This week is our annual Students as Co-Creators Symposium and I’m very much looking forward to exploring the themes proposed by our student partners on the day. Our student partners have given us a sense of what co-creation has meant to them and what issues they’d like to explore.
Working with students as active partners to co-create their learning experience can be a very valuable and meaningful way to ensure that the curriculum and wider student experience is authentic, inclusive and current.
There are benefits for students as they are motivated to engage, and gain skills and confidence. Co-creation initiatives can also give students the sense that they are invested and matter to their institution, and recent research by Wonkhe and Pearson places autonomy and agency as one of the four foundations of student belonging. Indeed, belonging must be co-created; you can’t just tell a student that they belong.
There are benefits for individual staff and institutions too. If we value our students and the lived expertise that they bring to their studies, we have much to learn from them, and working with them as partners in the curriculum can introduce us to new perspectives and insights. Involving students in wider processes to co-design initiatives can help our institutions ensure that they are inclusive and student-centred, benefitting future students as well as those involved in the initial collaboration.
There are many opportunities to involve students in co-creation, from developing course materials or projects, co-designing content or assessment, to reviewing and designing new governance processes, strategic policies or campus spaces.
A meaningful approach
Partnership and co-creation work can be tricky to get right, however. Meaningful co-creation is more than just asking for feedback to ‘rubberstamp’ decisions already made, and if not sensitively handled can unintentionally be exploitative, exclusionary or damaging. And it’s difficult to embed co-creation meaningfully as an institutional approach rather than one-off, limited or isolated examples so that all students can benefit.
If we are to adopt co-creation meaningfully as an approach, we need to fully understand the challenges as well as benefits, and consider ways to ensure that it is ethical, equitable and sustainable, embedding it at the heart of what we do.
Dr Helen Webster is Senior Consultant for Education (Student Success) at Advance HE. She is a National Teaching Fellow and a highly experienced Learning Developer. She has led teams and projects in Student Services in universities and professional organisations for over 15 years and is known for her holistic, student-centred approach.