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Co-creation: educators and learners as change makers

Creating a community of educators and learners transforming education at Queen Mary

Strategy 2030 and Queen Mary values 

Co-creation is embedded in our Strategy 2030.

'We will deliver an outstanding, inclusive, world-class education and student experience, co-created with our diverse student body, enhanced by our world-leading research and latest technological developments.'

Our strategy builds on existing excellence to ensure that students are co-creators in their education and the learning environment’ (Excellence in Education)

We will continually develop new approaches to support students in their learning and make sure they have a clear voice in the development of the University, working closely with Queen Mary Students’ Union’ (Excellence in Student Engagement)

Co-creation is also deeply embedded in the Queen Mary values.

We will be collegial and promote a strong collegial community through openness, listening, understanding, co-operation and co-creation, ensuring focused delivery of our collective vision and strategy’.

What is co-creation? 

Co-creation is a process of student engagement that encourages students and staff members to move away from curriculum as delivery to curriculum as the joint making of meaning. Both staff and students have a voice and a stake. 

Working with students, being open to ideas and views, enables shared goals and a shared understanding that teaching and learning is a joint endeavour.

Co-creation challenges the traditional approaches to learning and teaching In order to engage in co-creation, we need to reframe our perspectives:

  • make no assumptions about the student experience, ask them instead
  • be open to add more lived experience that is genuinely reflective of students’ needs
  • consider nuanced experiences: avoid implicit biases by welcoming a wide range of contributions from diverse backgrounds (and sectors) which bring different perspectives
  • work to make it meaningful and iterative – students’ voice should not be a ‘tick the box’ performative exercise
One way to conceptualise co-creation is occupying the space in between student engagement and partnership, to suggest a meaningful collaboration between students and staff, with students becoming more active participants in the learning process, constructing understanding and resources with academic staff
— Bovill et al (2016, 197)

From student voice to student action

Universities traditionally engage with students by listening to the ‘student voice’: through course evaluations and ‘listen’ to ‘respond’ accordingly. The aim is to move beyond seeing student perspectives as a source of data and promote ‘student action’ - give students the opportunity to explore areas that they believe to be significant, to recommend solutions and to bring about the required changes (Bovill et al, 2016).

Different mindset: disrupting hierarchies and repositioning students and staff

With co-creation there is a change in the dynamic with students no longer being perceived as passive consumers but as active participants. 

Co-creation is ultimately about a different mindset that re-positions students and staff as active collaborators in the diverse processes of teaching and learning – empowering students to be actively engaged in, and share the responsibility for their own education (Cook-Sather, Bovill & Felten 2014).

Both students and staff have different but equally valuable expertise to contribute to the process of teaching and learning (Cook-Sather, Bovill & Felten 2014; Mercer-Mapstone & Marie 2019, p.7). Students’ diverse profiles, backgrounds and experiences complement academics’ views, knowledge and expertise of the learning content and institutional context.

Collaboration and reciprocity

Staff and students work collaboratively with one another to create solutions that meet the needs and expectations of both partners and co-creation happens within the intersection of the two spheres. 

This collaboration becomes a reciprocal process through which participants can contribute, although not necessarily in the same ways. Actions are negotiated and both partners tend to become much more aware of their identity and role and, at the same time, much more accountable because responsibilities are shared, and change is a common endeavour (Bovill et al 2014).

Types of co-creation projects

  • Co-creation of the curriculum (usually taking place before a course or programme begins)
  • Co-creation in the curriculum (usually involving negotiation of elements of a course or programme while it unfolds)
  • Other co-creation focuses on extracurricular or university-wide initiatives

Some examples involve selecting one or just a few students, while others involve a whole class. There are also co-creation projects (usually extracurricular) where students are paid for their involvement, and others (usually involving all students in a class) where students receive the usual course credit at the end of the course. 

Areas of focus

  • Learning design and development
    • Learning, teaching & assessment
    • Curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy
  • Researching and Inquiring
    • Subject-based research and inquiry
    • Scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) 

Values

Staff and students developing co-creation projects should consider a set of values that will guide their relationship as partners: authenticity, honesty, inclusivity, reciprocity, empowerment, trust, courage, plurality and responsibility.

For more detail, please check the Framework for student engagement through partnership (Healey and Healey 2019, HEA 2015).

Individual hand holding colourful jigsaw pieces

Examples of co-creation activities

1. Learning, teaching and assessment

  • focus on collaborative and active learning (e.g. flipping the classroom, experiential learning)
  • offer students a level of choice and ownership
  • place students in different roles (e.g. tutors, mentors, assessors) and as co-designers of resources

2. Curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy

Involve students in formal processes of programme or course design, revalidation, and professional development for staff

3. Subject-based research and inquiry

  • involve students in production within their discipline community (e.g. PBL, research based assessments, ‘live projects’)
  • create opportunities to share their research publicly (e.g. research journals, blogs and conferences)

4. Scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL)

  • involve students at all stages: from co-designing research questions to findings and dissemination
  • cast students as co-researchers (not as subjects) (Bovill, 2020, p.1024)

Participatory learning communities and pedagogic literacy

Co-creation enables the development of students’ own ‘pedagogic literacy’ and their understanding of curriculum and assessment is a necessary condition. Students become more aware of the teaching contexts and learning becomes more authentic and relevant. 

Transformation and change

Co-creation can be deeply transformative: it can change students and what they want to achieve at university and beyond. Johansson & Felten (2014, p. 929) have identified four factors of student transformation:

  1. disruption of previous ways of working
  2. reflection on experiences
  3. new forms of action
  4. integration of new perspectives and ways of working

Student outcomes in the form of transformation and development can include: 

  • developing positive relationships and community engagement and enjoyment
  • taking risks and overcoming challenges
  • academic achievement and retention

Main benefits and challenges

For students

Benefits

  • Enhanced motivation, confidence and enthusiasm
  • Enhanced responsibility for and ownership of own learning
  • Raised awareness of the learning and teaching processes
  • Development of metacognitive awareness and sense of identity
  • Development of critical thinking and a wide range of transferable skills
  • Enhanced belonging, relationships, confidence, and trust
  • Increased sense of feeling valued and practice at working democratically
  • Enhanced academic performance 

Challenges

  • Voice fatigue and feeling unheard: not involved in implementation, perceived lack of action, lack of sense of ownership
  • Trusting staff and other students
  • Lack of process and content expertise: unfamiliarity with new role and responsibility
  • Insecure about own knowledge and skills
  • Insufficient communication & collaboration skills
  • Power relations: perceived risks of speaking up; power imbalance through assessment
  • Harder to engage with large lectures
  • Harder for students who are more focused on what you have to learn to get a good grade (less intrinsic motivation to learn)

For staff

Benefits

  • Enhanced reflective process about teaching and learning processes
  • Raised awareness of thinking about and practices of teaching
  • Raised self-awareness, and more knowledgeable and sensitive to respond to student learning needs
  • More culturally responsive and inclusive practices Leading to a shift in focus from grades to learning (co-created assessment)
  • Enhanced enthusiasm and motivation

Challenges   

  • Giving up control: need to redefine roles and responsibilities; threatened to give up control; feeling vulnerable within the institution
  • Scepticism that learners add value: not recognise value in learners’ input; not really listen and trust learners
  • Perceived threats of opening up for change: not be open for reflection and growth; difficulties with receiving feedback; stick to pedagogical habits
  • Usual way of communication no longer fits: challenge to find common ground; learners might be resistant to contribute; to much focus on negative issues
  • Lack of recognition and reward: prizes, awards, appraisals, probation, HEA fellowships, promotions and career progression

Co-creation at Queen Mary: case studies 

References

List of references

Baxter Magolda, M. B., and King P. M. (2004) Learning partnerships: Theory and models of practice to educate for self-authorship. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Bovill, C. (2020) Co-creation in learning and teaching: the case for a whole-class approach in higher education. Higher Education, 79:1023–1037 1025. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-019-00453-w

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(2), 195–208.

Bovill, C. (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(2), 195-208.

Bovill, C., Morss, K., & Bulley, C.J. (2009) Should students participate in curriculum design? Discussion arising from a first year curriculum design project and a literature review. Pedagogic Research in Maximising Education, 3(2), 17-26.

Bovill, C., Bulley, C.J., & Morss, K. (2011) Engaging and empowering first-year students through curriculum design: perspectives from the literature. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(2), 197-209.

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

Cook-Sather, A., & Matthews, K.E., (2021). Pedagogical partnership: engaging with students as co-creators of curriculum, assessment, and knowledge. In (eds) University Teaching in Focus: A learning-centred approach [pps. 243-259], Routledge

Curran, R., & Millard, L. (2016) A partnership approach to developing student capacity to engage and staff capacity to be engaging: opportunities for academic developers. International Journal for Academic Development, 21(1), 67-78.

Deeley, S.J., & Bovill, C. (2015) Staff student partnership in assessment: enhancing assessment literacy through democratic practices, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 1-15.

Dunne, E., Zandstra, R., Brown, T. and Nurser, T. (2011) Students as change agents: new ways of engaging with learning and teaching in higher educationESCalate (Education Subject Centre of the Higher Education Academy). University of Exeter, corp creators.

Healey, M. and Healey, R. (2019) Essential frameworks for enhancing student success: Student Engagement Through Partnership .A guide to the Advance HE Framework. AdvanceHE. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/essential-frameworks-enhancing-student-success-student-engagement-through-partnership

Healey, M., A. Flint, and K. Harrington (2014) Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. York: Higher Education Academy. Available from: https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/engagement-through-partnership-students-partners-learning-and-teaching-higher

Higher Education Academy (2015) Framework for student engagement through partnership. Available from: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/student-enagagement-through-partnership-new.pdf

Johansson, C. and Felten, P.  (2014) Transforming Students: Fulfilling the Promise of Higher Education. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP

Kay, J., E. Dunne, and J. Hutchinson (2010) Rethinking the values of higher education - students as change agents? Gloucester: QAA and University of Exeter.

Könings, K., Mordang, S., Smeenk, F., Stassen, L. & Ramani, S. (2021) Learner involvement in the co-creation of teaching and learning: AMEE Guide No. 138, Medical Teacher, 43:8, 924-936, DOI: 10.1080/0142159X.2020.1838464

Lubicz-Nawrocka, T. and Bovill, C. (2021) Do students experience transformation through co-creating curriculum in higher education? Teaching in Higher Education. Onlinefirst: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13562517.2021.1928060

Mercer-Mapstone, L. and Abbot, S. (2020) The Power of Partnership. Students, Staff, and Faculty Revolutionizing Higher Education.  Elon University Center for Engaged Learning.

Mercer-Mapstone, L. and Marie, J. (2019) Practical Guide: Scaling up student-staff partnerships in higher education. Institute for Academic Development: University of Edinburgh.

Neary, M., and Winn, J. (2009) The student as producer: Reinventing the student experience in higher education. In L. Bell, H. Stevenson and M. Neary (Eds.) The future of higher education: Policy, pedagogy and the student experience (pp. 126–138). London: Continuum.

Neary, M., Saunders, G., Hagyard, A. and Derricott, D. (2010) Student as Producer research-engaged teaching, an institutional strategy. York: Higher Education Academy.

Palmer, P J (1983) To Know as we are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. San Francisco: Harper.

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