Centering the student voice in module content and design

Dr Carli Rowell at the Sussex Teaching Festival

In this case study, Dr Carli Rowell, senior lecturer in Sociology at Sussex, shares her experience of co-creating a Sociology module with first-generation, working-class students.

What I did

I worked with first-generation, working-class Sociology students to co-create the module ‘Class, Culture and Conflict: A View from the Inside’. Students were involved will also aspects to the module design, from helping to choose topics, selecting content material and crafting the assessment mode. Importantly, the students helped me to bring in material from outside the University in an attempt to better understand class inequalities within the UK from the perspectives of working-class people.

Why I did it

I wanted to co-create this module with students because class continues to be talked about within the discipline in an overly top-down way. Despite the inclusion of more working-class academics within Sociology, class as a conceptual tool central to sociological thought is taught through the gaze of the privileged academic in the ivory tower. I thought that co-collaborating with working class students studying Sociology at Sussex would be a great way to centre the working-class voice throughout the module, not just in terms of the issues and things that it looks at, but also in terms of the material that it engages with and draws upon. 

Impact and student feedback

Designing this module with students made them feel that their experiences and life history are valid and worthy of academic, sociological enquiry. It allowed students to reflect on their own experiences and connect theories discussed in the module to their own lives.


I was attuned to the ethical issues that can arise when seeking to draw upon subjective experiences of social class within HE teaching and assessment. To address these issues, I emphasised that although I was asking students to situate themselves in terms of the class landscape and how they have been affected by class, they did not need to share these insights with everyone. I also encouraged students to be mindful of the language that we use when it comes to class since there is a lot of derogatory language that surrounds class and class-based issues. I wanted to create a safe space, so I approached the subject of class as a potentially sensitive topic.

Future plans

I have recently been awarded funding from Education and Innovation Fund for the project ‘A View from Within: Pedagogy, Practice & Possibilities’. The project, drawing upon student conducted focus groups, and an end of project dissemination event project aims to have a positive impact on the learning experience of all students, by influencing the teaching practice and curriculum design of those working in higher education at Sussex and beyond. It aims to encourage others (beyond the discipline of sociology) to adopt the pedagogical practice of taking “a view from within” as a way of fostering HE curriculums that are inclusive of working-class knowledge(s) thus reflecting the larger society in which UKHE operates within and challenging the classed politics of knowledge production.

Top 3 tips

  1. Collaborate with students to pool interests and resources that go beyond academic understandings such as works by activists, artists and comedians.
  2. Assign auto-ethnographic pieces of reflective writings and diary entries that encourage students to connect their personal experiences with the content covered in the module. This helps to further centre the student voice.
  3. Collaborate with students on the design of assessment. For example, in this module, we decided to include several formative activities that asked students to analyse non-academic material such as poems, song lyrics and documentaries. Thus, both content and assessment in the module were generated by students rather than decided upon solely by me.
Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Case Studies, students as partners

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *