Students As Co-Creators: Is it worth it?

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This article is part 1 of a series of two articles on Co-Creation. It will focus on co-creation as a whole, co-creation for creating university strategy, and some essential points to keep in mind.

Why Co-Create With Students?

The concept of student co-creation has become a popular topic in recent years, and there has been rising interest in research and practice about ‘students as partners’. 

Co-creation consists of developing deeper relationships between students and teachers. It’s when education is perceived as a shared endeavour where learning and teaching are done with students, not to them. (Cook-Sather et al).

The reason why it’s become so popular is that when implemented correctly, co-creation boosts student engagement and improves student-teacher relationships. 

When applying co-creation to the classroom students get the opportunity to develop goals, design projects, assess outcomes, and share what they have learned. The result is that students learn more and, more importantly, learn how to improve and adapt the way they learn. When you have students as co-creators you focus not just on the content, but on the process of learning itself.

Once students have some control over their education and that they can drive their own learning, not only will they enjoy their work more, but they’ll feel respected.

Now, let’s touch on why it’s crucial for universities to provide more than just content to their students, and how co-creation can come in and help.

Providing More Than Content

Many think to themselves: “Why bother with co-creation?” 

A good way to answer this question is through a solid point brought up by Lawrence Summers, President Emeritus of Harvard University.

He says how he met a 12-year-old girl from Pakistan who had been teaching herself university-level physics with nothing but online course materials from Stanford. He also notes that the Introductory Biology course from MIT is about to be made available for free around the world.

This raises a new question. If the best conduit-based teaching is now offered online, what can students gain from attending particular universities?

Barber et al 2013 concluded that much of the value that universities add in the future; “Will not be linked to course content as this becomes more ubiquitous and the province of the world’s elite institutions.” Instead, it will be a matter of what a university and its faculty build around the content, and this is where co-creation comes in.

Co-creation lets universities provide more than just content. It improves the relationships between staff and students, and between the students themselves.

Interactions at university become more genuine and memorable — giving students a good reason to attend your particular university over others.

But, what are some more specific ways it can be used in universities?

Co-Creation for Strategy

Many would think that students don’t care about the corporate strategies of a university. But the truth is, students are not only invested in their choice of university, they also want a say in how and what their university focuses on whilst they are studying there.

Students have the benefit of a beginner’s mind. This allows them to create clear content for other undergraduates. They have a deep understanding of students’ challenges, so their opinions on the current student experience an institution provides can be very useful.

After all, the students themselves are the experts in the student experience — it’s key to always treat students as equals because of this.

Another way to look at it is that universities can use student ideas to assess themselves. Hearing what students think, means understanding how the current strategic plan is going. You can verify if your institution’s strategy is actually making an impact, because strategy is pointless unless it impacts people.

When you co-create with students and staff for strategy, the final result is a strategic plan which both groups are going to be able to identify with.

Challenges

Large classes

The larger the class, the harder it is to implement co-creation. Get your process down with small classes first as they allow for deeper forms of interaction and negotiation, then scale up when you’re ready.


Time constraints

Teachers who use co-creation normally experience time pressure. Make sure you aren’t spending extra hours on trying to apply co-creation methods, instead re-prioritise the time you already have, and do it within class limits.


Difficult classes

Every teacher in the world knows what it’s like to have a ‘problem class’. When you invite students to co-created learning and teaching and they don’t wish to take part, remember this; the opportunity to participate is equally important as the opportunity not to participate.

Points To Keep In Mind

  • No matter what approach you take, always ensure that any opportunities to participate are genuinely open to all. 
  • The promise of co-creation has to be followed up with tangible actions. The teaching team has to act and be seen to act.
  • Co-creation requires both students and academics to take a leap of faith. It does not remove the tutor’s expertise from the classroom, but it does emphasize their participation as a co-learner.

Conclusion

Co-creation represents a commitment by universities to equip students with the learning they need for after university. 

Although it can mean more effort and more time, it has many benefits, including: increased student engagement and participation; better student-staff relationships; and easier collaboration.

However, it’s important for leaders to work out for themselves where and how to implement co-creation strategies — throwing students into the deep end won’t help anyone!

Take your time, find a strategy that can be built upon over weeks, months and years — and co-creation could be the starting point for a whole new age of student learning.

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