Co-design, HE Co-Lab network – Pearson, London, EC3, 26 April 2018

This was a really interesting day of talks and workshops about getting stakeholders – tutors, learning designers, students, etc. – all working together to design their programmes and courses.

I really like the idea of listening to students when they say what they need and want from their learning, and what does and doesn’t work for them, rather than being taught a curriculum that may have been developed years ago that reflects the interests and perceptions of a small number of people (historically usually an academic). The Sheffield Hallam experience described below shows what a positive effect this can have on student engagement.

Obviously, any process that disrupts the status quo is likely to be met with concern or resistance by some interested parties, and it was interesting to hear how different institutions had approached introducing co-design.

For instance at the University of Lincoln, student union rep Tommy George and Dr Kirsty Miller from the School of Psychology talked about how students across all disciplines are enlisted from the day they join to feed into the programme design and how their involvement in the design is an expectation, rather than an exception. They reported that this has worked to great effect in the School of Psychology; other schools have had less success with this approach.

Two speakers from Sheffield Hallam talked about a project where a group of their part-time mature learners had been involved in course and assessment design, and the result was a really engaged student community who took great pride in their achievements. As part of their presentation, Maggie Milnes, a student, and Stella Jones-Devitt, Head of Student Research and Evaluation, showed this video, ‘Our stories as part-time, in-work students’, (SHU, 24 April 2015 [accessed 8 May 2018]) written and voiced by the students, in which they talk about what they want from their learning and what they got out of working with education developers to design their programme. There are many similarities between their requirements and the requirements of our online students at UCEM. The gist of what the students wanted more of was: involvement in co-designing course and assessment, and more support and course content around developing resilience and digital skills.

After a networking lunch we broke up into groups and I joined the session on developing learning for minority groups. There were common themes for all of us: student engagement, resistance to change, lack of communication/understanding between stakeholders. We each chose an issue and discussed potential solutions. I talked about collaborative working in the new 9-week delivery process at UCEM and getting buy-in from all stakeholders. We agreed a good solution would be to develop a module exemplar using our new design process so everyone could clearly see the benefits.

Here’s a short video filmed on the day by Pearson with a few reflections from the presenters.