Hugh Smeltekop portrait
Hugh Smeltekop

When Students Become the Teachers, Everyone Learns

A traditional college professor is a “sage on the stage,” which is a wise scholar who imparts the necessary knowledge – usually via a “chalk and talk” lecture – for their students to transform into competent professionals and well-rounded human beings. At the University of St. Thomas, faculty lean toward being a “guide on the side.” This is a skilled coach who uses active learning, encourages critical thinking, and supports knowledge exploration in ways that relate to students’ goals and dreams. But in either case, how do professors know if their teaching is actually reaching their students? They ask the students. 

Starting in fall 2024, a select group of St. Thomas students will learn to observe and provide feedback to professors using a practice called pedagogical partnership. This practice, started at Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College in 2007, supports professors by engaging students as collaborators in the teaching process. Students, in turn, learn more about their own learning process and how to be considerate communicators. This innovative approach has been shown to increase the satisfaction of faculty and students and to improve the quality of instruction.

"It’s a promising initiative that well supports St. Thomas’ goal of gaining recognition as an innovator in the educational space," said Dr. Hugh Smeltekop, a clinical professor in the College of Arts and Sciences who is leading the initiative as the result of being named an inaugural Innovation Fellow at St. Thomas.

Students communicate and listen to one another during an English class
Students during an English class at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
Mark Brown / University of St. Thomas

"The key to success is training students to recognize basic principles of effective and inclusive instruction, then engaging with a professor-partner about classroom environment and culture, and to examine the learning environment together," Smeltekop said.  

Pedagogical Partnerships will start as a two-credit seminar course for honors students who are a part of the Aquinas Scholars Honors Program. The students will be paired with instructor-partners based on affinity and major, then trained to recognize basic principles of effective pedagogy and inclusive teaching. Students will then observe their instructor-partner's course. 

After observing a class for an hour per week, the student will share their perspectives, Smeltekop explains, which can help a professor reframe their pedagogical approaches. 

The students will also have group sessions with classmates to discuss their experiences. 

This work adds to the pedagogical support that St. Thomas' Center for Faculty Development currently offers faculty, including peer teaching consulting, faculty learning communities, faculty mentoring, and an inventive training called the Inclusive Classroom Institute. The work also will add value to the Aquinas Scholar Honors Program. 

More about Dr. Hugh Smeltekop 

Hugh Smeltekop headshot
Hugh Smeltekop

Hugh Smeltekop is one of the 2024 Faculty and Staff Innovation Fellows. The program seeks to engage the university community in propelling St. Thomas to the forefront on innovation. This year’s inaugural cohort recipients were selected from a wide variety of exceptional proposals received from across the institution. 

Smeltekop is a clinical faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences. He has an EdD in Educational Leadership and Learning from St. Thomas. He was assistant director of the STEM Inclusive Excellence Program at St. Thomas for four years and has worked in higher education at the University of St. Catherine, Century College, and a rural campus of the Catholic University of Bolivia. He is a trained circle facilitator and is experienced in the pedagogy of student inclusion.