possible?