Engaging students as partners in the classroom allows for co-creation of teaching, learning and assessment in real-time as classes unfold. Outside of the classroom, engaging students as partners involves co-designing curriculum and assessment before or after semester.

What does this look like in practice: real examples

There are four categories informed by the when (before, during, after the term), who (all enrolled students, selected enrolled students, students not enrolled) and what (co-creating learning and teaching, redesigning curriculum, research) of engaging students in co-creation through partnership (from Cook-Sather & Matthews, 2021). Each includes links to real examples, including UQ scholarship.

1. The partnership classroom: engaging with all students enrolled in your subject to foster student agency and ownership of learning through co-creation.

2. Pedagogical consultation: engaging with some students as the subject unfolds to enhance teaching and learning practices in real time.

3. Curriculum co-design: engaging with some students before, during, or after a subject to redesign the curriculum or co-design a whole new subject.

4. Knowledge co-creation: engaging students in research and inquiry that contribute to new disciplinary knowledge, including pedagogical knowledge.

Note: these four categories can and do overlap.

More examples
HigherEd Heroes podcast: How to involve students in the (re)design of your courses
HigherEd Heroes podcast: How to place students in the driving seat during your lectures

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Either way, students and teachers report numerous beneficial outcomes (as reported in Matthews et al, 2019):

  • Stronger learning relationships that promote empathy and trust
  • Improved disciplinary learning (students) and learning about teaching (teachers)
  • Deeper engagement as students and as teachers
  • More confidence as learners or teachers
  • Shift in identity toward more shared responsibility for learning and teaching
  • Stronger sense of belonging to a learning community within the University
  • Enhanced curricular materials and teaching approaches.

The benefits of engaging in partnership through curriculum co-creation are desirable and many teaching academics aspire to such outcomes for themselves and their students.

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Check your readiness for co-creation

More than a practice or model, co-creation diverges from hierarchical, top-down, content-delivery models. It requires a shift in mindset and in modes of engagement. Therefore, it is important to ask yourself some basic questions about how you conceptualise education, teaching and learning, and, specifically, the role and responsibilities of teachers and students (from Cook-Sather & Matthews, 2021).

  1. Do you see teaching as delivery of information and learning as a passive receipt of that information or teaching and learning as more of an active exchange?
  2. Do you see classrooms and assignments as spaces within which students absorb and repeat back what you tell them or as dynamic spaces within which students participate, question, offer differing perspectives on the topic and how they are learning it?
  3. Do you see students as recipients and consumers of knowledge or as contributors to knowledge creation through research and inquiry?
  4. Thinking beyond your disciplines, what opportunities are there for your students to prepare themselves for engagement in society as active and thoughtful citizens in our increasingly complex local and global communities?
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Challenges to expect and ways to navigate them

There will be challenges. Knowing some of these challenges before you start can inform your planning and strengthen your resilience for when challenges do arise. Below are five of the most common challenges and how you might reframe them as opportunities (from Cook-Sather & Matthews, 2021).

1. Resistance and reluctance
Some students question partnership or see it as an imposition.

  • Reframe
    • There are good reasons why some students will resist the idea (they don’t believe in it, it takes more energy, they see teaching as the lecturer’s job, it can introduce conflict into classrooms, etc).
  • Resilience idea
    • Start small. Communicate your intentions about why you are engaging in partnership to open up dialogue about student concerns, excitement and questions. Give it time and be explicit and transparent.

2. Time
You or students do not have the time to engage in partnership practices.

  • Reframe
    • Investing time upfront in developing partnership practices can save you time later, since learning experiences will likely be more motivating, engaging and meaningful.
  • Resilience idea
    • Rethink fixed notions of time (schedule) to attend to how you direct your energy and attention. 

3. Curriculum constraints
Accreditation or institutional reporting requirements mean you cannot change the curriculum (or you are not the subject convener or coordinator).

  • Reframe
    • Accept what can’t be changed and focus on what you can co-create. 
  • Resilience idea
    • Invite your students to consider with you how to meet the curricular requirements of a subject, and work within the given constraints to engage in co-creation.

4. Inclusivity
Selecting a small number of students to partner as co-designers or consultants necessarily means other students are being excluded.

  • Reframe
    • Embrace equity as a guiding principle, which might mean including all students or it might mean inviting traditionally underrepresented and underserved students into partnership.
  • Resilience idea
    • Open a dialogue with students about what inclusivity might mean in any given context where their input and choice contribute to criteria for selection.

5. Resources and support
Your institution or department does not have programs to support partnership practices.

  • Reframe
    • Sometimes you can do more, at least initially, within and between the existing structures than within new ones.
  • Resilience idea
    • Consider how you might use existing curricular structures (e.g. independent studies) and redeploy existing resources (e.g. departmental budget lines for teaching assistants, curricular innovation funds).
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Amazing how-to and scholarly resources to guide your co-creation


  1. How-to guide on co-design with students: For detailed discussions of classroom- and curriculum-focused partnerships between lecturers and students and supported by campus-wide pedagogical partnership programs (like UQ’s SSP projects), see this free, open-access book from Cook-Sather, Bahti, and Ntem 2019.
  2. How-to guide on co-creation of curriculum: Practical chapter in edited book for new university teachers on co-creation through partnerships. Much of this website was informed by this chapter (co-authored by author of this webpage content), see Cook-Sather & Matthews, 2021 but check it out from the UQ Library.
  3. How-to guide on research and inquiry: The world leaders on engaging students in subject-based research and inquiry write this practical guide, see Healey and Jenkins (2009).
  4. Helpful website on engaging students in research: Australian Council for Undergraduate Research: www.acur.org.au/acur/about-undergraduate-research/useful-websites/.
  5. Practical, open-access framework for guide planning for co-creation, see Bovill (2019)
  6. Make sure you check out all the linked references to real examples in the above section ‘What does this look like in practice: real examples’.


  1. Easy to read text outlining literature with examples of co-creation, see Bovill (2020) but check it out from the UQ Library.
  2. An argument for involving students in curriculum development, see Cook-Sather, Matthews & Bell (2019) but check it out from the UQ Library.
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Leverage UQ Student-Staff Partnerships (SSP) projects

UQ SSP projects mean you can engage in co-design with students in a supportive community that enables inclusive participation of students compensated with financial grants.

Read more

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Contributors and references


Text on this page was written by A/Professor Kelly Matthews and draws on co-authored work with Prof Alison Cook-Sather.


Bovill, C, 2019, ‘A co-creation of learning and teaching typology: What kind of co-creation are you planning or doing?’, International Journal for Students as Partners , vol. 3, no. 2, pp.91–98, doi: 10.15173/ijsap.v3i2.3953.

Bovill, C, 2020, Co-creating learning and teaching: Towards relational pedagogy in higher education, Critical Practice in Higher Education Series, Critical Publishing, Hertfordshire.

Cook-Sather, A, Bahti, M and Ntem, A, 2019. Pedagogical partnerships: A how-to guide for faculty, students, and academic developers in higher education, Elon University Center for Engaged Teaching Open Access Series. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/books/pedagogical-partnerships/

Cook-Sather, A., Matthews, K. E., & Bell, A. (2019). Transforming curriculum development through co-creation with students. In (Ed) Lynn Quinn, Re-imagining Curriculum: Spaces for disruption [107-126], African Sun Press.

Cook-Sather, A, Des-Ogugua, C and Bahti, M. 2018. Articulating identities and analyzing belonging: A multistep intervention that affirms and informs a diversity of students. Teaching in Higher Education, 23(3), pp.374-389. doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2017.1391201

Cook-Sather, A., & Matthews, K.E., (2021). Pedagogical partnership: engaging with students as co-creators of curriculum, assessment, and knowledge. In (eds) University Teaching in Focus: A learning-centred approach [pps. 243-259], Routledge

Cook-Sather, A., & Wilson, C. (2020). Building Courage, Confidence, and Capacity in Learning and Teaching through Student-Faculty Partnership: Stories from across Contexts and Arenas of Practice, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Deeley, S.J. and Bovill, C., 2017. Staff student partnership in assessment: enhancing assessment literacy through democratic practices. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 42(3), pp.463-477. doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2015.1126551

Deeley, SJ and Brown, RA, 2014. Learning through partnership in assessment. Teaching and learning together in higher education, 1(13), pp.3. Accessed 13 May 2020: http://repository.brynmawr.edu/tlthe/vol1/iss13/3

Enright, E., Coll, L., Ní Chróinín, D., & Fitzpatrick, M. (2017). Student voice as risky praxis: Democratising physical education teacher education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 22(5), 459-472. doi.org/10.1080/17408989.2016.1225031

Godbold, N., Hung, T. Y., & Matthews, K. E. (2021). Exploring the role of conflict in co-creation of curriculum through engaging students as partners in the classroom. Higher Education Research & Development, 1-15. doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2021.1887095

Healey, M and Jenkins, A, 2009. Developing undergraduate research and inquiry (pp. 152). York: Higher Education Academy. Accessed 13 May 2020: https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/developing-undergraduate-research-and-inquiry

Hubbard, KE, Brown, R, Deans, S, García, MP, Pruna, MG and Mason, MJ, 2017. Undergraduate students as co-producers in the creation of first-year practical class resources. Higher Education Pedagogies, 2(1), pp.58-78. doi.org/10.1080/23752696.2017.1338529

Knaggs, A., Leonard, J., Dharmaseta, C., & Griffin, A. (2021). Partnership status: It’s complicated. Reflections on the “undiscussables” in a student-staff partnership. International Journal for Students as Partners, 5(1), 131-137. doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v5i1.4342

Matthews, K. E. (2018). Engaging students as participants and partners: An argument for partnership with students in higher education research on student success. International Journal of Chinese Education, 7(1), 42-64. doi.org/10.1163/22125868-12340089

Matthews, KE, Mercer-Mapstone, L, Dvorakova, SL, Acai, A, Cook-Sather, A, Felten, P, Healey, M, Healey, RL and Marquis, E, 2019. Enhancing outcomes and reducing inhibitors to the engagement of students and staff in learning and teaching partnerships: Implications for academic development. International Journal for Academic Development, 24(3), pp.246-259. doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2018.1545233

Monsen, S., Cook, S., & Hannant, L. (2017). Students as partners in negotiated assessment in a teacher education course. Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education, 1(21), 2. https://repository.brynmawr.edu/tlthe/vol1/iss21/2/

Woolmer, C., Sneddon, P., Curry, G., Hill, B., Fehertavi, S., Longbone, C., & Wallace, K. (2016). Student staff partnership to create an interdisciplinary science skills course in a research intensive university. International Journal for Academic Development, 21(1), 16-27. 10.1080/1360144X.2015.1113969

Zimbardi, K., & Myatt, P. (2014). Embedding undergraduate research experiences within the curriculum: a cross-disciplinary study of the key characteristics guiding implementation. Studies in Higher Education, 39(2), 233-250. doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2011.651448

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  Student-Staff Partnerships (SSP) program

The Student-Staff Partnerships (SSP) program seeks to empower students and staff to collaborate as equal partners and mutual learners. You can submit projects through four (4) rounds a year.

Read more and submit a project


For more information about co-creating curriculum with students, please contact Associate Professor Kelly Matthews