L&T Session B1: Learning from Experience: widening participation students in Sociology

Ruth Penfold-Mounce, Merran Toerien, Department of Sociology

Abstract | Presentation | Recording

Dr. Gareth Millington and Ruth Penfold-Mounce presented their initial results in a recent project undertaken with Dr Merren Toerien designed to understand the experiences of widening participation (WP) students studying in the Sociology department. They discussed the results of the project which explored key themes – formativLT Event Talk 79.jpge experiences of schooling, influence of parents and guardians on choices, why they chose to study at university level, why York and why Sociology.

The department recruits a number of WP students who are mature, from lower socio-economic backgrounds or from a British minority ethnicity. Given that they are successful in their recruitment of these students they undertook the project to create a knowledge base for the sociology department on their student’s perceptions of studying at York and also hoped to create a tool-kit which other departmentLT Event Talk 82.jpgs could use to help them with their recruitment of WP students.

One of the most insightful findings was that WP students have both diverse and complex backgrounds and therefore they cannot be seen as a homogenous group. It needs to be recognised instead that each individual has intersecting multiple needs. They also discussed the identity of the students where they found that many do not see identify primarily as a student but rather their identity is as a carer or parent or it might be more closely linked to their occupation.

Rather than finding their WP status as something that held them back, the study found that many students used their previous experiences or background to their advantage. They found that some students thought that their ‘working-class work ethic’ enabled them to work harder than their middle-class counterparts. They did see themselves in deficit by coming to university but instead valued their previous experiences and skills.

They presented their tool-kit for departments in which highlighted:

  • The importance of liaising with schools in advance of the students’ applications as they found that the greatest influence on the students’ decision to apply is their school.
  • The role of the parent through the application process.
  • Making the course information accessible and not overload students in the first week.
  • Making the research relate to the student’s personal experiences.

This interesting and engaging session showcased the value of WP students to York. Departments should be encouraged to explore what these students can teach their peers as they have possess a driven focus to get the most out of their university experience. They are also great key graduate ambassadors who can inspire students from similar backgrounds to apply to the university.

Madeleine Mossman, Learning Enhancement, University of York 

L&T conference 2015: One size does not fit all: ensuring all students reach their potential

One size does not fit all: ensuring all students reach their potential
The 2015 Learning and Teaching conference was held on 10 June 2015 with 150 delegates from across the university and externally present. This is the University’s annual event to celebrate, showcase and disseminate the wealth of good practice in learning and teaching across the University.This year, the main conference theme was based around addressing inclusivity, diversity and equality within the classroom and curricula. The conference will explore the implications of diversifying delivery of programmes and how students are supported in the process of achieving their potential.

2015 Learning and Teaching conference poster abstracts (Google doc opens in a new window)

Session summaries and materials are now available for the sessions:

Poster session

Keynote:  Christine Hockings – The craft of Artisan Teaching

Workshop A: Giving everyone a voice – all students in small groups want to say something, Victoria Jack, CELT, Education

Workshop B: Making the curriculum more accessible to disabled students, Claire Shanks, James Browne and Penn Snowden, Disability Services

Workshop C: Power to the people: addressing inclusivity and student motivation through choice in assessment format, Cecilia Lowe, Learning Enhancent, ASO, Kathryn Arnold, Department of Environment, Benjamin Poore & Celine Kingman Department of Theatre, Film and Television; Scott Slorach, York Law School

Workshop D: Fitting Language – but how many sizes?, Paul Roberts, Education/CELT

Workshop E: Diversity and mixed ability at modular and programme level. Supporting Ab Initio language students’ transitions, Cinzia Bacilieri, Sam Hellmuth,Thomas Jochum-Critchley, Maria Muradas Casas, Nadine Saupe, Language and Linguistic Science

Workshop F: Effective group work in the multi-cultural classroom: a video presentation, Chris Copland, Education AND Raising awareness of the diversity of Chinese students in British HE communities, Ping Wang, Education

Workshop G: Video recordings of physics lectures, Martin Smalley, Physics, AND Learning before and after the lecture: the role of learning technology, Matt Cornock, E-Learning Development Team, Academic Support Office

Workshop H: Personalising feedback: Can we bridge the formative-summative gap?, Cathy Dantec, Language and Linguistic Science and Bill Soden, Education

Workshop I: ‘Lad culture’ and Higher Education: Exploring implications for inclusivity, equality and the student experience, Vanita Sundaram, Education AND Inclusive Postgraduate Teaching in the Department of Chemistry, Glenn Hurst, Rob Smith, Sue Couling, Chemistry

Workshop J: Taught Student Supervisor Resource, Christine Comrie and Ali Sherratt, Strategic Marketing and Digital Communications and Pete Quinn, Student Support Services

Annual Learning and Teaching Conference: One size does not fit all: ensuring all students reach their potential

Logo_LTConf2015_Rev2The 2015 Learning and Teaching conference was held on 10 June 2015, with almost 150 delegates, from across the university and externally present. This is the University’s annual event to celebrate, showcase and disseminate the wealth of good practice in learning and teaching across the University.

This year, the main conference theme was based around addressing inclusivity, diversity and equality within the classroom and curricula. The conference will explore the implications of diversifying delivery of programmes and how students are supported in the process of achieving their potential.

Session summaries and materials are now available for the sessions.

L&T Session E – Diversity and mixed ability at modular and programme level. Supporting Ab Initio language students’ transitions

Cinzia Bacilieri, Sam Hellmuth,Thomas Jochum-Critchley, Maria Muradas Casas, Nadine Saupe – Language and Linguistic Science

Abstract  | Presentation Session E | Forum magazine article Recording (University of York login required)


Session A 1

This workshop focussed on strategies used to tackle diversity and mixed ability among students on language degrees in the Department of Language and Linguistic Science. These programmes have learning outcomes which combine high language proficiency, knowledge about the culture, history and socio-political issues in the countries where the language is spoken, as well as more generic skills in culture-specific critical thinking and written/oral communication. All of the programmes combine study of a modern foreign language with another subject (linguistics, or e.g. History).

The programmes allow for two entry routes into the language component: post-A-level and ab initio. This yields a group of students with multiple layers of mixed ability: different prior learning contexts, different numbers of languages learned/being learned, different levels of knowledge about language and different levels of prior accredited language proficiency (including e.g. students with prior GCSE in ab initio route).

As a result each student has different individual learning needs, as well as different levels of motivation. This diversity if addressed by building a learning community, via three strategies: i) portfolio learning, ii) peer mentoring and iii) flexible teaching at Stage 2.

Portfolio learning (Thomas J-C, and Cinzia B)Session A 1 9
A ‘purposeful collection of student work’ with reflection on the learning process, which can help develop autonomous learning. This is used in the Stage 1 ‘Ab Initio Language Skills’ module (30 credits, year-long). Portfolio counts as 60% of module assessment. Cohort sizes are very small: 6-8 students. The portfolio approach has been implemented in a slightly different way for German and Italian, and these two approaches were presented as a comparative case study: the German portfolio gave students a lot of choice over the content and order of tasks, whereas the Italian portfolio was more structured, with a specific order in which tasks should be attempted; both models included a large amount of one-to-one feedback (oral and written) and a reflective component. Student feedback showed that students needed support with accessing authentic materials, but showed a very high level of engagement; the students found the reflective task repetitive and didn’t fully understand its benefits; staff saw clear development in the students’ language use and qualty of writing.

Peer mentoring (Nadine Saupe)
First year ab initio students are offered the option of having a second year student as a peer mentor. The mentors receive training in coaching/mentoring and build up useful skills and experience for their CV. They are provided with a clear structure for each session, and agreed rules of mentoring etiquette. Sessions are not ‘policed’, but a survey reveals that mentoring meetings generally happen once a week, in a library study space, and that the time is used mostly to discuss content of seminars and grammar points, followed closely by conversation practice in the target language. The most successful mentoring relationships met regularly with clearly defined roles, and focussed on language practice. A few negative experiences have been reported, and in each case the mentee has only contacted their mentor irregularly or at ‘crisis’ points, so that a relationship is not built up; some students have suggested that groups of three might be a better way to work. Overall feedback shows that ab initio students value the input they receive from their mentors, and that the mentors also report a benefit to their own language proficiency.

Session A 1 4

Flexible learning (Maria M-C)
The two groups of students – ab initio and post-A-level – come together at the start of Stage 2 and complete the rest of the degree together. Maria M-C presented a case study of her experience delivering the second year Spanish history module ‘Historical Memory in the Spanish-speaking World’, which delivers of content and language in an integrated format. Teaching the two groups of students together required a flexible approach, based on ‘differentiated instruction’, with the teacher as facilitator and the student as primary focus of instruction. Lectures has to be refined to be more interactive, with more visuals to allow students to infer both language and content from images when needed, grading of language used (e.g. more use of cognate vocabulary shared with English). Maria showed sample materials from the lessons at different stages, illustrating how the approach worked. Student activities had to be broken down into differentiated tasks, which could be tackled by students with different levels of language proficiency.

The closing questions for discussion were:

  • how could you implement a portfolio component in your programme(s)?
  • could a mentoring scheme across year groups improve the learning experience for your students?
  • how could you build reflection and/or collaborative learning into your teaching?

Sam Hellmuth, Language and Linguistic Science, University of York 

L&T Session B – Making the curriculum more accessible to disabled students

Claire Shanks, James Browne and Penn Snowden, Disability Services

Abstract  | Presentation: Session B

Claire ShaLT-Forum-06-15-40nks and James Browne shed some light in this workshop on what the changes to the Disabled Student Allowance will mean for Higher Education Institutions. We all have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustment to ensure the educational provision that we provide doesn’t put a disabled student at a substantial disadvantage. The workshop explored how making the classroom more inclusive doesn’t have to incur massive costs; its more about being aware of the needs of students and adopting different teaching and assessment methods to enable all students to reach their full potential.

The workshop went on to consider how making the curriculum accessible is not about changing the learning outcomes of a programme to accommodate disabled students needs, it is about enabling students to participate by supporting them through the assessments and making adjustments where appropriate. If we can be more varied in the type of teaching and assessment methods that we adopt then we can make programmes accessible to all. Through making these adjustments we don’t just make the curriculum more accessible to disabled students but all the students on the course.

Here are some of the ideas that the participants came up with in response to “What is the one thing we should do differently to make the curriculum accessible to disabled students?” |

Session B 1 Session B 2

Session B 3Susan Halfpenny, Teaching and Learning Librarian, Information, University of York 

Power to the people – student autonomy and assessment

Cecilia Lowe (author) Kathryn Arnold; Celine Kingman; Benjamin Poore (co-presenters) explore student involvement in assessment setting


In a FORUM workshop run earlier this year on student attendance and motivation, Ryan & Deci’s 2001 article ‘Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions’ was used as a basis for some very interesting discussion. The authors postulate that the amount of self-determination inherent in an activity can significantly affect the manner in which we engage with that activity and therefore how successful we are at it. The paper also argues that self-determination is dependent upon meeting three basic needs: the need to feel competent (competency); the need to feel a sense of belonging (relatedness); and the need to feel in control (autonomy). Applying this theory to our students’ level of engagement and therefore success in the higher education context, it may be worth considering if our programmes of learning engender feelings of competence, relatedness and autonomy. More challengingly, it might be worth considering to what degree our approaches to assessment do the same.

Exams written on multiple road sign

With regard to increasing our students’ sense of autonomy by allowing them more involvement in assessment, some colleagues may feel that surrendering this last bastion of authority – our control over assessment – is something which should never be contemplated. However, as Boud states:

If students are to become autonomous and interdependent learners as argued in statements of aims of higher education, then the relationship between student and assessor must be critically examined and the limiting influences of such an exercise of power explored. (1995:43)

To facilitate this exploration, the Learning and Teaching Conference workshop Power to the people! Addressing inclusivity and student motivation through extending student choice in assessment will consider allowing students more involvement and control with regard to assessment. Our intention in the session is to provide a space for colleagues to debate the value of giving students more autonomy over their learning, as well as an opportunity to hear from colleagues who have experimented with allowing students a greater degree of assessment choice.

Engaging students in assessment setting

What is meant by student control or involvement in assessment can vary considerably but to provide some food for thought before the conference workshop, here are some examples.

Assessments in which students are involved in setting goals, i.e. students:

  • define the specific areas for their assessment;
  • define the weighting of different parts of their assessment;
  • design assessment tasks or contribute to the creation of tests;
  • create assessment rubrics or negotiate criteria;
  • define the areas on which they would like to receive feedback.

Assessments in which students make choices, i.e. students choose:

  • the topic of their assessment e.g. the topic of a module essay or dissertation;
  • between different types of format for their assessment e.g. a written submission or spoken presentation;
  • how many pieces of their work or which pieces of their work are assessed e.g. portfolio work.

Assessments which encourage self-management and regulation by students, i.e. students:

  • assess themselves and reflect on their own progress;
  • assess other students by acting as markers;
  • choose when they are assessed e.g. when they will complete and submit different pieces of work and therefore manage their time.

Clearly, the need to design and implement assessment practices which are robust and fair for all students determines to a great extent how much we feel we can engage with such open approaches.  However, if by veering too far in the opposite direction – through emphasising closed examination, one-size-fits-all assessments – we alienate our students from engaging fully with our discipline and their own learning, are our assessments serving us, or our students, well at all?  Would we be better served by considering assessments which support more autonomy and therefore self-determination for our students?  Why not come along to the session at the learning and teaching conference to discuss these questions further.


  • Boud, D. (1995) Enhancing Learning through Self Assessment. London: Kogan Page
  • Cameron. J (2001) Negative effects of Reward on Intrinsic Motivation- a limited phenomenon: comment on Deci, Koestner and Ryan. Review of Educational Research  71:1,  29 – 42
  • Ryan, R.M & Deci, E.L (2000)  Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 54–67

A13_Lowe-bio-picCecilia Lowe is a Senior Fellow of the HEA and Head of the Learning Enhancement Team. Before joining the university in 2007, she worked in the higher education sector in both Sri Lanka and Turkey. She is particularly interested in academic cultures and creating effective learning environments.