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Students as Partners Toolkit


Case Study: Co-Designing the Library’s Strategic Plan at Deakin University

Dr Mollie Dollinger


Project Description

In Brief

Domain of SaP Students as Mentors
Library Area or Department Inclusive of all areas and departments
Number of Student Partners 100
Number of Staff 60 (some staff had multiple student matches)
Goal To authentically inform the library’s strategic plan with students’ voices.

All the Details

In 2021, Deakin University library decided to undertake an innovative SaP project to co-design the library’s strategic plan. Led by University Librarian Hero Macdonald, with assistance from Dr Mollie Dollinger and Paul McKenna, the project was designed to foster 1:1 dialogue between students and university staff to harness the power of students’ ideas and experiences and create a more collaborative, future-focussed plan. 

The aim of the project was to match university staff and students in a pair and have each pair go through a series of scaffolded, design-thinking activities that generated meaningful dialogue about the library. University staff were recruited through the library newsletter, and students through the student blog. To begin the project, Hero, Mollie and Paul designed 5 activities, including corresponding instructions on PowerPoint slides, for the staff to guide the student through each session. For example, each session started with an ice breaker where students were asked what words came to mind when they thought about the library. As the session progressed students were asked to describe a ‘day in the life’ of their university experience. Finally, students were asked to rank various values or key activities inherent within the library as well as generate new values or ideas the university could take on. All session were 1 hour in duration, held online, and students were provided with a $50 gift voucher for their effort.


Issues and Challenges

The project was a great tool to engage students in strategic decision-making and also create opportunities for library staff to have dialogue with students that they might not otherwise have. However, it’s important to remember that students don’t have an expertise in strategy, rather in their lived experiences as students. As such, it was challenging to create activities that would be approachable to students. To illustrate, it would be confronting to ask a student point blank what would improve engagement in the library. However, it’s less intimidating to ask a student why they choose to engage with the library and how that compares to other services offered at the university. 

Another issue was around staff facilitation of the session. Rather than have the project team meet with students, we wanted the project to be inclusive to any library staff who wanted to get involved. However, not all library staff have experience in working with students and some were unfamiliar with this type of dialogue and technical parts of the project, like setting up the Zoom link and sharing their screen so students could see the PowerPoint. While we held a mandatory 1-hour staff training session before they met with their assigned students to ease this tension, it wasn’t entirely avoidable. Also, as the project didn’t receive ethics approval to audio record the session, staff also needed to take notes as they met with their student, or shortly thereafter. Some staff struggled with this, especially if they didn’t have two screens or were slower typers, and consequently, likely some data was lost. While we did use online platforms like Miroboard to also allow students to write in feedback themselves, we didn’t want students filling out a survey or taking notes – that would have defeated the purpose of designing this to be a dialogue! 


What I Have Learned

Overall, this project was a straightforward and simple way to co-design a strategic plan, and hopefully, one we will continue to use at Deakin University. I would say the staff pre-training session we held was a success, but ideally, there would have been more time allotted to this so that all staff felt comfortable to host their session. It also would have been great to have these sessions in-person, though the online design did mean that students from all of our regional campuses could equally participate!