Last month, I was fortunate to attend and present at the Advance HE Teaching & Learning conference 2022 with my colleague Maria Kaffa, the rising star in our digital accessibility team. The overarching theme across all three days of the conference was on Enhancing student success through student engagement. I attended some sensational sessions, but I’ve selected my top 5 topics that left me feeling psyched for the year ahead (ask me again at the end of term). I hope they energise you as much as they did me and help with any ideas you might be working on.
Warning: It’s a bit of a long one so use the handy links in the table of contents to skip to anything that’s of interest.
This is a hot topic in academia! I’m not just saying that because our presentation was on this too (Maria and I will blog on that soon!). It’s because student and staff partnerships are truly shaping and transforming teaching and learning. Like these two incredible projects that enabled students to become change agents:
Prof Fiona Shelton, Dr Alison Torn, and research student Sonya Karamzalieva from Leeds Trinity University told us about how they examined “student co-creation.. to develop rich feedback to inform the development of learning, teaching and student experience across the university”. It involved 10 staff and 21 students on 8 projects over a year, including task design (ethics approval, data collection and investigation), engagement (social media, branded merchandise), and co-creation outputs that can be used further. The projects taken forward were decided on the student views gathered from a survey. One of those was to create a consistent layout for all Moodle modules, which is now in place. They note that co-creation is a complex task. As you can imagine, shifting power and organisational change is not easy but surely worth the discovery of new and wonderful ways of working with students as partners.
Dr Joanne Gough and Dr Alan Goddard from Aston University presented on the co-creation of assessment with a cohort of 96 final-year BSc Biochemistry students. The assessment was for a 30-credit Professional Development module that aims to close the skills gap students had identified themselves in personal reflection. The students came up with a three-part assessment and grading rubric. You might wonder, why do this when you already have an assessment you can tweak and what about quality assurance? Well, co-creation opens the learning process for transparency and has seen a higher quality of work, academic performance and student satisfaction (Bovill, 2020). It helps to have a quality assurance assessor that’s onboard the project as they did. And it seems the students didn’t take too much convincing when given the choice of using an existing assessment or creating their, knowing they were likely to do better on the latter.
Check out the Advance HE Student Partnerships in Assessment (SPiA) guide for getting started with and principles of assessment co-creation. It contains lots of examples from institutions across the world and useful resources.
Curious about what is meant by cripping, I went along to a workshop run by Dr Laura Waite, at Liverpool Hope University and here are the things I learned:
- Cripping is dedicated to the concept of gaining from disability and how diverse bodies and minds can enable more flexible and creative ways of working. Disrupting ableism!
- Cripping the classroom requires deep reflection and going beyond ticking the boxes in support plans. It’s about cripping all classrooms, not just those that have disabled students in them.
- Cripping the curriculum challenges educators to include disabled writers and encourages students to consider how disability is featured in all texts even when it is not a dominant theme (Fox, 2010).
As ableist practices are often unconscious, addressing disability must begin with the normalisation and de-stigmatisation of disability – it’s okay to say disabled. It means moving away from the ‘deficit’ model and reactive accommodations. This way, we avoid assuming that classrooms include only able-bodied students or tokenise students with visible disabilities as the spokespeople for the disabled experience. It is not a homogenous group. This work, after all, is about being human and it relates to all disciplines.
Sense of belonging
Our teaching practices have changed dramatically since pivoting to online. It left many of us feeling anxious and isolated and exacerbated the inequities that marginalised students have faced all along (Stommel, 2020). So, I was delighted to see many sessions featuring interventions for fostering belonging, not only for improving well-being but increasing achievement too. Here are just two from an in-class and online perspective:
First, we heard from Edith Lewis, a senior lecturer who has been awarded a Teaching Excellence Award for her work on promoting a sense of belonging and success for Black students at Canterbury Christ Church University, a majority white academy. She highlights that although more black students are accessing Higher Education than before, their attainment has been significantly below the average for English Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The gap in degree outcomes (1st and 2:1) between white and black students is reducing but still remains large (OfS, 2022). The research tells us that systematic racism and discrimination are embedded in the British education system and that a sense of belonging can influence academic success, students’ motivation, academic self-confidence, institutional commitment, and student retention in HE. It also interrogates the myths of a deficit model that often explains these gaps e.g., prior achievement, socio-economic deprivation, and subject choice. Some recommendations coming from Edith’s research:
- Make the effort in learning students’ names, even with the lollipop stick method used in schools (there are online tools for this too like the wheel of names).
- Introduce a learning contract to give students the responsibility of looking after each other.
- Encourage students to sit next to someone different.
- Train staff in unconscious bias, awareness of classroom tribalism and managing this.
- Acknowledge racism and microaggression in the classroom, in group work, and on placement.
- Challenge students to discuss and debate diverse perspectives and acknowledge background and language barriers.
Second, we had Prof. Jane Loftus and Dr Hazel McKenna at Utah Valley University who set out to create an inclusive learning environment to improve retention, graduation rates and wellbeing. They produced a series of online modules to increase students’ awareness and acceptance of differences in others, as well as in themselves. The goal is to make them feel welcome. Learning to embrace diversity and challenge stereotypes are important skills for the global workforce and help students to do better. This included “meet and greet” videos where students upload their videos and were asked to comment on other videos to help students recognise, that they are not alone. There were alternative formats for anyone that was camera shy but no one was.
There’s part of me that misses sharing a physical space with other people, but I’m not convinced it is necessary to build connections. I felt like an outsider throughout my schooling and took any opportunity to skip class. Somehow, I managed to scrape through, and I rekindled my relationship with education as a mature student. Even though I’m still adjusting to teaching online, I appreciate how much easier it’s been to juggle it all as a student and single parent. There was a great vibe from the group work on my last module despite the distance. However, the difficulties in getting to know students, managing group work and increased workload in preparing digital activities and resources are some of the most negative aspects of online teaching (Jisc, 2021). So, it’s good to hear of examples where this is working.
Queering the Curriculum
Good Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) things are happening at City, which has won an Equality and Diversity Athena SWAN Award for its Transgender, Intersex, Gender Non-Conforming (TIGNC) policy and currently awaiting bronze accreditation from the Race Equality Charter. But could we Queer the Curriculum I wonder?
The University of Suffolk has been using EDI research to address the detrimental impact on studies from uneven experiences of inclusion and representation. The experience of feeling accepted and welcome was not universal. Despite having clear EDI policies some felt EDI engagement was tokenistic. The project arose from student testimonies at a Queering the Curriculum symposium. Here are some of the recommendations that came from their project:
- Disability: better training for staff on invisible disabilities and neurodivergence to ensure support follows students across all aspects of experience and they are not having to retell their story again and again.
- LGBTQ+: more gender-neutral toilets and better processes that make it easier for preferred names and pronouns to be shared and kept updated across systems.
- Gender: address women’s safety, security issues, and childcare responsibilities.
- Race: more celebration of Black History Month and spaces to relax and socialise that feel less white.
- Religion: more awareness of religious calendars and additional spaces for prayer and quiet reflection.
Some issues are overarching, like integrating diversity strands into the curriculum and employing more representative staff. Some initiatives are easily implemented by individual teaching staff and teams and other require institutional support. Check out the Queering the Curriculum – PRIDE 2021 (wordpress.com) seminar series for more inspiration.
Hurrah! You have reached the end and the inspiration for the blog title (has to be said out loud, in General Levy style).
Climate change, pollution, violence, government corruption, rising costs of living, inequality, poverty…what woe are some of the worst global issues facing us today, loaded with uncertainty and a barrage of conflicting information. They may be all too real for our students to fully engage in their field of study. However, some authentic learning opportunities in tackling ‘real-world’ challenges might motivate them more, regardless of the career path that follows, and framing them as Wicked Problems that have “emerged at a time of social unrest” presents us with a powerful teaching tool (Cross & Congreve, 2021).
But how? Well, Dr Ian Cross and Alina Congreve brought us a design thinking workshop to think about inserting professional skills such as project management, leadership, networking, and communication skills into our current HE teaching programmes. These skills, seen in early career researcher programmes, could support academic staff in developing wicked students that leave education ready to address the world’s wicked problems. The questions put forward to us were “What are the visible effects and root causes of PgCert programmes not engaging with wicked thinking?” and “What are the possible solutions?” which we were asked to vote on. Food for thought! For ideas on ‘Teaching 21st Century Challenges’, take a look at Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World by Paul Hanstedt (not available on our library shelves yet but it has been requested!)
Food and freebies
Aside from coming away with a wealth of ideas and meeting lots of remarkable people, I should mention the food and freebies which we all love. I have no shame when it comes to the latter. I will fill my boots. My favourite one was the #52etc toolkit and card deck which can help gamify your teaching practice. It has lots of adaptable activity ideas to engage your students. There’s a blank card which you can create and submit for consideration in the next edition. I put one in for the accessibility corner of course:
The gluten-free catering wasn’t too bad if most of it hadn’t been scoffed away. Leaving me looking longingly at the gluten-laden pastries. Luckily, I remembered I had been to another conference in Newcastle at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art which is pretty cool in itself and it has the stunning Six restaurant if want to #TreatYoSelf!
Check out Maria’s blog: What I learned at the AdvanceHE Teaching and Learning Conference 2022: Part 1 if you haven’t done so already!
Bovill, C., 2020. Co-creation in learning and teaching: the case for a whole class approach in higher education. Higher Education, 79(6), p. 1023 1037.
Cross, I. & Congreve, A., 2021. Teaching (super) wicked problems: authentic learning about climate change. Journal of geography in higher education, 45(4), pp. 491-516.
Fox, A., 2010. How to Crip the Undergraduate Classroom: Lessons from Performance, Pedagogy, and Possibility. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 23(1), pp. 38-47.
Jisc, 2021. Teaching staff digital experience insights survey 2020/21: UK higher education (HE) survey findings, Bristol: Jisc.
Lubicz-Nawrocka, T., 2019. More than just a student”: How curriculum co-creation fosters third spaces in ways of working, identity, and impact. International Journal for Students as Partners, 3(1), pp. 34-49.
OfS, 2022. Office for Students: Participation performance measures. Available at: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/access-and-participation-data-dashboard/
Stommel, J., 2020. How to Build an Online Learning Community: 6 Theses. Available at: https://www.jessestommel.com/how-to-build-an-online-learning-community-6-theses/