Unleashing your inner co-design pirate to find buried treasure

Q: How do you know you’re a pirate? A: You just know you RRRR

Collaboratively developing a course over several semesters can be an arduous process. Sometimes we need constructive fun to push the development process to the next level. As echoed in the title of an upcoming University of Sydney Business Schools Learning & Teaching Forum, we need to find and celebrate the joy of learning and teaching.

In this blog, I describe an innovative workshop conducted midway through an educational co-design process. The purpose of the workshop was to reflect on the development process, review learnings from the project, build a road-map to guide future directions, and relax and build rapport with the team.

I refer to this workshop as a RRRR Workshop – Reflect, Review, Road map, Relax!


While the educational design process used in the Connected Learning at Scale project at the University of Sydney Business School often begins with a Connect:In workshop, other kinds of workshops are sometimes held at different time points. One co-design team came together twelve months into an eighteen-month long (three-semester) course development project. The group included two unit coordinators (UCs), two learning designers (LDs), and a co-design lead and educational developer (ED) who facilitated the workshop. As highlighted by Roschelle and Penual (2006), co-design relies on sustained and ongoing involvement with the design of innovations in education. The team had made significant progress using weekly meetings to structure the process, but it was tiring. Spurred by a UC saying the process “wasn’t fun anymore”, I decided to unleash my inner pirate and create a fun, productive workshop to review course evaluation findings and map a productive way forward for the final semester of development. In line with Watts-Englert and Yang (2021), the workshop was designed to “share insights and co-create opportunities in an interactive format”.  

The workshop was scheduled towards the end of the day for two hours (3-5pm) to encourage the team to relax and socialise afterwards. I booked food, drinks and a room with a view for the event. Reminders were emailed with a ‘pirate theme’ and nerdy pirate jokes to create a sense of anticipation. As host, I was in a full pirate costume, and the room was liberally themed with pirate paraphernalia and had pirate music playing. The workshop was structured around the four sections: reflect, review, road map, and relax.


To kick-off the workshop team members were asked to reflect on the last twelve months of the development process using a range of materials such as prompts, whiteboards and post-its. As suggested by Wong et al., (2021), such materials are effective in co-design workshops with educators to mediating participants’ “negotiation and creativity”. Many positives were identified, but also some negatives which were essential to identify and understand. The length of the co-design process was one of them.


A large amount of evaluation data had been gathered through the first stage of the design process by the educational developer. The purpose was to capture student and staff perceptions of the course developments and their impact on learning and teaching. This included a student survey, a student focus group, and interviews with tutors and unit coordinators. The workshop was deliberately held at the end of semester two (November) to allow time for this data to be collated and analysed. The workshop provided an opportunity for the educational developer to present the evaluation data and for the team to parley (discuss it) in a supportive and fun environment as it contained crucial learnings. As suggested by Watts-Englert & Yang (2021), the co-design setting and process can help to create “buy-in for some controversial findings.” Getting the team together to hear and absorb this feedback and use it constructively was a breakthrough moment that allowed the team to move to a new level.

Road map

Why do pirates bury their treasure 18 inches under the ground?  Because booty is only shin-deep!

Then my mateys, the educational developer, went full pirate, with a soundtrack and a bit of a pirate performance to help the creative juices flow and brainstorm what we wanted to achieve in the following semester, that is, to create a pirate map to the buried treasure. Post-it notes were written and grouped into themes on the map. The process allowed participants to articulate future goals and plans, and produced a sense of ownership by the group about future plans and designs (Sanders & Stappers, 2008).


No one was made to walk the plank as the team felt they had found their treasure. The group relaxed, bonded and laughed with some well-earned food and drinks, achieving another aim of the workshop – team bonding. As suggested by Wong et al., (2021), “the collective creations resulting from the process are inseparable from the social context.” 


We all have a little bit of pirate in us, and that sense that life can be a bit too serious. Great things can be achieved when we loosen the process, when everyone has input, and we have some fun. As practical guidance and research on collaborative creativity among teachers and education professionals is scarce (Baruah & Paulus, 2019; Fischer, 2020), it is important to share and document our approaches and deepen our understanding of how creativity in educational co-design processes are socially, culturally, and materially mediated (Wong et al., (2021).

While you may not want to wear the full pirate costume… could the four R’s “Reflect, Review, Road map, Relax” be useful for you to adapt midway though an educational co-design process?

Oh, and one last pirate joke…

Did you know 3.14% of co-designers are Pi Rates?

About the author

Jo is an Educational Designer with Business CoDesign at the University of Sydney. She brings a practical and strategic approach to educational design with extensive experience in unit coordination, lecturing, marketing, advertising and strategy.

Published by Jo Nash

Jo is an Educational Designer with Business CoDesign at the University of Sydney. She brings a practical and strategic approach to educational design with extensive experience in unit coordination, lecturing, marketing, advertising and strategy.

One thought on “Unleashing your inner co-design pirate to find buried treasure

  1. I suggest it is time university academics took teaching seriously. It is not cosplay. It is something you need to be trained and certified in. By the way, modern day pirates are violent criminals, not cartoon characters.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: