An introduction to student and staff co-creation of the curriculum

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In this post, PhD student Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka explains what the term ‘co-creation of the curriculum’ means, and how it can be an effective student partnership approach…

Co-creation of the curriculum is one form of engagement in undergraduate learning and teaching in which students and staff work in partnership so that each has a voice and a stake in curriculum development. Although co-creation can occur in various contexts with different participants – such as academic and professional services staff co-creating learning and teaching together or with external partners from the community or local businesses – the growing literature surrounding co-creation of the curriculum often emphasises the importance of student partners who contribute to learning and teaching.

Cook-Sather, Bovill and Felten (2014, pp. 6-7) provide a valuable definition of student/staff partnerships in co-creating the curriculum as “a collaborative, reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, although not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualisation, decision making, implementation, investigation, or analysis”. This definition helps show the many different ways that students can work in partnership with staff to improve learning and teaching, but Cook-Sather, Bovill and Felten also emphasise that all partnerships must be built on strong working relationships that foster respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility.

A helpful way to think about different forms of student and staff engagement – including co-creation of the curriculum – is by seeing them in a spectrum of engagement. For example, Bovill and Bulley (2011, p. 180) have created a “ladder of student participation in curriculum design” that shows how student engagement in the curriculum can range from no engagement within a dictated, staff-controlled curriculum to significant levels of student engagement with student control of the curriculum (see below).

ladder of participation
Figure: Ladder of participation in curriculum design (Bovill & Bulley, 2011 p.180)

Co-creation of the curriculum is often conceptualised in the middle, such as in the rungs of ‘student control of some areas of choice’ and especially ‘partnership – a negotiated curriculum’ with significant student engagement in curriculum design through staff and students negotiating and sharing control over some areas of the curriculum. This aspect of negotiation is an important one, showing that staff still take ownership over quality assurance and other aspects of the curriculum, but they can create windows of opportunity for students to share responsibility over decisions that affect how or what they are learning. These opportunities not only benefit students but also staff since there is reciprocity and respect for innovative ideas that benefit both as they learn from each other.

There are many different projects with students and staff co-creating the curriculum at universities around the world, although these initiatives are still relatively rare. Indeed, often it can be difficult to delineate exactly what is co-creation of the curriculum and where these projects are taking place. However, I would consider several good examples from the Teaching Matters blog to be co-created, such as the Conservation Science course, Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World course, many examples of experiential education and place-based education, and creative learning and teaching with Lego.

While these examples do come with the challenges and risks of embracing spontaneity and sharing ownership (Bovill, Cook-Sather, Felten, Millard, & Moore-Cherry, 2016; Mercer-Mapstone et al., 2017), there are also many benefits! For example, students’ and staff members’ increased enjoyment of learning and teaching alongside their professional development are particularly notable (Bovill & Bulley, 2011; Lubicz-Nawrocka, 2018; Lubicz-Nawrocka & Simoni, 2018; Matthews, 2016; Mercer-Mapstone et al., 2017). Many aspects of co-creation of the curriculum can also advance characteristics that students perceive as excellence in teaching and student support, as we found in previous research drawing on the Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s Teaching Awards data (Lubicz-Nawrocka & Bunting, 2018).

I don’t think it is a coincidence that many examples of co-creation of the curriculum that reflect on students’ and staff members’ shared respect, reciprocity, and responsibility are in the list of top 10 blog posts on Teaching Matters in 2018, or are nominated for Teaching Awards, since they are inspiring examples that demonstrate the many benefits of working in partnership with students. As we move into 2019, it is valuable to reflect on how, within our varied work, we can embrace partnerships such as co-creation of the curriculum to create opportunities for students to share their expertise, experience, and insights with us to improve learning and teaching.

For further reading about co-creation of the curriculum and students as partners in learning and teaching, I would recommend the following journals:


Bovill, C., & Bulley, C. J. (2011). A model of active student participation in curriculum design: Exploring desirability and possibility. In C. E. Rust (Ed.), Improving Student Learning (ISL) 18: Global theories and local practices: Institutional, disciplinary and cultural variations (pp. 176 – 188). Oxford, UK: Oxford Brookes University: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.

Bovill, C., Cook-Sather, A., Felten, P., Millard, L., & Moore-Cherry, N. (2016). Addressing potential challenges in co-creating learning and teaching: Overcoming resistance, navigating institutional norms and ensuring inclusivity in student–staff partnerships. Higher Education, 71(2), 195-208. doi:10.1007/s10734-015-9896-4

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lubicz-Nawrocka, T. (2018). Students as partners in learning and teaching: The benefits of co-creation of the curriculum. International Journal for Students as Partners, 2(1). doi:10.15173/ijsap.v2i1.3207

Lubicz-Nawrocka, T., & Bunting, K. (2018). Student perceptions of teaching excellence: An analysis of student-led teaching award nomination data. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-18. doi:10.1080/13562517.2018.1461620

Lubicz-Nawrocka, T., & Simoni, H. (2018). Co-researching co-creation of the curriculum: Reflections on arts-based methods in education and connections to healthcare co-production. International Journal for Students as Partners, 2(2). doi:10.15173/ijsap.v2i2.3427

Matthews, K. (2016). Students as partners as the future of student engagement. Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal, 1(1).

Mercer-Mapstone, L., Dvorakova, S. L., Matthews, K. E., Abbot, S., Cheng, B., Felten, P., . . . Swaim, K. (2017). A systematic literature review of students as partners in higher education. International Journal for Students as Partners, 1(1).

Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka

Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka is a PhD Candidate at the Moray House School of Education. Her research focuses on the ways in which student engagement and co-creation of the curriculum advance students’ and staff members’ aims in higher education. Tanya also works at Moray House as the Partnerships and Professional Learning Coordinator.

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