CEL Book Review "The inclusion of multiple voices and especially the offering of 'critical questions' invite readers to think holistically about their teaching practice and to engage in conversation with one another." -Eric Hall and Kristina Meinking

In this accessible and informative new text, Co-creating Learning and Teaching: Towards relational pedagogy in higher education, Catherine Bovill offers readers a useful framework and scholarly context for co-creation in learning and teaching (CCLT). Faculty and staff who are curious about how this pedagogy is informed by ongoing developments in, for example, critical pedagogy and students-as-partners will find a thoughtful positioning of CCLT in conversation with these ideas. Beyond providing a theoretical discussion, however, Bovill returns to the practical application and implementation of CCLT across the book and in each chapter.

In chapter 1, the introduction, Bovill sets the stage by outlining the chapter contents and providing definitions of key terms and pedagogies. Importantly, she outlines the key connections between relational pedagogy and co-creating learning and teaching. Couched in a discussion of broader trends (e.g., “massification”, 1) in higher education, Bovill identifies two main arguments: first, one that “attempts to draw together” ideas about relational pedagogy and co-creation of learning and teaching and second, one that identifies the classroom as “a key site of collegial and inclusive possibility” (2). 

Chapter two’s title, “Relationships in Learning and Teaching” does much to craft the tone for the work. Throughout this chapter, we learn about the importance of positive relationships for student learning outcomes. Examples drawn from both key literature on the topic (e.g., Felten and Lambert 2020; Quinlan 2016) and quotations buttress these arguments, as does the elucidation of how high impact practices (Kuh, O’Donnell, and Schneider 2017) are closely connected to relational pedagogy. It’s worth noting that the positive relationships discussed include both those characterized as vertical, e.g., in the conventional sense of faculty/staff-student and as horizontal, e.g., in students’ engagement and relationships with their peers (17-18).

Co-creation relies on relationships, and with this established Bovill goes on to identify and discuss a broad range of activities and practices that have come to be associated with CCLT and relational pedagogy. For readers both new to and familiar with terms such as student engagement, active learning, student partnership, and CCLT, Chapter 3, “Co-creating Learning and Teaching,” offers a nuanced and clarifying overview of the elements common and disparate to each. Two figures for illustrating these relationships, a ladder and a continuum, are discussed at greater length below and remain two of the most helpful pieces of the book. Challenges to the co-creation model that have emerged from scholarship (Bovill et al. 2016; Bovill 2020; Mercer-Mapstone and Bovill 2019; Marquis et al. 2018; Cook-Sather 2018; Cook-Sather et al. 2019) are also considered, namely: (1) “overcoming resistance,” (2) “navigating institutional structures, practices, and norms,” (3) “establishing an inclusive co-creation approach,” and (4) “constraints that teachers experience from working in subjects where there is a professional body” (37-40).

Chapter 4, “Towards Relational Pedagogy in Higher Education,” continues this emphasis on the importance of relationships. (One might even see chapters two and four as nested bookends for the CCLT theory explored in chapter 3.) Here positive relationships and co-creating are seen as “mutually reinforcing” (55), as the former supports the development of and is likewise enhanced by the latter. Four brief case studies are incorporated as examples of what an instructor might do or how they might think about introducing elements of co-creation to their own course contexts. Bovill’s contribution to the scholarly literature here can be seen in her attentiveness to whole-class co-creation in learning and teaching, the emphasis on relational approaches to teaching, and the reminder of the abundant opportunities for student engagement with teachers both inside and outside of class (52).

The clearest move from theory to practice appears in chapter 5, “What Does This Mean for my Teaching Practice?”, in which Bovill poses a series of potential questions that readers might have and offers evidence-based responses. Awareness of the possible range of readership permeates this chapter, as a variety of contexts and scenarios are envisioned. Although brief case studies and reflections from practitioners appear throughout the book, this chapter’s shift from the theoretical or abstract to the nitty-gritty of how one might actually employ CCLT in a variety of classroom settings serves as a generative idea space and encourages readers to consider small steps they might take to introduce change. Additionally, the “Critical questions for practice” box (63-64), while a feature of each chapter, here particularly lends itself for use in reflective faculty-staff discourse.

A swift survey of content unpacked and take-aways constitutes chapter 6, “Conclusions.” In this chapter, brief sections suggest some implications for students, teachers, academic developers, and senior managers. Bovill then wraps up with some final thoughts to highlight once again the importance of relationships to support CCLT.

Helpfully, each chapter (except Conclusions) includes a concise chapter summary, a series of critical questions for discussion, and some bibliographic suggestions. Case studies and quotations culled from interviews with staff, faculty, and students also populate each chapter, set off from the main text by font, background highlight, or box outline. In what follows, we focus on three significant ideas that emerged for us from the book: framing partnership, the importance of relationships, and the attention to practical application of the pedagogy. We also discuss how we used the book and its principles in our classroom in spring 2021.

Framing Partnership – Negotiation of Choice and Control

In chapter 3, titled “Co-creating Learning and Teaching”, Bovill discusses the nuances of levels of participation by students as it relates to partnership. For the novice reader on co-creation and partnership, this chapter should help better explain these ideas, not only how they play into their current teaching and learning, but also help frame ways to increase student participation to get closer toward partnership.

To help frame this conversation, Bovill provides an excellent figure (3.2) and description about some common terminology used around student participation. In this figure, she suggests a continuum that goes from student engagement to partnership with active learning and co-creation being intermediary steps. Along the bottom of the figure, an arrow shows that for faculty to move along this continuum to co-creation and partnership, the levels of student participation, negotiation, and equality need to be increased. In this continuum, Bovill states that there is overlap between these terms. For example, she states, “Co-creation and partnership share many values and characteristics, and both envisage learning and teaching as things done with students not done to students (Bovill et al. 2011; Shor 1992)” (31). She goes on to list some of the common values and characteristics that both co-creation and partnership emphasize: shared goals, shared decision-making, negotiation, valuing student perspectives, shared respect, shared responsibility, and reciprocity. The main difference between co-creation and partnership is that the level of equality between student and faculty increases as it moves more toward partnership.

One useful tool is the Ladder of student participation in curriculum design, which Bovill and Bulley (2011) based on Arnstein’s (1969) model of citizen participation (Figure 3.1). This ladder is a helpful visual for readers to see the varying levels of student participation with more active participation leading to greater degrees of partnership and co-creation. This ladder has 8 “rungs” to climb (please note we have added numbers to the rungs to make it easier to identify specific rungs). At the bottom is “dictated curriculum – no interaction” and at the top of the ladder is “students in control.” This ladder is helpful for readers to think about the level of student participation that is currently given in various assignments and the classroom as a whole. For faculty interested in increasing student participation in the curriculum, it is a good visual to promote thinking about where to increase student control of the course. If one wishes to engage with students in co-creation and partnership, for example, rung 7 (Partnership – a negotiated curriculum) is identified as the point where there is equality between faculty and students. However, it is at rung 8 (students in control) that the faculty member may give up control to the students. Another observation is that there is a key change in words from rungs 4 to 5 in that it moves away from choice to control. It seems that this could be a fundamental pivot point and one where the classroom may become much more democratic.

The ladder of student participation in curriculum design

8Students in ControlStudents control decision-making and have substantial influence

Students increasingly active in participation

7Partnership – a negotiated curriculum
6Students’ control of some areas of choiceStudents have some choice and influence
5Students’ control of prescribed areas
4Wide choice from prescribed choicesTutors control decision-making informed by student feedback
3Limited choice from prescribed choices
2Participation claimed, tutor in controlTutors control decision-making
1Dictated curriculum – no interaction

(Adapted from Bovill and Bulley 2011)

Importance of Relationships – Foundation of Success and Co-Creation

A common and important theme that is highlighted in chapters 2 and 4 but is a foundation of the text is the importance of relational pedagogy – relationships in learning and teaching. This is a concept that has received much attention in school education (K-12), but its place in higher education has only recently been highlighted despite the known benefits for students (e.g., better academic performance, greater autonomy and confidence) and the idea that relationships can help create a strong foundation for good teaching and success (also see Felten and Lambert 2020). In addition, the cultivation of these relationships can be helpful for students to have a sense of belonging to their institution and can be related to positive emotions and mental health, which should allow students to perform successfully at the institution (Felten and Lambert 2020; Quinlan 2016; Thomas 2012).

In chapter 4, Bovill outlines the importance of relationships in co-creation and gives suggestions on how to establish a relationship-building environment. Bovill writes, “The first five minutes is an amazing opportunity to set the tone for the kind of classroom you wish to build” (44). She goes on to say, “Trust and respect are fundamental underpinnings for co-creation (as well as outcomes of co-creation), but they need to be established from the outset and given time to develop fully” (44). In this section, Bovill also discusses the importance of dialogue and active listening to help build relationships. She points out that “responsive teaching involves a teacher adapting what and how they are teaching in direct response to listening to students’ ideas, interests and needs” (47). This listening can help create a dialogue and possible negotiation between the faculty and students.

While relationships are helpful for co-creation to occur, co-creation of learning and teaching also helps to build relationships between students and faculty. Bovill points out that education is a shared endeavor in which faculty and students can both learn from each other. In co-creation there needs to be a sharing of power for partnership to occur.

Practice and the Practical – Co-creating in One’s Own Context

As previously noted, Bovill has her staff or faculty reader forefront in her mind; the practitioner-focused quality of the work becomes abundantly clear in chapter 5. Drawing on decades of influential scholarship of teaching and learning, she begins at the beginning: the first day of class. By setting the stage for positive engagement and a relationship-based classroom environment, instructors can maximize opportunities for co-creation. A series of questions organize this chapter, each one a question that readers were likely to have had while working through the text or that might arise as they contemplate how they can implement its ideas. Bovill’s attention to a variety of teaching contexts — face-to-face and online, small and large class sizes, engaged and seemingly disengaged students — underscore a sensitivity to the range of readership as well as the challenges one might encounter when setting out to work with co-creation.

Questions that invite readers to consider their individual and institutional teaching contexts also highlight the practicality and realism that pervade the book: not only are students and faculty/staff in relationship with one another, but so too are faculty/staff in relationship with colleagues. Faculty/staff who might be sole pioneers of a co-creation pedagogy in their unit or department will find useful strategies for talking with colleagues about what’s happening in their classrooms. Indeed, this chapter and the Critical Questions set therein would offer fruitful stepping-off points for a program or department interested in exploring co-creation. Like other recent volumes (e.g., Cook-Sather, Bovill, and Felten 2014; Fisher et al. 2018; Wilson et al. 2020), Bovill’s emphasizes the practice of the pedagogy explored, and the quick, direct way in which readers are encouraged to put theory to practice is a significant strength of the book.

Both individually and as co-teachers, we have drawn on principles from critical pedagogy, the democratic classroom, and co-creation (Meinking and Hall 2020). As we prepared for a co-taught Spring 2021 course, we read and worked intentionally with Bovill’s book to frame our approach as one rooted in co-creation in learning and teaching. Bovill’s work is accessible enough for students to read (ours read chapters 1 and 3) and, in our experience, offered them useful terminology for articulating what they saw happening in the course over the semester. The above-mentioned ladder, for example, helped them to contextualize the experience of this class both in different moments of the term as well as in relation to other classes they had taken. We expect to continue to use this text as a primer and reference both for ourselves and our students in the future.

In summary, Bovill’s work is thoughtfully rooted in and incorporates previous scholarship in areas connected to co-creating in learning and teaching and serves both as an excellent primer for those newer to these ideas as well as those looking to clarify their own understanding and practice of pedagogies closely related to CCLT. The inclusion of multiple voices (student, staff, and faculty) and especially the offering of “critical questions” invites readers to think holistically about their teaching practice and to engage in conversation with one another. We could see the book being used both in pieces (i.e. stand-alone chapters) or as a whole, and particularly as part of faculty development opportunities. Finally, the persistent theme of inclusivity offers an important reminder of some of the book’s deepest and most significant contributions to teaching and learning.


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Wilson, Sean, Julie Phillips, Helen Meskhidze, Claire Lockard, Peter Felten, Susannah McGowan, and Stephen Bloch-Schulman. 2020. “From Novelty to Norm: Moving Beyond Exclusion and the Double Justification Problem in Student-Faculty Partnerships.” In He Power of Partnership: Students, Staff, and Faculty Revolutionizing Higher Education, edited by Lucy Mercer-Mapstone and Sophia Abbott, 43–60. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/books/power-of-partnership/.

Eric Hall is a professor of exercise science at Elon University, served as the inaugural CEL Senior Scholar, and co-leads the 2020-2023 research seminar on (Re)Examining Conditions for Meaningful Learning Experiences. Kristina Meinking is an associate professor of classical languages at Elon University.

How to Cite this Post

Hall, Eric, and Kristina Meinking. (2021, June 7). “Bringing Co-Creation in Learning and Teaching to Your Classroom” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/bringing-co-creation-in-learning-and-teaching-to-your-classroom.