Working with students as partners in curriculum co-creation

The activity

In order to explore how we might embed graduate employability into our curriculum, we invited academic staff, undergraduate students, graduates of our course, careers advisors and potential employers to work in mixed teams to co-create viable methods for optimising the employability of our students and graduates. The overall aims of the work were two-fold: to boost students’ employability—that is, their ongoing personal and professional development and the relevance of their skills in industry—and to inform our curriculum design.

The results were a series of brainstorms, diagrams, sketches, and bullet-pointed thoughts that took into consideration the needs of all aspects of the group from the various perspectives of the different group members. Discussion points and outcomes were verbally presented by each group, which prompted further discussion, thoughts and iterations around the ideas generated. The outcomes from the session have since been used to inform the development of the course’s curriculum.

Why co-design?

Co-design fundamentally assists in understanding the needs of a user group, challenging assumptions and fostering the testing and iteration of ideas in a collaborative environment. Involving students in the co-creation of their curriculum allows them to have ownership of their work and ‘creates new rules of design derived from networks, not hierarchies’ (Sanders 1999). Thus, the co-design approach focuses on designing with students, not for them. Involving communities in the co-creation of a service or practice increases its likelihood to be adopted, while also enabling insights to be gained from multiple stakeholder perspectives (IDEO, 2017). Working with the idea of developing a ‘curriculum-as-lived’ or ‘bricolage’ (Irwin & Chalmers 2007, in Kalin & Barney 2014, 21–2), which involves ongoing reinvention based upon the changing needs of students, the long-term aim is to keep our curriculum fresh, engaging and relevant to current students and future employers. 

Impact on students

The session feedback indicated that, collectively, students had enjoyed the co-creation process and found it a valuable experience. Students spoke of feeling empowered and ‘having a voice’ in the development of their curriculum. They liked ‘being able to bounce ideas off each other, which prompted even more ideas’ and felt satisfied by the challenge of communicating with a range of stakeholders.

Academic staff observed an interesting management of expectations, whereby students’ discussions with potential employers banished some common myths and imparted a sense of being realistic about the process of becoming employable (dedication, practice and hard work were key points). This aspect was of definite value to our students moving forward, in enhancing their motivation and therefore future engagement with our course. Students have been keen to revisit the co-creation work and to continue being involved with the development of our course curriculum.

Final notes and advice for readers

This activity explored employability, an aspect of the student journey, and therefore it was beneficial to include students of all three levels of the undergraduate degree in each group. This provided a range of perspectives, comparison and reflection: Level 4 (i.e. first year) students were able to learn from students in the higher year groups and Level 6 (i.e. third year) students were able to reflect back upon their own student journey, and draw upon their experience.

It was useful to include graduates in the session. We invited recent alumni and those who had graduated upwards of 5 years ago. This provided a greater range of perspectives and allowed our current students to understand the potential pathways ahead.

It was important to create a safe and comfortable group environment. Introductions to each group member and allowing time for informal discussion beforehand allowed our students to feel comfortable with, and perhaps less daunted by, working with potential employers.

A final important aspect of the activity was that we informed students about how the outcomes of the co-design session influenced the course curriculum, with tangible examples. This enabled the students to see the impact and value of their contributions.

References

IDEO. (2017). Design kit. London: IDEO. Retrieved 5 August 2021, from https://www.designkit.org/methods/co-creation-session

Kalin, N. M., & Barney, D. T. (2014). Hunting for monsters: Visual arts curriculum as agonistic inquiry. International Journal of Art & Design Education, 33(1), 19–31.   https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-8070.2014.01774.x 

Sanders, E. B. N. (1999). Postdesign and participatory culture. Paper presented at Useful and Critical: The Position of Research in Design, University of Art and Design Helsinki, Tuusula, Finland, 9–11 September 1999.

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