The Learning Co-op: a showcase of cooperative leadership to provide a coherent model of student academic support
This presentation showcases a cooperative model of leadership and governance at one Australian university that emerged out of a shared vision to improve student access to extra-curricular academic support services. The presentation begins by describing the strategic partnership formed by the diverse academic support providers within the DVCA Portfolio (Library, Learning Development, Peer Learning, Digital Literacies and UOW College) to deliver their services in a less fragmented and more visible and accessible space within the University Library, called the Learning Co-op. Drawing on the principles of effective cooperative models (eg. Taylor, 2015), the paper will discuss how some of these were achieved and which still require further development. The paper will then describe the actual service provision and the way existing services, such as 'Book a Librarian' and the Library Rovers, Learning Development seminars and consultations, and the Digital Literacy seminars and online modules were relocated and combined with a new provider of English language support (UOW College), and perhaps most importantly, included the creation of a new role, the Peer Academic Coach (Peer Learning), to work with the Library Rovers as a triage point for students within the Learning Co-op space. Finally, the evaluation data for the two-phase pilot based on student access data, focus groups, evaluation forms and a user survey will be provided. Among the various data collected and analysed, a key positive outcome was that 63% of student enquiries were resolved immediately by the peer learning services in this space. The authors wish to highlight the deliberate and strategic use of the term 'co-operative': for the organisation, it frames and values the co-operative nature of the partnership between the service providers; and for the students, it foregrounds the use of peer learning services and the notion of co-operative learning as a key element of the provision. The initiative showcased here demonstrates how a co-operative leadership and governance model can create, as Taylor (2015) has suggested, 'an arena of experimentation' (p.150) that: involves a shared sense of purpose, values more equitable stakeholder involvement and agency, enhances the distribution/sharing of resources and information, and at a broad level contributes to valuable organisational improvements. This approach has been embraced by the University Executive and will continue to evolve in 2016 with funding provided to create the Digital Learning Co-op for regional, remote and offshore students.