As we get started with our project #CoCreatingGFI, we are talking to more and more people about our ideas for what we want to achieve within the project (for a short summary, check out this page), which means that we are playing with different ways to frame our understanding of co-creation and students as partners (SaP).
For the latter, I just read an article by Matthews et al. (2019) that identifies three ways that SaP is commonly being written about. Reading this article was really useful, because it made me realise that I have been using aspects of all three, and now I can more purposefully choose in which way I want to frame SaP for each specific conversation I am having.
In the following, I am presenting the three different perspectives and commenting on how they relate to how I’ve been talking — and thinking — about SaP.
Imagining through Metaphors
Metaphors are figures of speech where a description is applied to something it isn’t literally applicable to, but where it might help to imagine a different (in this case, desired) state.
“Students as partners” as a metaphor evokes quite strong reactions occasionally, because it can be perceived as a complete loss of power, authority and significance by teachers; and likewise as too much work, responsibility, stress by students. We moved away from “students as partners” as a metaphor and towards “co-creation”, because when speaking about “students as partners”, we were constantly trying to explain who the students were partnering with, and what “partnership” would mean in practice. So while we were initially attracted to the metaphor and the philosophy behind it, it ended up not working well in our context.
Speaking about the “student voice”, on the other hand, is something that I’m still doing. To me, it implies what Matthews et al. (2019) describe: students powerfully and actively participating in conversations, and actually being heard. But they also warn that this metaphor can lead to structures in which power sharing becomes less likely, which I can also see: if we explicitly create opportunities to listen to students, it becomes easy to also create other situations in which there explicitly is no space for students.
Building on concepts
When grounding conversations on accepted concepts from the literature, it makes it a lot easier to argue for them and to make sure they make sense in the wider understanding in the field.
In our proposal for Co-Create GFI, we very explicitly build all our arguments on the concept of “communities of practice”. Maybe partly because I was in a very bad Wenger phase at around that time, but mostly because it gave us language and concepts to describe our goal (teachers working together in a community on a shared practice), because it gave us concrete steps for how to achieve that and what pitfalls to avoid.
Also in that proposal as well as in our educational column in oceanography, we use “student engagement” as the basis for the co-creation we are striving for. In our context, there is agreement that students should be engaged and that teachers should work to support student engagement, so starting from this common denominator is a good start into most conversations.
Another concept mentioned by Matthews et al. (2019) are “threshold concepts”, which isn’t a concept we have used in our own conversations about SaP, but which I found definitely helpful to consider when thinking about reactions towards the idea of SaP.
Matthews et al. (2019) point out that while building on concepts can be grounding and situating the way I describe above, it can also be disruptive.
Drawing on Constructs
Of the three ways of talking about SaP, this is the one we’ve used the least. Constructs are tools to help understand behaviour by basically putting a label on a drawer, such as identity, power, or gender. Looking at SaP through the lens of different constructs can help see reality in a different way and change our approach to it, or as Matthews et al. (2019) say: “revealing can lead to revisiting”.
I know it’s not the intention of the article, but I am wondering if taking on that lens just for fun might not reveal new and interesting things about our own thinking…
Kelly E. Matthews, Alison Cook-Sather, Anita Acai, Sam Lucie Dvorakova, Peter Felten, Elizabeth Marquis & Lucy Mercer-Mapstone (2019) “Toward theories of partnership praxis: an analysis of interpretive framing in literature on students as partners”. In: teaching and learning, Higher Education Research & Development, 38:2, 280-293, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2018.1530199