Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses: Using Structured Reflection within Experiential Learning to Enable Widening Participation Students’ Transitions Through and Beyond Higher Education


  • Neil M Speirs University of Edinburgh
  • Simon C Riley University of Edinburgh
  • Gavin McCabe University of Edinburgh



experiential learning, widening participation, reflection, radical collegiality, rational pedagogy


The notion of students as partners in the co-creation of curricula and indeed co-evaluating or co-grading has shown positive outcomes that include increased engagement and motivation (Cook-Sather, Bovill, & Felten, 2014; Cook-Sather 2014; Cook-Sather & Motz-Storey 2016). In order for a student to be a pedagogical co-designer or indeed a change agent it is reasonable to suggest that they must already possess a substantial level of social and cultural capital (Woolcock, 2001) to enable this engagement. However, students from lower socio-economic status backgrounds are more likely to lack such capital and to not understand the “rules of the game” (Bourdieu, 1990; Bourdieu, 1984). In this situation, the value or pay-off of being involved in such co-design in terms of attribute development through a novel sense of experiential learning, may not be fully appreciated. Therefore, there are likely limits to the extent that co-creation and radical collegiality (Fielding, 1999), will lead to the democratisation of curricula and enhance students’ experiences, irrespective of social background. Despite the barriers outlined above, Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses (SLICCs) are an emerging area of practice at the University of Edinburgh through which widening participation (WP) students are successfully being engaged in the graduate attributes and employability agendas and ultimately in the pedagogical co-design of their own credit-bearing curriculum. SLICCs provide a flexible reflective-learning framework for experiential learning that enables individuals and groups of students to work across disciplinary and structural boundaries. These courses broaden the scope of what is considered to be ‘curricular’, bringing what was previously co- and extra-curricular into the credit-bearing provision. This paper will explore how WP students are engaged in the radical collegiality of SLICCs, despite the many barriers related to capital, through a rational pedagogy as outlined by Bourdieu and Passeron (1979).

Author Biographies

Neil M Speirs, University of Edinburgh

Dr Speirs works on a number of Widening Participation projects as a practitioner and researcher. His particular interests include: peer related pedagogical practices, retention, returning adult learners, early years engagement, equity of student experience and the academic underachievement of males.

Simon C Riley, University of Edinburgh

Dr Riley is Director of Student Selected Components for the undergraduate medicine programme, where students choose their field of interest, gain research experience and undertake career exploration. Seconded to the Institute for Academic Development he is developing his interests in reflection, experiential learning, and student agency, to develop SLICCs institution-wide.

Gavin McCabe, University of Edinburgh

Dr McCabe leads the University’s Employability Consultancy. With a background in statistical epidemiology, international development, careers advice and higher education projects, he is now responsible for supporting institutional strategy and initiatives relating to students’ employability, development and graduate attributes, as well as fostering associated local-level activities and enhancements.


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