On Friday 23 January 2015 I visited York St-John’s University (YSJ) to attend their ‘Talking about Teaching’ event which this year was themed around “Inclusive Learning, Teaching and Assessment”. The fifth year of this annual event, saw around 12o YSJ staff coming together to have conversations, share ideas, reflect on current practice and consider ways in which inclusive pedagogies could best be strengthened going forward. For the purposes of the event YSJ defined this theme as:
“…any number of approaches that meet the needs of students from a variety of backgrounds, learning styles and abilities, with the emphasis on equality and diversity.”
With two keynote sessions, a choice of morning workshops and afternoon teaching and learning conversations there was plenty of opportunity to hear about and discuss curriculum design related research and practices in relation to developing inclusive teaching. However for the purpose of this blog post I have chosen to focus on the two sessions that I attended which most reflected the student voice within the process.
The Stratus Writers Project: listening to our students on the autistic spectrum
In the morning I attended an excellent session led by Jonathan Vincent who had carried out a participatory action research project, to identify solutions that could be put in place to mitigate some of the learning challenges faced by students’ on the autistic spectrum. The session was based around a dialogic task – transcripts from student interviews were provided and we were invited to discuss these in small groups and annotate our thoughts on the challenges the students’ faced, what was being done already to address these, and suggest any additional interventions we could think of. Following this exercise, there was the opportunity for feedback and discussion around some of the strategies suggested for implementation. Jonathan collected our comments to collate into a good practice document as a practical outcome of the session – emphasising that students on the autistic spectrum make up a complex and growing population and that solutions are not – one size fits all. However as a bonus any interventions adopted to support students’ on the autistic spectrum can be equally useful to their peers. You can find out more about the Stratus Writing Project via the YSJ website.
“We have a dream”
In the afternoon I attended a lively informal session led by two YSJ students (Laura Jackson and Gabby Wilson) who used student feedback to recommend how to deliver sessions that are engaging and inclusive. This covered both approaches students currently appreciated and what they considered could be improved upon. Here is some of the feedback:
- good communication, and clear guidelines on what is expected of them
- approachable lecturers: open and welcoming – no question is considered too ‘silly
- hand outs at the start of sessions so they can focus on understanding and learning
- lecture capture if available
- a flipped classroom approach to learning with lots of discussion / Q&A opportunities
- engaging lecturers who use of a broad range of examples – tailor sessions with examples appropriate to the diversity of the student population
- appropriate language being used to the level of their experience/expertise
- creative approaches to teaching and learning / making learning fun
- being assigned roles in group work situations so they all have a defined purpose
- diverse assessment methods and anonymous marking
Students struggle when:
- lecturers talk to fast, deliver too much content and don’t allow time for questions
- lecturers read straight off presentations
- lecturers are negative about a topic – e.g. this topic is dull, it will be boring
- teaching spaces are poor / inappropriate – this can have a big impact on learning
- there is a lack of consistency across their learning experience
- there is poor internal communication amongst staff
Communication: the key to inclusive learning, teaching and assessment
Finally thank you to all at YSJ for an engaging day, packed full of opportunities to listen, discuss and reflect on building inclusivity into curriculum design, teaching, assessment and student support.
If I was going to take away just one key message from the event – it would be that students are the experts in the student experience and the key to improving inclusivity for all is providing opportunities for two-way dialogue to inform the design and delivery of courses.
Posted by Jane Gaffikin (@tali_hud)