Teaching students to co-create

In order to function as a professional in a VUCA world, students must be capable of developing new behaviours that provide a valuable response to the challenges of tomorrow. The rapid evolutions in the professional field and in society will increasingly be facing our graduates with complex issues that are difficult to predict. Consequently, it is important for us to focus on advancing their capacities for solution-oriented approaches and for harnessing collective intelligence to address such issues.

The fact that co-creation and the capability to work in an inter-disciplinary manner are key competencies for the future is also demonstrated by the ESF focus studies into future competency demands in various sectors in Flanders (Van Hove & Desseyn, 2017): “The capacity to acquire personal, specialist knowledge will only be appreciated if the individual has the concurrent capacity to exchange such knowledge. Solutions are found in co-creation.” A more theoretical substantiation of the skills that the professional field expects of students can be found in this article: Professional expertise, integrative thinking, wisdom, and phronesis (Tynjälä, Heikkinen, & Kallio, 2020).

The attention for learning to co-create in order to be able to innovate and resolve complex issues is also reflected in the PXL University of Applied Sciences and Arts Authentic Education model and in the Odisee University of Applied Sciences views on co-creation:

Both views point out the importance of authentic contexts as a source of opportunities to learn to co-create. However, affording students the opportunity to work in an authentic context will not automatically induce them to (learn to) co-create.

Some important points of attention to encourage students to co-create:

Be alert to opportunities for co-creation that arise in the professional field. 

Co-creation is based on an explicit urgency that is perceived by all the parties involved. Show your professional field partners that you and your students are open to addressing any challenges that they are faced with, show that you are interested, and take the initiative to ask for more information.


Be aware of competencies and attitudes that are important for co-creation and identify the skills that you want your students to develop. 

Examples of competencies are: integrating ideas; entrepreneurship; system thinking; creative thinking; interprofessional/international collaboration. Set down pertinent learning outcomes in concert with the professional field and/or outline the attitudes that you want to encourage. Your efforts will bear even more fruit if you leave some room for variation, and if the teacher, the professional field, and the students can collectively consider which competencies will be developed.


Build up complexity step by step.

Co-creation is an intensive and challenging process. Dropping students unprepared into a situation that requires them to co-create a solution to a complex issue together with a professional field partner will result in frustration rather than in learning gains. Sufficient attention for a gradual approach is, therefore, essential.


Be congruent and request the same from the professional field partners. 

Several cases have demonstrated that co-creation requires a different mindset on the part of teachers: if you wish to teach students to co-create, you must also be prepared yourself to enter into a co-creative process of exploration, in which you act as a fellow participant rather than as an expert. It is important in this respect to clearly explain the steps you are taking in the co-creation process, in order for the students to understand the reasons why.

Embarking on a co-creative process of exploration with students may also require a mind switch on the part of the professional field partners. In many cases, they will need to adopt a more vulnerable attitude than they would in standard forms of collaboration. It is advisable to check with the professional field partners in advance whether they appreciate what co-creation involves and whether they need support in learning how to co-create.


Adopt appropriate forms of evaluation. 

An evaluation with a strong emphasis on scores does not chime with co-creation, because it can curb creativity. Furthermore, a range of parallel forms of evaluation is needed to gain a proper picture of a student’s participation in a co-creation process, which is influenced by many factors.

For that reason, several cases feature a combination of different forms of evaluation, focusing on formative and summative evaluation: self-reflection and self-assessment; coaching meetings that encourage reflection by students; forms of evaluation involving intersubjectivity, such as peer evaluations and presentations before a jury. In many cases, the professional field is also involved in the evaluation. Tanja Vesala-Varttala recommends experimentation with learning journals and portfolios.


Find solutions to practical thresholds.

In several cases, thresholds tend to be situated at the practical level. The participants have suggested several ways to deal with such thresholds. 




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