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Letting go of what you know: Co-designing Enterprise Activities

Students are annoying when they take over your material and make it better. The theme is what could happen if you let your students co-design activities, and drive their own learning. This Pecha Kucha describes the results of a co-design pilot during which students created content and designed delivery of a weekly bolt-on Enterprise and Employability group, made it more inclusive and increased the attendance by up to 80%. (Background – cohort size 460 comprising: Home/EU 52% International students 48%. Discipline: Graphic Design)

They rewrote session titles, bypassed the VLE, designed communication strategies and tailored content. It outlines the positive results when disengaged international students took active roles within the group.  The key message: Expert educators should utilise co-design to enhance learning in enterprise skills for disengaged students. Key message: Educators have to learn to let go in co-design to increase learning.

For more information see my Pecha Kucha by following this link to the IEEC conference website. 


Extract from draft report on Co-design:

Background report on GCD Enterprise Group: as part of the Graphic Communication Design programme at Central Saint Martins (CSM), I launched a ‘special interest’ co-curricular group in 2014 with the aim to support students in their development of enterprise and employability practice alongside their own creative practice. The intention was to create a teaching space where students could take 90 minutes out from their curricula activities to explore their own intentions to be self-employed, employed or start their own studios. This two course ‘Programme’ of 540 UG and PG students encourages students to take up internships and freelance work during spring and summer breaks instead of interrupting learning with a year of industry.

Attendance in the ‘Enterprise group’ during 2014 - 15 had a weekly average of 20 attendees and attracted students from Stage 2 and 3 of the BA and the final year of the MA in Grpahic Communication Design. However, the challenge remained to reach those students who were noticeably absent: the BAME students (17%), international students (48%) and students who were part of the disengaged group who did not attend any of the optional events, but were only attending mandatory curricular activities (estimated at 40-50%). Following some NSS feedback from 2013-2014, and again in 2014-15, I decided to target this group and see if a co-design method could engage more students.

Co-design Methodology:

During the second year of the group I introduced the following changes. Instead of running this from a teacher’s perspective and using students as ‘helpers’, I asked the students to co-design with me and I would support them.

Communication: Instead of using the virtual learning environment, in our case Moodle, to broadcast the content of drop in events, using the master to pupil model, I switched to a peer to peer approach using student support. Two volunteer designers produced publicity their way, and created a visual identity that was friendly and inclusive, using colour and geometric graphics around my text.

Social media: I trialed a group blog but student helpers rejected it on the basis that it was difficult to find online, instead they wanted to share events via unmonitored social media. Ignoring my own preference of Twitter, another two students created a small closed Facebook group for events and made me one of their administrators. They could then create events for the group and share on their own pages, without me having to instigate it.

The aim is to make the students proactive as described in this report


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One of the report recommendations is to include students and make them proactive.

Proactive: activities should proactively seek to engage students, rather than waiting for a crisis to occur, or the more motivated students to take up opportunities. Students who most need support are the least likely to come forward voluntarily (Baumgart and Johnstone, 1977; Bentley and Allen, 2006; Chickering and Hannah, 1969; Eaton and Bean, 1995). If students have to opt in it is important to making it transparent how students can and should engage, and why.


In terms of content: I switched all seminars to workshops, with small breakout groups, sitting around tables and doing convivial tasks on their laptops or drawing out mind maps. In the first year I was scheduling guest speakers and content from term to term, but in the second year students asked for a clearer plan so they could cherry pick which activities suited them so this was published in autumn term 2015 and again in January 2016 as posters, as well as email.

Inclusivity Instead of the usual classroom conventions I tried to make the group deliberately inclusive in the following ways. Instead of asking students to switch off their phones, my students were encouraged to use their mobile devices to make them feel more comfortable. Instead of the strict closed door policy one we had started, I left the door open. They were allowed to drop in when they could and were welcomed even if arriving late or leaving early. The idea was that if they attended at all they were actually making a great effort.

Titling The naming of the sessions was seen to be ‘boring’ and so I invited students to rewrite my titles. The type of language I had used in the first year using was formal, but these students wanted conversational language and to put themselves at the centre of the title using ‘I’ instead of a third party.

For instance my workshop title

How to be self-employed’ became ‘I want to start my own studio and work in my pyjamas’. Additionally the title of my workshop on online presence changed from ‘Creating your personal profile’ to ‘Why I hate LinkedIn’. The workshop on copyright became “I want to know my rights!’ In each cases the attendance increased from the previous year.


The results of these changes in approach involved a good deal of letting go. I thought I knew better and after my years teaching and industry thought I could anticipate my audience. It seems I needed to shift my opinions and listens a bit more carefully to my co-design team. I was willing to take a risk after all it was not an assessed activity. How wrong could it go? I did trust the students and the staff were not taking any notice as this was extra provision.

The results became obvious with a quick change. Once students changed the promotion of events from a top down method to a peer to peer method there was a year on year increase in attendance. My average workshop increased from 20 attendees in 2014 to 40 attendees in 2015. There were not enough chairs.


Problems with the co-design group

There was some drop-out in my co-design team, as it was an opt-in activity including one BAME student who had to do paid freelance work instead as he needed the money. Another who started on the identity design but then went away on an exchange programme.

I realized that at certain points helpers just could not take things in and had no time to give. Each January, the group clashed with pinch times in the Unit hand ins. I was left picking up threads and felt it was back to square one, being alone driving the group.

In terms of reaching under-represented groups I learned that nothing would motivate students to come in to college, even a guest speaker or a session tailored to something they had requested. For example, in response to an attendee’s request who was having a copyright dispute I tailored one session IP issues. Our copyright expert duly arrived but the student did not attend. I concluded you can build the dancefloor but can’t make people dance.

On one occasion three BAME students did not attend an industry portfolio review session and they later told me that they did not think they were good enough and that it was not ‘for them’.  Although I believed I was creating something of value especially for them - from their viewpoint it had not value as they did not feel entitled to accept the offer. This is one of my targets for next year.

As a co-curricular group demanding a drop in, it was also hard for students who were commuting to arrive for 10:00am. Poor attenders and those with financial worries were unlikely to come in anyway on Wednesdays as this was a non-teaching day in the programme. This was according to 50% of the respondents to my evaluation survey.

Staff were unaware of this pilot, and the challenge is to share this in a meaningful way to feed in to our NSS feedback. This kind of bolt-on employability teaching goes against the course ethos of integrated learning, I would prefer much more embedding of employability, especially  it is perceived as being delivered outside the curriculum. As staff increased the co-curricular offer of other ‘special interest groups’ in typography, writing and digital skills the student perception was ‘too many choices’ and ‘not well organised’ which showed that our aims of a wide offer was backfiring for those who found it difficult to juggle co-curricular and curricular. How can I make my group compete and compliment the other groups?
I have more work to do on this pilot.

Cath Caldwell FHEA
 Senior Lecturer Graphic Communication Design

 Academic Coordinator for Careers and Employability
Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London


Thanks to former student Jean Julien for sharing for educational purposes. Hire him at

Thanks to co-designers Conor Rigby, Kezia Kong, Philippine Sohet, 
Vensia Layhadi, Nadia Hudiana, Chris Baker and  many more

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