One part of co-creation — letting students create learning content for each other — has always been fascinating to me. The idea is that in order to create meaningful materials for others, they have to develop a good grasp of the material themselves, figure out a sequence, fill any gaps in prior knowledge, etc.. Also the materials that are being produced might feel more relevant to peers because they come from their own peer group, might be more current in the way they are presented, … But how well does content co-creation actually work to support learning?
Yesterday morning, we had a very interesting “teaching breakfast” as part of #CoCreatingGFI: Anja Møgelvang introduced us to Cooperative Learning. Anja is a PhD student at the Center for Excellence in Biology teaching BioCEED, and in addition has 15 years of experience in high school teaching, and 5 in teacher education, so who better suited to talk about this?
Cooperative Learning (CL) is a highly structured method (and not to be confused with the much less structured collaborative learning) – the teacher sets very clear rules around how groups form, how students work together in groups, how tasks are structured and shared. The goal is to create “positive interdependence”, i.e. structuring groups and tasks in such a way that students depend on each other in order to complete the assignments, and on “individual accountability”, i.e. making sure that there is no social loafing.
As we are talking more and more about co-creation and all these cool things, I find it important to remember that sometimes, giving a lecture is still a really good choice. Especially when it happens at the right time, when we have created conditions for students to actually want to be told about stuff.
One way to create “a time for telling” for students with very little prior knowledge is described in Schwartz & Bransford (1998), where students work with contrasting cases to the point that they are really curious about why the cases are different (one example I have heard mentioned in this context is the coke-and-mentos experiment, that only leads to this cool fountain when you use diet coke, not any other type of coke. But why???), and are prepared to listen to someone giving them an explanation. In this case, listening to a lecture is perceived as the fastest way to learn the information that is relevant and interesting in this moment, rather than, in many other cases, listening to a boring monologue that needs to be memorised because someone thinks that it should be.
What a lovely Birthday gift (and seriously impressively quick turn-around times at TOS Oceanography!): Kjersti‘s & my article “Collaborative Sketching to Support Sensemaking: If You Can Sketch It, You Can Explain It” (Daae & Glessmer, 2022) has just come out today!
In it, we describe Kjersti’s experiences with using portable whiteboards that students use to collaboratively draw on in order to make sense out of new concepts or generate hypotheses for outcomes of experiments. It’s a really neat practice, you should check out our article and consider it for your own classes!
Kjersti also wrote a supplemental material to the article with a lot of details how exactly she implements the whiteboards and how she formulates the tasks (find it here).
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
This week, we got super exciting news: Kjersti‘s and my proposal to the active learning call by the Norwegian Directorate for Higher Education and Competence (HK-dir) got funded (perfect timing, since our article on co-creating learning on oceanography was also published this week!)!
Below I’m sharing the translation of an interview that Kjersti gave to the MatNat faculty, but here is a quick overview over what we are planning to do:
Co-creation to promote active learning and communities of practice
The project’s goal is to use “Co-creation to promote active learning and communities of practice” at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Bergen. We work towards this goal in four work packages (called AP (“arbeidspakke”) in my cheesy illustration below):
In many courses at GFI, the seeds of co-creation are in place and being cultivated already. Our AP1 is about supporting and strengthening those efforts by evaluating and iteratively improving them in some specific courses, in order to gain more experience at our institution and create pilot projects that can serve as proof of concept and that we and others might learn from. In AP2, we help ground those efforts by creating supportive boundary conditions at GFI in terms of looking at how the organisation is structured, whether there are places where student voices could be elevated, and whether the administrative framework could better support co-creation at an institutional level. AP3 is then about engaging more and more teachers and students in other courses in co-creation, and supporting this development by creating meeting places and conversations about the topic, and supporting evaluation and discussion of results. Lastly, we are not doing this alone: AP4 brings together expert advice we are receiving as well as our efforts to share what we are learning. We have the support of the iEarth community, and specifically an advisory board with internationally renowned experts on co-creation and leading academic change processes to help us. As our efforts flower and bear fruit, we will produce a range of publications, infographics, “how-to guides” and many other formats to share our learnings with both the scientific community and interested practitioners.
We are super excited to start working on this with our great colleagues at GFI and within iEarth, and most importantly with our students!
If you are curious about our thoughts on how to get started with co-creating in oceanography (or any other subject, really), Kjersti and I just published an article with some really easy and then some a little more advanced examples (Glessmer & Daae, 2021).
Kjersti gave an interview to the MatNat faculty who wrote an article about our project. Here is the translation of the questions she was asked and the answers she gave:
How did you come up with the idea for this project?
The Geophysical Institute (GFI) is a partner in the center of excellence iEarth. Together with Mirjam Glessmer (co-author, and Adjunct Associate Professor in iEarth), I have had the opportunity to participate in many discussions with inspiring researchers in both geosciences and education-related research fields. We quickly got in touch with Catherine Bovill and Torgny Roxå (both Adjunct Associate Professors in iEarth) and the Geoscience Education working group at the University of Oslo. All their expertise in the field of co-creation and changing academic cultures fit perfectly with what we want to achieve at GFI. The application therefore was inspired by, and builds on, positive experiences with testing new ways of teaching in introductory courses at GFI with our colleagues there, and dialogue with colleagues and professionals from iEarth.
What is the major weakness of today’s teaching in your subject, and what do you want to improve?
Teaching at all levels, including at universities, is changing. More and more people are moving away from lectures and instead trying out new research-based teaching methods where the focus is on active involvement of students. Through instructional methods that activate the students, the students practice skills such as discussion, analysis, problem solving, sketching, etc. Research shows that students learn more and better from active forms of teaching, even if they do not necessarily experience it that way, or prefer this form of teaching. Teachers therefore appreciate support and guidance in making this transition to more and more active forms of teaching and learning in dialogue with students and leadership.
What does your focus on co-creation and community of practice mean?
Focusing on co-creation and community of practice is largely about changing the relationship between teachers and students, in order to provide students with the best environment for learning during their studies. The students are our most important “customers”. It is important that they are included in everything that happens at the department and university, that they are seen and heard, and that they are given the opportunity to influence their own studies and thus lives.
“Co-creation” encompasses a wide range of student activity and engagement, from individual activities during a single teaching session to larger activities that take place over long time, where students take on responsibility for shaping their learning together with their teachers. In co-creation activities, all participants have the right to contribute equally, but not necessarily in the same way. An increased degree of co-creation can help make teaching more inclusive and increase student engagement; at the same time, students learn more, they experience learning as more relevant, and they develop as democratic citizens. If you are curious about specific examples of co-creation activities, you can take a look at the article Mirjam Glessmer and I recently published in the magazine Oceanography (https://tos.org/oceanography/article/co-creating-learning-in-oceanography).
“Communities of practice” are groups of people who share common interests, where the participants know each other, collaborate on common goals, and develop through the exchange of knowledge. This means that teachers and students encourage and support each other in various forms of development.
So ultimately both co-creation and communities of practice are tools towards more dialogue: between students and teachers as well as within both groups individually.
What kind of responses have you received to the idea in the professional environment and from the authorities?
The very process of writing the application has affected how we think about teaching. We have had many good discussions about teaching and learning with teachers, students, and administration at both GFI and in the new network of colleagues we have found through iEarth. This has been a great help in the development of the idea and the project application, and we have received a lot of support and encouragement to move forward with our plans.
What is the common denominator for the work packages?
The common denominator for the work packages is a change in relations between students, teachers, and administration. Both students and teachers must want change and learn about how change can happen in a good way for all parties. In addition, we must put boundary conditions in place that make the changes possible at the departmental level.
What is culture created to wanting to change teaching?
Everyone involved with a university has their own opinion on how teaching at the university is or should be. This perception often reflects a traditional understanding of the role of teachers and students, where teachers must lecture on subject matter and students must acquire the subject matter and be measured by how well they can reproduce it. As long as these expectations persist, it is difficult to change the relationships between teachers and students. We want to influence teachers and students to change their focus so that teachers learn more with the students, and the students inspire the teachers. This is already happening to some extent, and through this project we want to support and strengthen this change process.
When the project is finished, what is the most important experience you will have gained?
Through a common and consistent focus on co-creation and community of practice, GFI will provide students with the best prerequisites for learning during their studies. We want to be an educational institution that helps students develop on both an academic and a personal level. This is achieved through a better dialogue between students, teachers, and administration and through a continuous development of the teaching culture at the department. When the project is completed, we hope to see a cultural change towards “more students” that is founded in the department and that continues to grow beyond the project. We also want to discuss our experiences with the higher education community and hope to inspire more people to get involved in co-creation and community of practice with the goal of improving education.
In this article, we discuss ways in which to share responsibility for learning between teachers and students on a continuum from “just” actively engaging students towards fully shared responsibility, i.e. “co-creation” or “Students as Partners”. We give 13 different examples from our own praxis, starting from very easy things like how to use multiple-choice questions to promote discussion and critical thinking or giving students the choice of several examples from which they can learn the same content, and gradually work our way up to more and more interesting methods, like for example negotiating rubrics of learning outcomes with students.
The article itself is accompanied by a website where we elaborate on our 13 different examples. Check it out, and let us know what you think! And if you have any experiences with co-creating learning that you would like to share, we would love to hear from you and add a guest post on your experiences to our collection! :)
Glessmer, M.S., and K. Daae. 2021. Co-creating learning in oceanography. Oceanography 34(4), https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2021.405.