Co-created learning and teaching through the lens of the development of a University-wide course

Photo credit: pixabay, HarryJBurgess, CC0

In this post, Vanessa Ombura, a third year Civil Engineering student, describes her experience co-creating an interdisciplinary, online University-wide course, with the city of Edinburgh as a site of learning…

Over the summer of 2018, I had the wonderful opportunity of working under the Usher Institute and the Moray House School of Education to design an interdisciplinary, online University-wide course on the city of Edinburgh, together with two fellow student interns. This was under the University’s Employ.ed program, which saw us developing a course prototype delivered in the form of a website, a Learn page, and a final presentation.

One of the reasons I applied to the internship was my interest in interdisciplinary learning. I took two interdisciplinary courses in my first year; ‘Our Changing World’ and the online ‘Sustainability and Social Responsibility’ course. I was therefore keen to play a role in developing another online, interdisciplinary course based on my experiences and interests (for example, as is shared in this video that showcases part of the senate talk on research led-learning in May 2017), in addition to the numerous skills and networks I would gain and contribute to.

Through the internship, I learned to embrace the iterative and tangled process of co-creation and user-based design. The process began by breaking down the briefs by our supervisors: Professor Sarah Cunningham-Burley and Professor Sian Bayne.  We identified the double-diamond process as our design thinking path for the project. This entailed the following steps:

  • Discovery: Obtaining as many ideas from students and staff through interviews, focus groups, and a survey.
  • Defining: Bringing together all the information gathered from the consultations, as well as our supervisors’ and our personal ideas.
  • Developing: Sketching out course themes and topics, learning objectives and outcomes, assessments, support and interaction methods.
  • Delivering: Designing a website, Learn page and final presentation to communicate findings from the consultations, brainstorming sessions and prototypes for the course.

The consultations enabled us to gather ideas around online, interdisciplinary, and community outreach-based learning, as well as using Edinburgh city as a multi-layered subject and site of learning, due to the mix of students and staff we consulted. This underscored how much different people interpret similar ideas in very different ways, and the importance of having spaces to both communicate authentic perspectives as well as facilitate interdisciplinary working.

Another means of co-creation I experienced was peer-to-peer, with my fellow interns. We studied different degree courses and had different ways of understanding and tackling the work we came across. Coupled with our united interests in what we were doing and respect for each other, our differences greatly helped enrich our work and experiences. I had the chance to be in a team where I had as equal a chance to provide useful perspectives, as I had the chance to learn from other people’s perspectives. I tend to want to avoid conflict, but this positive environment helped me develop an appreciation for respectful disagreement and for the depth of understanding and growth that can arise from having people with varying opinions listening to each other and actively seeking constructive resolutions together.

Interacting with my supervisors, diverse staff and students also really impacted my perspective on Higher Education, from challenging me to be more proactive in the engagement with my courses, to interacting with staff and students who increased our knowledge on the vastness of the University and its potential for collaboration between different passionate parties despite understandable existing hurdles.

Through the internship, my fellow interns and I got a chance to get out of our comfort zones and explore learning and teaching from a more integrated perspective. It was a pleasure getting to design a course from a hands-on approach and within a creative space, despite the understandable challenges that come along with running interdisciplinary courses. With time, as more solutions are designed and implemented, I look forward to seeing the University-wide course on the city of Edinburgh come to life.

Vanessa Ombura

Vanessa Ombura is a third year Civil Engineering undergraduate student and a University of Edinburgh MasterCard Foundation scholar. Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, at a time of accelerating technological change being used for social impact, she was inspired to study Civil Engineering due to both its interdisciplinary focus and the large-scale impacts infrastructure has. She has so far also been able to develop her interests in interdisciplinarity and social impact through a summer internship developing a University-wide course on the City of Edinburgh, as well through her membership with the HYPED society.

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