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Students as Partners Toolkit


Case Study: 23 Things for Digital Dexterity at Curtin University

Dr Karen Miller


Project Description

In Brief

Domain of SaP Students as Content Creators
Library Area or Department Learning Success
Number of Student Partners 12
Number of Staff 2
Goal To create a digital skills program for undergraduate students.

All the Details

In 2019 a small group of Curtin Library staff from the Learning Success team planned to create a 23 Things program to help Curtin students attain the graduate capability of “digital competency”. Later that year some unexpected funding was provided to the initiative which we decided to put towards employing students to create the content for the program. We recruited 12 students over a 3-month period, with each student working around 10 hours a week. There were two different 'roles' for the students. Ten students had the role of 'content creator' and were to create the content, including videos, interactive activities, and workshops. The second role was as an 'admin assistant', where two students were to create promotional materials for the program and help with administration of the project itself.     

By the end of the 3-month period, half of the program was complete. The following year (2020) we retained a small group of five students who continued to work on the project while also working as Library Makerspace assistants. After successfully piloting the project, the full 23 Things program was launched in 2021.  


Issues and Challenges

1. Time frame for student involvement in the project 

We had already done a lot of the groundwork in designing the program, so some parameters were already in place before the students came on board. For example, we had already decided on the platform to use and worked out details of the program design itself, including the template for the modules. While it was useful for the students to have some boundaries and guidelines to work within, the program design could have benefited from the student's perspective and input.  

2. Clarity of role expectations and what the partnership entailed

The 'content creator' role worked well, as it had clear expectations and the students were recruited based on their enthusiasm and interest in digital skills. However, the second 'admin' role proved more difficult as the expectations were much less defined and clear, and their expertise was required more toward the end of the project.  We hit a few barriers when we made assumptions about students’ ability to contribute and asking them to take on tasks that were too far outside their comfort zone or level of experience without providing the necessary guidance or support.

3. Achieving consistency while capitalising on student strengths, skills, and expertise 

It was fortunate that during the recruitment process we were able to select a group of students that represented a broad spectrum of the kinds of skills and knowledge that was required to create the program. We also aimed to create a group that was diverse across disciplines and social/cultural backgrounds to ensure that different viewpoints were represented. In this way were able to capitalise well on the existing strength and skills and provide opportunities for the students to not only expand on their own areas of expertise, but also explore new ones. One of the unexpected challenges of providing a high degree of freedom to the students and the very diverse approaches that resulted, was how to achieve a level of consistency across all the modules. 

4. Striking the right balance between freedom and constraints  

It is a challenge to get the right balance between freedom and constraints. The more structure and constraints we imposed on the students, the less it seemed like a partnership. Yet we found that having constraints and boundaries in place were very important, and the students needed our support and guidance. While it was wonderful to see their independence flourish and take the initiative to go ahead with their own ideas, it was difficult at times to keep up with what all twelve students were doing. The students all worked on different days and different times, so although we had set up online communication methods, the opportunities for the students to meet to make sure they were all on the same page was challenging.

5. Dealing with uncertainty with our iterative approach to development    

An iterative, agile approach was a key element of our program development and helped us to be flexible, adjust to changed circumstances, learn from mistakes, and create prototypes that we could test out on potential users. This was a very useful approach given that there were many things that were undecided at the beginning, and we weren't sure about how they would go. It meant we could be responsive to the types of activities and ways of presentation that the students developed. We found that an iterative approach was frustrating for some of the students when we changed direction or reversed a decision, which meant re-doing work. The uncertainty inherent to an iterative approach was a bit unsettling for those students who preferred more structure.


What I Have Learned

Overall, the experience and the outcome have been one of the most rewarding and fun work projects I have had the privilege to be involved with. We launched into it without a lot of experience of working with students as partners, and without even really knowing what 'students as partners' was. As with any new project venturing into unchartered territory, there were many mistakes and lessons to be learned as well as decisions we would have made differently with the benefit of hindsight.  We learned to:

  1. Involve students as early in the program design process as possible. It would have been helpful if the students were recruited from the start of the project so they could have input into the program design. 
  2. Clarify the role expectations and what the partnership entails. We could have been clearer from the outset about what the partnership entailed including what we could expect and provide to each other as partners.    
  3. Capitalise on students' strengths, skills, and expertise as much as possible but maintain consistency.  It would have been useful to have a stronger feedback process (including peer-peer), as we found this was an effective way to address this problem. 
  4. Strike the right balance between freedom and constraints by having a structured review process in place.
  5. Mitigate the uncertainty inherent in our iterative approach by providing design thinking or agile training and encouraging greater use of the communication channels among team members.