Inclusive learning: three key themes from the St Mary’s University Festival of Teaching & Learning, June 2019

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This one-day event focused on inclusive teaching & learning.  I was able to attend nine mini-sessions plus the two keynotes by Mick Healey, Emeritus Professor at the University of Gloucestershire, and Helena Gillespie, Senior Lecturer at UEA.

Below is a very brief encapsulation of three themes I noticed cropping up across the day.

Widening Participation is a process not a label

Widening Participation does not mean lowering standards.  It means acknowledging difference and inequalities, and enabling social mobility.  WP is not a type of student; widening participation is something a university does.  The student is not the risk; the risk is within the institution, i.e. of not meeting a student’s needs.  TEF explicitly requires that the risk of differential outcomes for disadvantaged students is identified and addressed.

Student experience is about more than just the curriculum

The holistic student experience encompasses curriculum, assessment, pedagogy and environment, and therefore includes, for example, the culture of the organisation and the quality of the relationship between staff and students.  Time spent trying to know our student or cohort is time well spent; we mustn’t assume they are the student we were 20 years ago.  Well-designed assessments mirror real-world career tasks where possible, and sometimes offer choice and the possibility of personalisation.

Independent learning is a priority

School and college teachers can feel they have to spoonfeed learners to some extent, because of the pressure on exam results.  So a key early task for us as HE educators is to encourage more independent learning.  Traditionally, we tend to begin programmes with information-centred activities and then shift towards discovery-orientated learning as the course progresses.  But there’s value in use of discovery learning right from the outset; it fosters independence and subject interest.  Learning can still be scaffolded though; for example, reading lists shouldn’t just be lists; they need annotations to tell students which bit they need to read, and when, and what they might get from it.

A full list of the event’s speakers and contributors can be found at: https://www.stmarys.ac.uk/events/2019/06/festival-of-learning

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