Increasing Student Reading and Discussion in Higher Ed: A Co-creation Based Approach


The difficulties in student engagement with instructor-directed reading, both in terms of the amount of reading undertaken and the participation and benefit from in-class discussion around readings, can be a prevalent problem.

In this article, we argue an approach towards increasing reading and engagement that is very much connected to the emerging higher education paradigm and practice of staff-student co-creation. Bovill et al., (2016) depict co-creation in learning and teaching as an activity involving staff and student collaborative work to create parts of the curriculum and pedagogical approaches.

Problem scenario

A fairly typical and traditional scenario of degree programs is one where instructors select specific topic readings for students to undertake between classes (e.g. from lecture to the following seminar class), with instructor direction of the subsequent seminar including design of questions for students to address, perhaps in a roundtable discussion. A common situation that can occur is student reading falls short of the desired level, such that student engagement and capacity to participate in seminar discussions is limited. The educational concerns here are that active learning is very limited, discussion activity in regard to peer learning is low, and often the practical outcome is that in the seminar class the instructor is merely delivering content as though it were another, albeit smaller group, lecture.

Suggested approach to remedy

A co-creation oriented approach to remedy is suggested here based on the instructor inviting students to select readings for seminars subject to parameters, with regard to topic (e.g. qualitative studies in crime or UK business effects of Brexit) and with regard to level/type of publication (e.g. academic journal article or specific industry press).

The practical specifics can be as follows: each week an individual student selects readings for the group; that individual student leads the subsequent roundtable discussion of the group based on these readings, including setting the questions. Additionally, the role of lead student rotates around the seminar group throughout the semester/module. A further important point, in terms of instructor-student geography, is that for each student-led session, the instructor sits within the roundtable discussion group rather than being a visible distinct leader.

In terms of informal feedback on this method’s deployment to date, themes that are coming through include the following:

  • Students, when in the lead role, have been enjoying the ability to select and share readings in which they personally take an interest
  • Students enjoy giving feedback to peers, alongside an increased sense of group participation
  • Students have reported an increased sense of motivation and engagement including note-taking
  • Increased rates of reading have been evident, and students commented that the process could be extended to other modules

Pedagogic context including co-creation

The increased student role in directing readings and discussions can be seen as student co-creation in the curriculum in the depiction of Bovill and Woolmer (2019), i.e. student decisions having a bearing for the current module/course and thus their own studies.

In terms of levels of co-creation, the above approach can be linked to different parts of the co-creation ladder as set out by Bovill and Bulley (2011). For example, choice of readings within parameters—wide choice from prescribed choices—and some design role and delivery on roundtable and questions—students’ control of prescribed areas. The latter aspect also fits with the pedagogic co-design student role classification as depicted in Bovill et al. (2016) related to Healey et al. (2014).

With regard to wider pedagogy, the increased scope for active learning and peer level discussion and explanation fits with the conditions for higher levels of student content retention and understanding.

It is noted that applying the above approach is not without challenges:

  • It can be time intensive for instructors—with a need to follow and undertake planning based on a reading list set by students
  • Uncertainty of whether students will engage; there may be variance on engagement from group to group
  • Notions of time/effort intensity for instructors and uncertainty on all sides are recognized challenges associated with co-creation, including in the evidence-based literature (e.g. Lubicz-Nawrocka, 2017)


Staff-student co-creation is an emerging paradigm in undergraduate education. There is certainly scope for starting small and finding which aspects and classifications are fit for purpose and beneficial in one’s own classes. It is also advocated here that individual steps taken by instructors and cohorts have contextual support in terms of faculty or institution wide communication of possibilities and expectations, perhaps with regard to levels of study, so that uncertainty and anxiety, on the parts of academics and students, are minimized when going forward with co-creation.

Raychel Robinson has an MA degree from the University of Lincoln, UK. She is the programme leader for the criminology degree at University Centre, Grimsby: The TEC Partnership, UK. She is currently also studying for a PhD in sociology and social policy with the University of Leeds. Working title: Girls and Vocational Education and Training: Exploring ‘choice’ and experiences of gender atypical pathways.

Russ Woodward has degrees in economics from the UK Universities of Cambridge and Exeter. Since 2002, he has taught the business degrees at University Centre, Grimsby: The TEC Partnership, UK. He has written a number of papers on teaching business in higher education for UK, USA, and Australian periodicals.


Bovill, Catherine and Bulley, Catherine. A Model of Active Student Participation in Curriculum Design: Exploring Desirability and Possibility. In Rust, C. Improving Student Learning (18) Global Theories and Local Practices: Institutional, Disciplinary and Cultural Variations. Oxford: The Oxford Centre for Staff and Educational Development. (2011):176-188.

Bovill, Catherine., Cook-Sather, Alison., Felten, Peter., Millard, Luke and Moore-Cherry, Niamh. Addressing Potential Challenges in Co-creating Learning and Teaching: Overcoming Resistance, Navigating Institutional Norms and Ensuring Inclusivity in Student–Staff Partnerships. Higher Education71, No 2. (2016): 195-208.

Bovill, Catherine and Woolmer, Cherie. How Conceptualisations of Curriculum in Higher Education Influence Student-staff Co-creation in and of the Curriculum. Higher Education78, No 3. (2019): 407-422.

Healey, Mick., Flint, Abbi., and Harrington, Kathy. Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. York: Higher Education Academy. (2014).

Lubicz-Nawrocka, Tanya. Co-creation of the Curriculum: Challenging the Status Quo to Embed Partnership. The Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change3 No 2. (2017) 

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