We recently had the privilege of attending and presenting a paper at the Advance HE symposium on co-creation in Manchester. The word symposium means “a meeting to discuss” and we certainly had the opportunity to discuss all things co-creation with a wide range of colleagues from a variety of institutions. Having coordinated a peer mentoring project for new law students whereby co-creation was used to design the mentoring programme, we were excited and very interested to hear other colleagues’ experiences.
Professor Catherine Bovill from the University of Edinburgh delivered a very dynamic keynote address exploring how we can incorporate co-creation into our work. There are many definitions of co-creation but the one offered by Catherine we feel encapsulates the concept well. Co-creation is “when staff and students work together in an ongoing and reciprocal creative and mutually beneficial process to share ideas and experiences” (Lubicz-Nawrocka 2020). For many the idea of co-creation can be quite scary with ideas of grand time-consuming projects, but Catherine explained co-creation can just happen very simplistically. For example, negotiation with the students on the focus of the session, designing the next session or students contribution to the assessments for the next cohort of students were just some of the examples provided.
Catherine outlined many of the benefits of co-creation, all of which resonated with us from our experiences. Co-creating with the students does increase motivation and engagement which can aid learning, not least of all because the students feel they have ownership of part of the course or programme. Allowing students to actually contribute to the development of the class, tutorial or programme improves the experience for the students, making them feel valued as their ideas are acknowledged. The feeling of value can contribute to a sense of belonging and as Peacock and Cowen (2019)  established, having a sense of belonging can increase retention – something we all have an interest in.
Catherine further explained how incorporating co-creation can be liberating and this was again something we could relate to from our own experiences. Working with students as co-creators can be daunting at first. And just as Catherine outlined, we remembered the fear of letting go and learning to trust the student, but it’s worth doing, because the end product and the whole experience can be amazing.
During the day we had the opportunity to listen to a number of presentations from a wide variety of institutions at different stages in their co-creation journey. Dr Rebecca Gamble and Dr Anthony Ogbuokiri, of Nottingham Trent University gave an extremely interesting presentation on “The value of including diverse student voices in co-creation activities and curriculum development”. Within the presentation they outlined how they had used a competition to embed EDI principles within the curriculum. We were delighted to chat with Anthony and Rebecca after the event in a Teams meeting to explore their ideas further and incorporate them into our own plans. A joint project is in the early stages of development between Nottingham Trent University and the Open University. For us this demonstrates the value of meeting colleagues beyond your own workplace.
A group of presenters from Queen Mary University of London presented on their recently introduced SEED (Student Enhanced Engagement & Development) Award. This was introduced to facilitate the universities aim of using co-creation to foster student engagement. Co-creation was used in a number of committees within the university and both staff and students were asked to reflect on the process. The provisional findings were shared with the delegates and it was great to hear how students and staff were being seen as equals as a result of this process. The involvement of students was providing a greater sense of purpose and belonging for the student cohort.
As always at these events the discussions which take place over coffee and lunch were very informative and it was great chatting to colleagues and hearing their experiences. We were buzzing with ideas and had quite a list to discuss at our next meeting back at the OU. As we progress through these ideas, we hope to share more of our experiences of co-creation via blog posts. However, if you wish to read more about our experiences, a blog relating to the presentation we delivered at the symposium can be found here - The transformational potential of co-creation | The Scholarship Centre for innovation in online Legal and Business education (SCiLAB) (open.ac.uk)
Returning to Catherine’s keynote address, she suggested that one of the simplest ways of incorporating co-creation into teaching is by asking the question at the start of each session “What do you want to get out of the class?” It is a simple question but can be transformative to enable the students to feel part of the session rather than the session being something that is “done to them”. If the students feel valued, it is more likely they will engage and engagement will lead to retention and better outcomes – which can only be of value to all.
 Lubicz-Nawrocka, T. (2020) An Exploration of How Curriculum Co-Creation Advances Student and Staff Aims for Scottish Higher Education. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Edinburgh.
 Peacock, S. and Cowan, J (2019). ‘Promoting sense of belonging in online learning communities of inquiry in accredited courses’, Online Learning, 23(2), pp.67-81.
Carol is a Senior Lecturer and Student Experience Manager within the Open University Law School.
Carol’s research interests include tackling student isolation via such programmes as online mentoring and projects focused on creating a sense of belonging for both staff and students.
She is involved in scholarship relating to online teaching pedagogy and assessment feedback. She tutors on LLB Law modules. Before joining the OU Carol worked in further education and is still involved in the quality management of Open Access courses.
Liz is a senior lecturer-in-law and Teaching Director of the Open University Law School. She has worked as part of the Open Justice Centre since 2016, supporting law students to carry out pro bono projects both as part of their law degree and on an extra curricular basis.
Liz leads the Open Justice online policy clinic and mediation project and is a supervising solicitor in the online law clinic. She is particularly interested in online learning and the use of technology in legal education, including the moving of clinical legal education online.