Co-designing a Students as Partners Charter

A man is standing in front of a row of windows covered in butchers paper and post-it notes. He is using a microphone to address about twenty people seated around tables in front of him.
  • Students as partners is an initiative that is highly beneficial for both students and educators
  • We had an even representation between students and educators during our daylong workshop with over 70 in attendance
  • We shared experiences, attended a panel and listened to 10 teams featuring a staff and a student to inform the future Students as Partners charter
  • This will lead to a truly co-designed framework that has the potential to authentically transform the educational experiences of students at the University of Sydney

The University of Sydney wants to activate their commitment to involve students as citizens in their own lifelong learning journey by developing a Students as Partners Charter. On Melbourne Cup day, 2023, more than seventy students and staff gathered in the Susan Wakil building to begin the co-design work. We represented every Faculty and all had some experience in Students as Partners practice.

Dr Jess Frawley from Educational Innovation facilitated the daylong workshop, but it was Dr Lucy Mercer-Mapstone who drove us to share our experiences, confront our biases and do a lot of imagining of what is possible. Dr Mercer-Mapstone is a leading author in the field of Students as Partners practice and brought enormous energy and vision to the process.

Dr Jess Frawley (left) and Dr Lucy Mercer-Mapstone (right)

We had considerable work to do before we could begin on the bones of the charter. Time, building relationships, and listening are all key to successful co-design endeavours. So we began by listening to Professor Adam Bridgeman, who outlined some of the practical imperatives for developing a Students as Partners charter. Our students, particularly those from groups struggling to achieve equity, are generally not having a great educational experience with us. There is extensive existing literature on how beneficial Students as Partners practices are for both students and educators (for example, Cook-Sather & Felten, 2017; Naylor et al., 2021). It makes sense to include those most affected in developing a better place to learn.

Listening and talking

We then circulated around ten World Café tables, each hosted by a staff and student pair. Each pair had prepared some provocations on a theme which we later realised would be one of the pillars of the charter building exercise. The provocations had us sharing practices, frustrations, ideas and hopes. There were as many students as staff in the room. Hearing the students speak illustrated the potential power of a Students as Partners charter once it is embedded into business as usual.

We then had a panel of students and staff with a range of experiences of Students as Partners practices. One of the panel was involved in the new MySydney scholarship scheme, which shows great promise as it finds its way. There were far more questions from the audience than the panel could address. Excellent planning meant that these conversations could carry over into lunch, held overlooking the scenic pit that has taken the place of the late Bosch lecture theatres.

First steps of the Charter

After lunch, we started by organising our thoughts around the ten pillars that would inform the charter. We wrote up to twenty things we thought were important in making the charter work arranged around those ten pillars. Using the resulting forest of post-it notes and butchers paper, we distilled down everyone’s thoughts into the main themes plus any tensions and outliers that that group had come up with for each pillar. The perils of getting together groups of academics in this work was illustrated by the group working on the Values pillar. They spent most of their time debating what a Value actually was. They did agree, though, that care and empathy would be vital to the success of the charter.

It is now the unenviable job of the team at Educational Innovation to gather up our paper outputs and fashion a first draft of the Charter from these thoughts. This will then go to the full team that attended the workshop for feedback. This will no doubt be the first of many cycles on the road to a truly co-designed framework that has the potential to authentically transform the educational experiences of students at the University of Sydney.

If you have not encountered the concept of Students as Partners practice before, you are not alone. It encompasses a very wide range of endeavours, and is enacted differently at different institutions. One of the benefits of co-designing our own Charter will be that we end up with practices that have come from our students and staff, some of which we already know to work here, some of which have been too ambitious for us to attempt in the small groups we can currently muster. If you’d like to know more about the field, the information page at the website of the University of Queensland is a great place to start.

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