One size does not fit all: how to ensure all students reach their potential

The University of York Teaching and Learning Conference 2015

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN FORUM 38: 4-5

row of pebbles

The University of York Teaching and Learning Conference will take place on Wednesday 10  of June 2015 in the Exhibition Centre on the Heslington West Campus. This is the University’s annual event to celebrate, showcase and disseminate the wealth of good practice in teaching and learning across the University. This year, the main conference theme is based around addressing inclusivity, diversity and equality within the classroom and curricula.

The programme will begin with an introduction by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Students Dr Jane Grenville. Conference themes will then be addressed in detail within five parallel workshop sessions. During lunch there will be a poster session for colleagues and students to share their own educational innovations in any field, as well as plenty of opportunities for discussion and debate about the issues raised. Following lunch the keynote speech will be given by Christine Hockings. This will be followed by further parallel workshops. The conference will conclude with a structured group discussion over drinks on conference themes.

Keynote theme

Christine Hockings, Professor of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education at the University of Wolverhampton, will deliver the keynote speech. Christine has conducted a significant amount of research into the pedagogy of widening participation and student diversity. She recently completed a project to develop Open Educational Resources for the Higher Education sector designed for the enhancement of inclusive learning environments that has been accessed widely both nationally and overseas. Her main area of teaching includes the innovative Teacher as Academic module on the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice at the University of Wolverhampton. Christine will draw on her experiences and will share these resources, describing how they have been used. The conference will conclude with a structured group discussion over drinks on conference themes.

The need to ensure inclusivity and equality within the classroom and curricula is articulated in key objective 2 of the new University Strategy. Students come to the University of York with different expectations, different learning styles, different needs, and different ambitions. It is essential to enable these students to benefit from our research-led teaching, our outstanding student support, and the opportunities for personal and academic fulfilment. Our programmes must allow students to develop to their full potential, academically, professionally, and personally. This can be achieved through careful management, design and delivery of learning, teaching and assessment.

Inclusivity

Higher education continues to evolve to meet domestic and international socio-economic drivers. Recently this has included widening participation of higher education for under-represented social groups through Access Agreements. The strengthening of regulation and legislation in the form of the Quality Assurance Framework and the 2010 Equality Act are prompting universities to reflect on how equality and diversity are embedded in the curriculum and integrated within the teaching, placing an explicit duty on institutions to be anticipatory regarding issues affecting inclusivity. The role of the supervisor will be considered within a workshop session in the context of responding to the needs of the students.

Recent changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) will impact students applying for DSA for the first time on or after the 1st of September 2015. These changes look to rebalance responsibilities between government funding and institutional support, compelling universities to introduce changes which can further reduce reliance on DSAs. The effect of these changes and the ways in which teaching staff can better support disabled students will be discussed in a workshop led by the Manager of Disability Services.

The embedding of equality and inclusivity creates a higher education environment in which all students are equal, but in addition equips them with vital intercultural and diversity skills to enhance their employability in an interconnected globalised economy. The University actively recruits on an international level and it is therefore essential that programme design celebrates this cultural diversity. In attempting to ensure equality, it is however important to avoid inadvertently reinforcing traditional stereotypes regarding the manner in which a group may be expected to participate within traditional teaching activities. This topic will be considered within a workshop in conjunction with a discussion exploring the ways in which effective group work within a multi-cultural classroom can be achieved.

Programme design

The conference will also explore the implications of diversifying delivery of programmes and how students are engaged during their studies and supported in the process of achieving their potential. A key theme will be the way in which programme design can address the range of student ability and levels of student engagement. The temptation to make assumptions about the ways in which students learn, and therefore to opt for a ‘one size fits all’ approach to programme design and delivery is strong. Often time pressures are perceived to preclude any departure from lecture-centred teaching practices that focus on information delivery rather than student-centred learning. Teaching practices that place the student at the focus of curriculum planning and programme delivery are more likely to result in effective support, deeper learning, greater inclusivity and higher levels of student participation. This individualised learning provision addresses the unique needs of the learner, rather than those of the teacher. A workshop will consider the ways in which a programme might be adapted to cater for variety in ability, exploring learner autonomy and collaborative learning.

Flexible learningheight measurement

The ultimate extension of a student-centred learning strategy is to allow the student to choose how they will be assessed. It has been well established that the mode of assessment can have a powerful influence on the learning behaviour of students. Offering a variety of assessment methods is often recommended as good practice in comparison to the over-reliance on traditional examinations. Assessment methods could be designed to more appropriately cater for differences in students’ learning preferences and styles. A workshop will discuss how more choice regarding assessment fits with the University’s assessment principles and will consider the different ways students could be given a greater choice related to assessment.

The growing popularity and increased use of distance learning, flexible learning, computer-based learning and multimedia resources has driven the development of a wide range of individualised learning techniques. Adoption of similar practices within traditional university teaching, such as the provision of e-learning materials to supplement a module, better management of collaborative work, increased flexibility and variety in teaching and assessment, allow a more personalised approach to learning, such that all students can engage with an equal chance of success. A workshop will consider the potential benefits which can be gained from the use of video recordings of lectures to facilitate a personalised learning approach. It will also consider how online learning and teaching need to adapt to the demands of the format. A further workshop will consider the value of personalised video feedback and will question the balance between formative and summative assessment, exploring the challenges imposed by the current assessment regime.

Different learning preferences should be reflected in the design and delivery of the curricula, and inclusive practice should be embedded within all programmes. The University aims to strengthen its commitment to ensuring equality for all students. This year’s Learning and Teaching Conference provides an opportunity to reflect on how best to achieve these objectives, providing an opportunity for sharing best practice across disciplines.

This magazine edition explores the themes of the conference with contributions from colleagues delivering sessions at the conference. The full programme and how to register can be found on the website: http://bit.ly/1tYHdWJ.

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