As part of a recent UTS Learning Design Meetup, Associate Professor Elaine Huber shared her experience using the co-design process in developing educational innovations for the School of Business at the University of Sydney over the last three years.

Situated within a university-funded, strategic initiative called ‘Connected Learning at Scale’, the aim of Elaine’s work in the School of Business is to enhance students’ learning experience by connecting them with their peers in large cohorts, their teachers, the local and global society, the university community, and other disciplines in order to develop their abilities to solve problems at local and global levels. The CLaS project is part of a wider ecology of initiatives for transforming education and the student experience, in Associate Professor Peter Bryant’s Education portfolio.

Co-designing with a large team 

Elaine’s team for the project included a wide range of expertise, from learning technologists, researchers, educational developers and learning designers, to digital media producers, unit coordinators, industry practitioners and students. 

Figure 1: Business co-design (image provided by Elaine Huber)

The project team worked closely with unit coordinators, industry partners and students in a co-design process including the following components:

  • Brainstorming sessions including unit coordinators, current students and alumni, to understand current behaviours and activities targeted for innovation.
  • Scoping – using data collected from brainstorming to scope specific improvements in a subject.
  • Evaluation – specifying criteria to measure the success of new changes. 
  • Design-based research (DBR) methodology – a systematic approach with flexible design revisions (Barab and Squire, 2004), including exploring, planning and designing, building and testing, and implementation and reflection. The iterative nature of DBR also allows refinement of a solution in real-life settings, so the team could use data collected through the three cycles to improve the proposed design. 
  • Reporting – with the project running over an extended period of time and involving a broad set of stakeholders, reporting points were used to track progress throughout. 

Tips on co-design for learning designers

Elaine shared some wonderful advice on improving subjects using a co-design approach, which will be of particular interest to learning designers working as part of a large team:

  • Improving learning experience in a subject can require a significant mindset shift. Learning designers need to be mindful and empathetic while those involved in the project adapt to new approaches. 
  • Building trust and relationships takes time and patience, especially in large projects involving many stakeholders.
  • Each subject brings with it a unique context. Data from university systems, student surveys and focus group sessions can help learning designers develop clearer understanding. 
  • Innovation can be thought of as a continuum, with individuals focussed on different stages or aspects. Models such as SAMR can help in identifying and clarifying innovation objectives.
  • Different incentives can support buy-in to the process of innovation, including sharing evidence and demonstrated impact such as improvements in student satisfaction. Improving the learning experience for students can be a great motivator, as can peer influence and sharing good practice.

Co-designing with trust, balance and remote collaboration 

Reflecting on the challenges of working together in this project, Elaine’s team noted that establishing trust, balancing the needs of stakeholders, and collaborating remotely can all add to the complexity of a shared project such as this one.

Shifting mindsets is especially challenging for roles where an individual educator has tended to ‘own’ the whole process for innovation. With a co-design approach, this role necessarily opens up to other ideas that directly influence how a subject is being developed and eventually delivered to students.

To explore more on co-design, take a look at some alternative perspectives in what does co-design really mean?, and Emily Oquist’s reflections on building empathy in co-design, both presented at the recent Learning Design Meetup. To continue the conversation and join future Learning Design Meetups, join the group on Teams or contact Mais Fatayer for more information.

References and further reading on co-design

Co-design is defined by Roschelle et al., (2006) as a facilitated, collaborative process in which teachers, researchers, and developers work together in defined roles to design an educational innovation. As part of this process, prototypes are developed and evaluated based on their effectiveness in addressing an educational need. The definition has been adopted by further studies exploring teacher-research partnerships for professional learning, designing technology-enhanced learning, and supporting strategic pedagogical change

Barab, S., & Squire, K. (2004). Introduction: Design-Based Research: Putting a Stake in the Ground. The Journal of the learning sciences, 13(1), 1-14. 

Roschelle, J., Penuel, W., & Shechtman, N. (2006). Co-design of innovations with teachers: Definition and dynamics. proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Learning Sciences, 606-612. 

Feature image by Zdeněk Macháček 

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