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Students as Partners Toolkit


Case Study: La Trobe’s Co-Design Workshop

Wendy Radcliffe


Project Description

In Brief

Domain of SaP Students as Co-Creators
Library Area or Department Library Learning Services
Number of Student Partners 3
Number of Staff 2 (1 from La Trobe and another external)
Goal To use a design thinking approach to gather ideas and thoughts that can be explored and developed to become recommendations for changes to the library environment. The intended outcome is to make the library space a welcoming and culturally safe space for the First Nations students studying at the Bendigo campus of LTU.

All the Details

The Bendigo Campus of La Trobe University opened their library extension and newly refurbished library to the LTU community in 2021. The library incorporated a strong focus on culture in the new building with the inclusion of Aboriginal artworks that were created by First Nations Artists who were connected with the lands at each of our five campuses, with these artworks depicting the connection between culture and learning. As part of the official opening of the building we engaged with the local Indigenous community to have a Dja Dja Warrung Elder conduct a Welcome to Country and a Smoking ceremony to cleanse the people attending the ceremony on country as well as the library space of bad spirits and promote wellbeing.

The CEO of the Dja Dja Warrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, Rod Carter, made a comment on the day of the opening that stuck with me - students are setting up roots elsewhere and this can be very unsettling for Aboriginal people when they move away from their home and country, Rod went on to say that the social fabric of a university can make a big difference and that La Trobe has the ability to make people feel welcome.  This very statement from Rod was at the forefront of my mind when I needed to identify a Student’s as Partners (SaP’s) project. What the library had already incorporated into the new building was a starting point, but it was something that had been realised and actioned through a western lens. What was missing was the thoughts and ideas from the very people we were trying to make feel culturally safe and welcomed into the library, and there it was the project identified and waiting to be actioned.  

I had already built a strong connection with the Indigenous Academic Enrichment Coordinator at the Bendigo Campus through other outreach activities we had worked on together, so it was only natural for her to be my initial go to person to help scope the project. We discussed the project, how I could connect with the Indigenous students, the need to have a carrot to dangle for participating and to ensure that full disclosure regarding the timeline and expected engagement commitment be included in the original communications with the students.  

The original email asking for students to consider the opportunity to help make the library a culturally safe space was sent to all students enrolled with the Jimbeyer Boondjhil Indigenous Education Unit as an expression of interest. The email introduced me, outlined my journey through being a student when the campus was known as BCAE right through to my 30+ years of employment at the campus. The email also introduced the project, what it was we were hoping to achieve and how we were going to capture their ideas, and the importance of their ideas being developed and formulated as recommendations to be put forward for adoption by the library. Remuneration and the expected time that they would need to commit along with the timeline of the project were also included. Within 24 hours of sending the email I had 3 students express an interest in being involved and by the closing date of the expressions of interest I had 4. My preferred number was 6 students and I connected with those who had expressed an interest to see if they were able to persuade any other students to participate.  

The preferred method for the project was to offer a design thinking workshop, to use the techniques to gain an insight into the social, cultural, emotional, and physical needs of the students which in turn would give us human-centred ideas that we could develop into recommendations for adoption by the library. Prior to the design thinking session, I sent an activity to the students to help them to start to think about the library as a space and how they engage and perceive the space. The activity was based on Rudine Sims-Bishop’s concept “windows, mirrors and glass sliding doors” I adopted the ideas associated with each of the resources and asked the students to reflect on the following:  

Think of your experiences you have had with the library at the Bendigo campus, when you look through the Window into the library as a learning space - what do you see? Now using the Mirror, reflect on how you see your connection with the library, focusing on your Indigenous culture and the library space. Finally if you enter the library through the Sliding Glass Door, what does the library need to change/implement so that the space embodies a welcoming experience and reflects a culturally safe space for you?   

My experience in Design Thinking was minimal so I engaged Dr Kristy Newton from UOW to deliver the workshop which was done in a multimodal way with Kristy on Zoom and the students onsite in the library space with me as the onsite facilitator. As we moved through the different phases of the design thinking workshop, the empathise, define, and ideate phases became the areas that generated the most discussion and reflection from the group. What is it that we need to feel culturally safe? Is it the same for all of us? What does cultural safety mean? What does the library represent?   

The conversation, engagement and interactions between the students was electric and extremely respectful, understanding that each of them had different life experiences, different expectations of what the library needed to be to them but there was a common thread shared by all: that the library represents knowledge, that there is a distinct difference between the Indigenous  and the Western ways of acquiring and sharing knowledge and that through understanding Indigenous ways of knowing, learning and being will lead to cultural safety.  

The notes from the workshop have been collated and key themes and ideas have been finalised with recommendations on how to value add to the library space so that the existing and future First Nations students have a sense of feeling culturally safe.  


Issues and Challenges

1. Planning 

Choosing the “right time” to engage with students is not always easy, you need to take into consideration University workloads and pressures of assessments and exams, as well as acknowledge that the vacation periods are a time for students to engage in paid work. 

I needed to plan for a multitude of pandemic implications, the preference was for a F2F design thinking workshop to maximise the engagement between the students involved, however with the ever-changing pandemic environment I needed to ensure that an alternative online option was able to be actioned if needed. Bringing in an expert when needed, I did this with the facilitator of the session to ensure the workshop was executed at a high level so that the experience the students had was worthy of the time they invested. 

2. Communicating

Developing a working relationship with the students is difficult when you are communicating the needs of the project through an email. Be precise and concise with your communications, outline what it is you want or expect from them and what they will get in return. 

3. Cultural Understanding 

As the project was primarily focused on the Indigenous culture, I included a period prior to the workshops so that the students could meet one another and share their stories of what country they were from and how they had come to be at LTU Bendigo. I also used this opportunity to ask them about terminology for the day, I felt that this was imperative for ensuring that I show the respect that was needed when referring to their culture throughout the workshop and so that we all used the agreed terminology.  


What I Have Learned

The SaP project highlighted the importance and value of engaging with students on topics and areas that they value. The level of engagement shown in the project by the students involved was captured by the enthusiasm to share ideas and build on them as a collective.   

I learned the importance of listening, and about student experience through the lens of a First Nations student, what it is that is important to them, how they learn, and that visibility, inclusion and reciprocity are key to creating and developing spaces that are culturally safe. My final learning was that we need to avoid making decisions on what specific cohorts want, that what is relevant to those at one campus will not necessarily be relevant at another campus and to be reflective of those needs we need to ask and explore ideas with the people we are designing spaces for.