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  6. A view through the looking glass: co-creation and innovation - a recipe for success

A view through the looking glass: co-creation and innovation - a recipe for success

Sarah Mander, Amber Fensham-Smith, Nichola Connolly and Yasmin Reeve, The Open University

Email: (Twitter @SarahMander5); (Twitter @AJFenshamSmith);;   

Session recording












Click to download the presentation A view through the looking glass: co-creation and innovation - a recipe for success (.pptx)


This session showcases innovative co-creation activities and research practice undertaken by the Student Voice and Wellbeing group from the School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport at the Open University (OU). The group works in partnership to strengthen student voice and facilitate opportunities for empowering students which ensure the student voice is heard, listened to and acted upon. 

Creating such opportunities amplifies students’ voices, offering potential to address awarding gaps for any student group. This work communicates the message that students’ voices and wellbeing are inextricably connected and are everyone’s responsibility (Mander in Brown and Mander, 2021). The student-led session recounts the inception of the group, sharing the whys and hows of its strategic approach and leadership, and the depth and breadth of the students’ participation. It reports on research activities which evaluate the impact on under-represented students of participation in staff recruitment processes. The presentation is a platform to challenge, stimulate and diversify traditional student voice practice and is relevant for an international audience.

A focus upon promoting positive mental health and wellbeing is a core value of the group. The presentation proudly introduces a newly published bi-lingual, digital student wellbeing handbook, co-created by Student Ambassadors and staff members. Resources include thought-provoking contributions of artwork, poetry, stories and activities based upon the five ways of wellbeing connect, give, take notice, keep learning and be active promoted by MIND, a UK based mental health charity. The main strength of this resource is that it draws directly on student experience, and what students feel best supports their wellbeing while studying.

These activities share insight and expertise, helping facilitate deeper learning of barriers to student experience. They identify creative, pioneering approaches to improvement in the equality of student experiences and outcomes. The presentation will be of interest to other HEIs seeking innovative models for promoting marginalised voices through mental health and wellbeing projects, and brings potential for policy makers to re-evaluate existing student voice and wellbeing strategies and practice.  


Mander, S. (2021) ‘Well-being, Mental Health and the Student population’ in Williams-Brown, Z. and Mander, S. (eds) Childhood Well-being and Resilience: An educational perspective, Abingdon: Routledge.


Sarah Mander

Sarah Mander

Staff Tutor and Associate Lecturer, The Open University

Sarah's professional background is within children’s services, working with the 0 - 19 age range and families. She is Staff Tutor for The Open University with management responsibility for Lecturers, and leads the School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport Student Voice and Wellbeing group. Sarah is a doctoral student, researching the characteristics of child-centred practice and safeguarding within Early Help workforces. Since moving to the world of academia 8 years ago, Sarah has led courses for Family and Community Studies and Special Educational Needs and Disability. Her teaching interests include childhood and youth, safeguarding and well-being, and educational inclusion.


Amber Fensham-Smith

Dr Amber Fensham-Smith

Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies,

Dr Amber Fensham-Smith (FHEA) is a Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies in the School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport and Voice and Wellbeing champion for the Childhood and Youth studies Programme, Open University. She currently co-chairs a level 2 undergraduate module ‘Exploring Childhood and Youth’. As a Sociologist, Amber’s research and teaching interests lie in alternative education and informal learning. Through new approaches, she is passionate about, and interested in, the variety of ways in which students and staff can collaborate to build and extend democratic and equitable spaces, networks, and learning communities.  The Open University


Nichola Connolly

Nichola Connolly 

Student, The Open University

Nichola Connolly is a current Open University student studying towards a BA Hons degree award in Primary Education studies.  Nichola routinely engages in student participation activities.  She is the Faculty Association Representative for the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies. Nichola is also a Student Ambassador for the ECYS Student Voice and Wellbeing Group, and is a committee member for the Disabled Students Group.   



Yasmin Reeve

Yasmin Reeve

Student, The Open University

Yasmin Reeve is a current Open University student studying towards her BSc Honours Degree in Sports, Fitness and Coaching. Yasmin is a Student Ambassador for the ECYS Student Voice and Wellbeing Group. She has a special interest in students’ mental health and helped to develop the Wellbeing Handbook. She also has an interest in helping the OU become an even better place for people with neurodiversity to study.