Students as Partners in Curriculum Design

 Jill Webb and Caroline Chaffer, The York Management School


The workshop provides an opportunity for participants to consider the ways in which they might work with students as partners in curriculum design and to share experiences of working collaboratively with students in this way. A case study from the Management School will be used to illustrate some of the challenges involved in such an approach and to stimulate discussion around how participants might overcome these challenges in their own area of expertise. Students in the Management School have been engaged in the re-design of a final year core module. The purpose of the re-design was to identify how student engagement on the module could be improved to facilitate the development of critical evaluation skills and students’ ability to demonstrate these skills in an extended piece of writing. Students studying the module and 2nd year students who will take the module in the future were engaged in a series of focus groups considering:-

  • The overall curriculum content, potential benefits and costs of allowing students to tailor their own curriculum to their interests and aspirations
  • How teaching sessions and students’ own work might be designed to facilitate engagement
  • How student outcomes might be improved particularly with respect to critical analysis and reflection and student writing
  • How assessment should be designed to maximise student engagement throughout the term

The views of current students will influence the extent to which a partnership model will be introduced in 2017-18, the practical challenges of implementing such an approach and potential ways of addressing these challenges.

Chair’s Summary

In recent years, the idea of students as partners in the conception, design and execution of their own curriculum has emerged as a key area demanding our attention as practitioners. The term increasingly appears both in the developing literature of higher education, and in the policies and agendas of senior figures in the sector; perhaps because of this twin status, there is rather less agreement on precisely what such partnerships ought to look like. There are also practical issues: while there has been a good deal of developing interest in students as active participants in and co-creators of their own learning (Bovill, Cook-Sather and Felten 2011; McArthur 2011; Cook-Sather 2014; Healey, Flint and Harrington 2014; Flint 2016; Bovill and Felten 2016), the mechanisms for doing this in a way that is effective and productive remain something of a work in progress.

Into this exciting but murky realm step expert pioneers Jill Webb and Caroline Chaffer, senior lecturers in the York Management School. In a blistering workshop, Jill and Caroline did a fantastic job of getting across the rich research background before taking us through their own recent work on a third year critical skills module, where the structure and learning content is being co-designed with students. After a short series of lectures, students select areas of the syllabus that interest them, attending their own choice of sessions and building specialist knowledge scaffolded by focused one-to-one support. From identifying their own areas of study, through to students designing and justifying their own assessment brief, this was provocative and stimulating material. Importantly, what separates this work from previous examples in the area is that the module is core to the programme, exposing all students to a new, invigorating way of conceptualising their learning.

There are, of course, challenges in this style of teaching (not least the idea of giving up authority) but there are also many rewards to be had. As Jill and Caroline set out, co-constructing knowledge can be challenging, stretching, and immensely engaging for students. It can also be all of those things for staff.

Further Workshop Materials

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