Co-creation and epistemic fluency – the real legacy of Web 2.0 and social media for learning


An interpretation of Collis’ Contribution-oriented approach to learning activities framework

Tomorrow’s professionals will require an enhanced capacity for collaboration, co-operation and creative thinking (Markauskaite and Goodyear, 2016). Mclaughlan & Lodge (2019) draw parallels between epistemic fluency and design thinking to position the design studio as a relevant pedagogical model with an established set of strategies for facilitating epistemic fluency. They argue “epistemic environments require the continuous exercise of design thinking by both teacher and learner” and their framework also provides a useful articulation of co-creation, the focus of this post. In line with the Word Economic Forum’s top 10 desirable graduate skills, epistemic fluency recognises complex problem solving as the top challenge for graduates seeking employment.

Epistemic fluency (Markauskaite & Goodyear, 2016) is the ability to perform the following five skills synchronously:
  • connect theory with practice;
  • act as a professional (with regard to competency and identity);
  • practise relational expertise (the ability to communicate and collaborate with other professionals and laypeople);
  • exercise a capacity for innovation;
  • be attuned to the affordances and constraints of the environment in which one is acting in order to reconfigure this environment as suited to the task at hand.

While defining employability focuses the mind, my primary interest is learning as a basis for student becoming. Not necessarily the same thing, though they are by no means exclusive of each other. My concern is for the student’s sense of self and purpose – that may include employability.

A co-operative epistemological learning environment

In recent posts I have been reflecting on and developing my thinking about co-production and co-operative pedagogy. In this post I address co-creation. Even though I hear the terms, along with collaboration and co-construction, used interchangeably, they are different or at least semantically particular. Co-creation immediately suggests a more practical articulation of a co-operative ethos of co-production and exchange and leads us to consider how we go about setting inspiring challenges for our students. Markauskaite and Goodyear (2016) propose that epistemic fluency involves the learner as being agentic involved in ‘learning by creating an epistemic environment’. However, we can understand co-creation in a more granular and operational way. This is how my own interest and understanding developed initially, informing my interest in podcasting for pedagogic purposes, for example.

Contribition, participation and disrupting authorship

Betty Collis articulates co-creation well in her “Contribution-oriented approach to learning activities” framework and through the various publications she produced with Jeff Moonen (2006) at the University of Twente through the 2000s. At the time, Collis (nd) pointed us towards, “Sfard’s two ‘metaphors for learning’ (1998) – learning by acquisition and learning by participation”, with participation referring to the co-construction of knowledge through acts of contribution to a shared knowledge (see infographic above). She also makes the point that all of this thinking comes out of a history of educational theory in which the learner is at the centre and where the quality of the learner’s involvement in the learning experience matters. The social construction of knowledge (Vygotsky), for example, their inclusion as participants, and the outcomes of their experience are not new to us. Dewey, Papert, Freire, Lave and Wenger, and many others have taught educators as much. Interest in Web 2.0, an important context for Collis, moved things on considerably because it showed how accessible (as in ‘within general reach’) social technologies could help the teacher to put these ideas into practice. At the same time, EDUCAUSE and the New Media Consortium through their Horizon Reports and through the advocacy of people like Bryan Alexander (2006), put co-creation centre stage (so to speak!). In Australia work on educational podcasting by Lee, Chan and McCormick provided a clear rationale and evidence for the co-creation of knowledge. Student blogging and wiki-building created platforms for the dissemination of findings from enquiry-based learning at this time. Purpose, relevance, and authentic production became realistic learning-focused activities with Web 2.0 in the 2000s. The technology became an enabling space and although Web 2.0 was essentially a technical term, its application has steadily developed into more appropriate areas of research and practice through ideas such as networked learning and social media for learning, and informed concepts such as Connectivism (Siemens, 2004). Here, the network becomes producer, authentic audience, critical friend and raison d’etre. Challenging ideas about networked authorship have been developed and explain co-creation, e.g. see Matt Johnston’s Photobook Club, a project which sought to promote and enable discussion and learning around the physical photobook format (presentation at: Similarly, the idea of distributed authorship identifies how we should and can disrupt learning and teaching hierarchies and hidden biases that exclude all but traditional conceptions of the student (Callahan, 2013).

Callahan, with reference to bell hooks (2012), lays out a critique of technology-driven moves towards an ethos of so-called open education and its “notions of left and right, democracy and oppression, [which] are increasingly muddled by an economy that touts openness and accessibility through the tools of digital technology while simultaneously featuring an ever-growing concentration of wealth and control over resources.” Her step back from a widely-held and relatively uncritical ‘technological essentialism’ offers a feminist critique which challenges us to embrace ideas of co-creation with great care, although she stresses that the digital space “could provide a disruption to the industrialized, two-tiered model of educational inequality.” Callahan’s approach to distributed authorship is determinedly inclusive and the online conversations involve a community of voices facilitated “through photo essays, videos, and student journal accounts, resulting in a semester-long, multimedia-rich ‘participatory archive’ that students developed in collaboration and conversation with their community partners.” Such a pedagogy is fundamentally inclusive accommodating the equal participation of all. It is not only inclusive in terms of media preference, but also as a consequence of the terms of authorship and peer responsibility. In a co-creative ethos of distributed authorship, the deal is you assume mutual responsibility for knowledge building and agree to put your ideas on the line – even if they are at only a formative stage. (And perhaps learn that knowledge is always in a formative state).

Callahan notes that reworking the curriculum is not a simple matter: “modules must be broken down, assembled, and uploaded into discrete elements of lecture, assignment, project, and discussion.” For an educational developer and advocate of active learning like me, an honest appraisal of the change from one pedagogy to another is important if we are to seriously engage colleagues in making any shift.

She also notes the Slow Media Manifesto (which has some strengths – I do not agree with it all). She says media should be deliberate, should encourage creative and active engagement with media (not just passive consumption), should record local and often invisible histories, and should foster communities and their culture. The manifesto itself is pertinent to understanding digital media in relation to co-creation as a basis for learning in higher education. For example, the manifesto offers ‘Slow Media advance Prosumers’, ‘Slow Media are discursive and dialogic’, ‘Slow Media are Social Media’, and ‘Slow Media respect their users’.

Co-creation and the teacher’s role

An environment designed to develop epistemic fluency should involve the learner in making the decisions that determine the nature of the activity and the learning outcomes that result from it (Markauskaite & Goodyear, 2016). I would go further and require the learner to explicitly negotiate this to emphasise the learning through co-operation. Such a learning environment demands quite a different teaching role to that which most university academics fall into; the role requires high agility.

Last week I ran a workshop on the academic’s role in the active learning classroom and drew upon Barrett and Moore’s (2011) taxonomy of the teacher’s role in PBL: Facilitator; Observer; Interrogator; Quality controller; Connector; Orchestrator; Co-ordinator; Reviewer.  We can certainly add Co-creator to this taxonomy – in creating knowledge the teacher has to stand shoulder-to-should with the students. Indeed, this is captured well in this post I read about a case study on The Chronicle of Education yesterday,

“Because neither faculty member is fully an expert on the subject they’re teaching, they learn alongside their students. Removing professors from the role as ‘expert’, Pfeifer and Rosbach say, helps students take charge of their own learning — a crucial step in their intellectual development. ‘They’re not used to a professor asking them, “What do you think? What can you find? What did you learn?”‘ says Rosbach. ‘The challenge is showing them how to do that.’

Markauskaite and Goodyear describe a dynamic relationship involving a role that ‘fades’ over time. This suggests a Scaffolding role can be added to the taxonomy.

Mclaughlan & Lodge (2019) discuss whether a negotiated, co-created curriculum is feasible. I think this question is answered by understanding the learning outcomes associated with co-creation and how they are different from learning objectives in which knowledge is supreme and highly defined. In comparison, in co-creation and through negotiation we are interested in outcomes to do with efficacy and fluency. I think they answer their concerns about constructive alignment for themselves:

“The focus of higher education should not be to teach students to use the tools of their respective professions but to look beyond them, to learn to recognise the fundamental relationships that operate to make these legible and useable. With this deeper knowledge, graduates will be armed with the capability to question the affordances and limitations of particular professional tools and practices, including the disciplinary frameworks that underpin them.”

The outcomes of a negotiated curriculum are, at least in part, about creativity and criticality.

Mapping epistemic fluency to a studio-based learning paradigm, Mclaughlan & Lodge (2019) explain, “The studio blends problem and inquiry-based learning using a cognitive apprenticeship model and requires a design-based solution to a problem that is only loosely defined for the student.” This involves their students in a process of identifying and raising questions, seeking knowledge and putting it into practice, prototyping (e.g. ‘sending it out into the world and making public), evaluating the prototype, and refining the design problem. It has a lot in common with Collis’ ‘Contribution framework’. The studio becomes an ill-defined problem space with which the student must engage. It requires them to obtain the knowledge necessary for conducting their inquiry. Feedback is continuous and critical, and reflection is necessarily integral to the learning process. There is nothing ritual or superficial about learning this way, and the personalised nature of studio-based problems means that design thinking is inevitably gritty, hard thinking.

Mclaughlan & Lodge (2019) are clear that epistemic fluency is not an easy option for the academic or their students. However, its explicit focus on the epistemic context hints at its value and the value more generally of a co-creation philosophy. For example, they discuss how it can be enhanced by developing an interdisciplinary dimension to co-creation (although they discuss how the logistics become complicated).

From an employability and globalisation perspective, individuals in co-creation will work in different settings and as members of multifaceted teams. There is a need for social skills and communication skills. (Collis, nd)

Learning as co-creation becomes a social construction of research, clarification, debate and discussion towards producing new situated knowledge through deep exploration.


Alexander, B. (2006). Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and
learning. Educause Review, March/April 2006, pp. 33-40. Accessed 20
October 2008 from

Barrett, T. & Moore, S., eds. (2011). New approaches to problem-based learning: revitalising your practice in higher education. London & New York: Routledge.

Callahan, V. (2013). Toward networked feminist scholarship: Mindful media, participatory learning, and distributed authorship in the digital economy. Cinema Journal, Fall 2013, 53(1), pp.156-163.

Collis, B. (nd). A pedagogy for learners in the co-creation of knowledge and the problems that confront it in practice. Online:
Collis, B. & Moonen, J. (2006). The student: learners as co-developers of learning resources for reuse in web environments. In D. Hung and M.S. Khine (eds.), Engaged Learning with Emerging Technologies, 49-67.

hooks, b. (2012). Writing beyond Race: Living theory and practice. New York: Routledge.

Markauskaite, L. & Goodyear, P. (2016). Epistemic fluency and professional education: Innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer.

Mclaughlan, R. & Lodge, J. (2019). Facilitating epistemic fluency through design thinking: a strategy for the broader application of studio pedagogy within higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 24(1), pp.81-97

McMurtrie, B. (2019, 19 September).  How to Help First-Year Students Tackle Project-Based Learning. The Chronicle of Higher Education. [Blog post] Online at:

Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing
just one. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4-13.

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
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