By Eve Bracken-Ingram
At Student Voice, we understand the transformative and empowering potential of voice in higher education. Voice practices can take many forms with varying levels of student power and agency. A 2019 paper by Cook-Sather (Source explores the capability of student voice as co-creation to support equitable teaching and learning practices. In an earlier work, Cook-Sather et al. (2014) define co-creation as “a collaborative, reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, although not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualisation, decision making, implementation, investigation, or analysis”. This definition of student voice as co-creation refers not only the role of student’s but also that of staff in this student voice practice with the inclusion of the terms “collaborative”, “all participants”, and “equally”. Therefore, in order to fully understand the potential of student-voice as co-creation, it is pertinent to consider the experiences of both staff and students.
A key word in the above definition of co-creation is “reciprocal”. This term highlights the importance of the relationship between student and staff. The creation of an environment where both partners feel empowered to express their opinions, listen to others, and reflect upon the discussion requires a sustained respect for themselves and each other. Power dynamics must be addressed to facilitate meaningful, respectful, and empathetic dialogue. A key observation is that power dynamics which influence interactions between individuals in the higher education context are not limited to the commonly cited unequal distribution of power between staff and students. Sociocultural factors such as race, class and gender also influence the relationship and potential for dialogue between individuals.
Respectful dialogue is best built upon an understanding of each other. Higher education institutions are diverse spaces, where students and staff come from a range of racial and class backgrounds. This diversity may impede meaningful dialogue due to a difference in language, experience, and understanding. However, through active listening, this difference in language can raise awareness of underrepresented voice and provide an insight into different perspectives. Continued empathetic dialogue allows for staff to adapt their use of language to cater to their diverse students and empowers them to strengthen their own voice. Staff are equipped with language and confidence to intentionally address inequity in the classroom and the wider higher education community and reflect upon unintentional practices which may hinder inclusion. Additionally, they can learn to actively listen to and understand a diverse range of voices. From a student’s perspective, dialogue allows them to develop an authoritative voice which also speaks with empathy. They are able to approach sensitive topics with confidence as they feel valued and heard.
Through the development of respect for oneself and each other, staff and students enhance their ability to speak and listen. The resultant empowering dialogue allows all parties to contribute their own unique perspectives and understand the experiences of others. They can be intentional about their contribution to dialogue and feel validated in their involvement. By reflecting on this dialogue, both partners can contribute to the development of equitable and inclusive teaching and learning practices. The practice of student voice as co-creation may begin to deconstruct power imbalances within higher education by increasing empathy and respect between staff and students. The mindset required for respectful and self-respecting voice may transfer into the classroom and the wider community, encouraging further empowering, inclusive, and transformative dialogue in all aspects of higher education.
[Source] Alison Cook-Sather (2019) Respecting voices: how the co-creation of teaching and learning can support academic staff, underrepresented students, and equitable practices. Higher education, 79, 885–901 DOI: 10.1007/s10734-019-00445-w
 Cook-Sather,A., Bovill,C., & Felten,P. (2014). Engaging Students as Partners in Teaching and Learning: A Guide for Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass