Co-creation might seem novel but it has always been at the heart of knowledge

Female art students in an art studio drawing with the image of maths equations in the background
Image Credit: Graphic Design by Joe Arton, Originals from University of Edinburgh Collections.

In this post, Medhat Khattar, Deputy Programme Director MSc Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases Biomedical Sciences, describes how knowledge is generated through our participation in the practice of co-creation and offers guidance on how to effectively manage common sites of co-creation such as online discussion boards and written assignments…

Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka provides an excellent technical description of what co-creation means in her Teaching Matters Blog piece An introduction to student and staff co-creation of the curriculum. But beyond the technicalities, there lies a range of attitudes towards learners; attitudes whose realisation reflects the belief that learning and knowledge are always co-created.

Imagine reading a text. Is your knowledge of it unique to your own reading? Alternatively, is the text in and of itself so laden with its author’s obvious intention that no two individuals would disagree about its meaning? The fact is that all knowledge, even our knowledge of the inanimate world and that of ourselves, is a co-creation of a kind, because we never come to observe or understand anything at all without bringing to it our socially conditioned assumptions and presuppositions.

In most of the courses offered in MSc Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, students actively participate in the generation of the online learning space, and in deciding the title of their written assignment. The role of the course organiser is to conceive the assignment specifications, whether for the online or the written assignment, after careful thought and reflection in order to ensure that the assignment remit does work as intended to facilitate student enquiry and learning.

The online discussion board provides the space for the students to initiate their own thread on a topic of interest within the scope of the discussion board theme. Thereafter, students are expected to engage with other threads in a growth-promoting fashion. Many threads become an ongoing conversation, supported by scientific literature. It would be fair to say that when given the opportunity students take to this collaborative, or co-creative if you prefer, approach to learning with enthusiasm and anticipation. Giving students such latitude in an interactive learning environment is not the easiest of approaches whether for students or markers. Students need to balance their frequency of engagement (quantity), and the nature of their engagement (quality). And when it comes to marking a discussion board, one needs to have academic judgment to hand and a dose of empathy towards students who are putting themselves out there in face of potential judgment (discussion board is not anonymous). Marking a discussion board is not as simple as marking an essay.

In the written assignments, and especially with essays or research proposals, CMID students are often invited to submit up to three titles of interest to them to the course organiser. In turn, the course organiser would go through the titles, amending some at times, or removing others. Titles that are too broad too narrow or on the margins of the assignment’s theme are likely to go. The course organiser would be mindful to admit at least one title – with some editing if necessary- from each student, in an act of support and encouragement. It is rare that a student would be unable to propose at least one title that would be fit for purpose. The final list of titles is made available to the students and they are left free to choose any of the titles to work on, even if it is not one they have proposed themselves. The final list is, therefore, a truly collective effort. Inviting students to take the lead and responsibility in their learning facilitated and moderated by the tutor is perhaps as good as co-creation gets.

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Medhat Khattar

Dr Medhat Khattar is Deputy Programme Director of the MSc Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (CMID). When not running CMID courses , dealing with tutees, and looking after the programme, Medhat explores what philosophy has to offer. He holds two PhDs gained twenty nine years apart. The first in Microbiology (Loughborough), and the more recent one in Political Philosophy (York).

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