Cooperative Knowledge Café; A Co-Creative Conversation on student engagement

Tomorrow I am pleased to present my first tailored Co-Creative Conversation to lecturers at University of Roehampton’s Business School.

[3 min read]

These days the higher education sector is full of talk about increasing student engagement. Everyone agrees that Generation Z, who are the real digital natives, see the world a little differently and have different needs from previous generations. To prevent a gap opening up between what educators think that their students need and what their students think they need from them, some new and imaginative thinking is going to be required.

Change is in the air, but what kind of change? What, specifically should we do differently when we are designing our teaching for the future? The University of Roehamptons’s Business School has decided to combine its lecturers’ insights so as to have a firm basis for future teaching & learning strategy.


United we stand

Fig. A

Stopping the eternal recurrence of the “New Initiative”

There are many good reasons for the leaders of any educational institution to host Co-Creative Conversations. A sensible first aim would be to map out a plan together to find consensus and motivate everyone to pull in the same direction – see Fig A.

University lecturers have widely different views about how education should be conducted in the future. Here are a few that I have heard recently from academics:

#1 The old ways are still the best; students should learn to listen in lectures and read what they are told; #2 We need to put everything online because face-to-face classes are a thing of the past; #3 We, as lecturers, need to be less boring and more entertaining; #4 We need to make our courses more work orientated so we need to break down the distinction between training and education; #5 We need to preserve the old ideals of creating independent and critical thinkers… Etc. …

And so it goes on. The situation is only more complex when you add the opinions of the students themselves.

With all these different priorities and points of view, it is difficult for educators and their leaders to formulate clear strategies. There has not yet been enough time for tried and tested solutions to have emerged so everyone is an explorer which means that the current situation is at the same time alarming and exciting.

Behold ye mortals! The eternal recurrence of the “New Initiative.”


How humans (don’t) work

In higher education we are familiar with the phenomenon of the new initiative. Those who have been in the sector for a few years will have seen a number of these and a high proportion of them will not have turned out as successfully as their advocates had hoped. There is a general culture of thinking that all matters should be approached like engineering problems.

But whereas an out of date mechanical system such as a plane engine can be updated comparatively easily by throwing out the old technology and replacing it with the latest technology, human systems are more difficult to change.

A university department, which involves tens of academics and hundreds of students is a very complex system indeed. Each individual has their own unique background, experiences, motives, expectations of self and others, interpretation of roles and responsibilities; each with a unique history, emotional make-up, predilections, axes to grind and aspirations.

In a situation of flux and uncertainty it can be that people coalesce into isolated islands of signalling in a roaring ocean of noise, repelling or assaulting islands formed by alternative narratives. Occasionally, islands may overlap only to discover later that their agreement is an illusion based on coincidental superficial similarities whereas their basic assumptions are, in fact, very different – See Fig. B.

Divided we fallFig. B – compare to Fig. A above.

To avoid this kind of chaos, we need to begin with the way that human beings create any kind of community: by creating thoughts and meanings, values and aspirations communally so that everyone is involved and committed. In other words, what is needed is meaningful conversation – which is where the Co-Creative Café comes in.

Nuts and bolts

The Knowledge Café at Roehampton University’s Business School will span two and a half hours and will involve approximately 30 academic staff. The aim is to present university leaders with some anonymised collective recommendations for forming a strategy for future developments in learning and teaching.


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Part I Uncovering the Problem

Question 1: What factors in this changing situation may potentially undermine student engagement?

  • First small group discussion in home teams – 30 mins
  • Second small group discussion in mixed teams – 30 mins

Part II Suggesting a Solution

Question 2: What should we do to maintain student engagement for the future?

  • Third small group discussion in home teams – 30 mins
  • Fourth small group discussion in mixed teams – 30 mins

Part III Recommendations – 30 mins

  • The small groups come together to form a larger group to refine their solutions and choose ways forward.

Relevant Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns will manage individual accountability and equal participation so that everyone’s opinion is heard. Each delegate is issued with a logbook which helps them to track the development of ideas as they develop, divide and merge as they pass through each of the stages of the conversation. These are handed in, if the participants wish, and will form the basis of an insight report (in accordance with ethical and legal requirements).


The story continues in the next article:

Co-Creative Conversation deconstructed: Comfy Café or outcome-driven classroom?


For more on this event, its difference to the traditional knowledge café concept, its connection to empowerment, democracy, the Participatory Budgeting workshop on 20 May and improved stats and rankings, follow on Twitter or join the mailing list for notifications.


Some further reading

Join another Co-Creative Conversation:

Empowering KS2-5 learners through Participatory Budgeting

  • DateMon, 20 May 2019 10:00 – 14:30 BST
  • CostFree.


Participatory Budgeting mosaic

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