Student co-creation (H817 b2a17)

Robin De Rosa developed an open pedagogy approach where she co-creates an American Literature textbook with her students: My open textbook: pedagogy and practice. It seems very successful in letting students take ownership of the textbook they create together with their student, and then become owners of their own learning. In this blog I’d like to build on Joanna and Gorwel’s reflections on De Rosa’s approach (sorry, only accessible for OU students) by exploring why this approach works so well.

Benefits of co-creation at the student-teacher interface

I was struck by the similarities of De Rosa’s co-creation approach with the co-production of knowledge approach in environmental sciences. This approach emerged around the 90’s in response to legitimacy crises in environmental research. The idea is to let policy makers (and other stakeholders) participate one or more stages of the research process from defining the problem to interpreting the results and policy recommendations.

I see a parallel here, because De Rosa lets students participate in creating the content and adding their interpretations and recommendations for other students. The science-policy literature suggests why the open textbook worked so well: people are more willing to act on information if it is relevant, credible and legitimate for them:

“Cash et al. (2003) conclude that these three attributes affect the influence of information on policy decisions. Relevance (termed ‘salience’ by Cash et al.) refers to the extent to which information addresses stakeholder needs at the cognitive level. Credibility refers to the ‘‘scientific adequacy of technical evidence and arguments’’ (p. 8086). Legitimacy refers to the extent to which the process of information production is unbiased and considers divergent stakeholder values, beliefs and interest.”  (Stalpers et al., 2009, pp. 961–962).

This suggests to me the following benefits of the open textbook: Through co-creation, students take ownership of the textbook. It becomes relevant to students because it spoke to their interests and needs. It was credible because De Rosa maintained a firm grip on the final editing. And it was legitimate because students could write the commentaries from their own contexts.

Application to Environmental Sciences

Co-creating a textbook would be an authentic learning experience for environmental science students, because they would be going through very much the same process when, later as practitioners, they engage stakeholders to write policy proposals and environmental impact assessment. This approach would help them learn to negotiate meaning and collaborate.

De Rosa is clear that there are many pitfalls to this approach. Joanna and Gorwel highlight the privacy issues of students working openly online. Any process will invariably exclude some learners. De Rosa points to lack the technology or ‘electracy’ (digital) skills. In an international course, language and cultural barriers would also need to be tackled.

There is much still to be learned about how to facilitate a co-creation process. I think we need to learn from failed co-creation courses. If we only reflect on success stories we risk the same delayed development that I’ve witnessed in the environmental participation research.

Cash, D. W., Clark, W. C., Alcock, F., Dickson, N. M., Eckley, N., Guston, D. H., Jäger, J. and Mitchell, R. B. (2003) ‘Knowledge systems for sustainable development’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 100, pp. 8086–8091.

Stalpers, S. I. P., van Ierland, E. C. and Kroeze, C. (2009) ‘Reconciling model results with user needs to improve climate policy’, Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 12, no. 7, pp. 959–969 [Online]. Available at

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