L&T Session B5: Skilling up for international communication

Victoria Jack and Paul Roberts Education/CELT

AbstractPresentation | Recording

A recent (2015) British Council Report suggests that “A common challenge shared by employers around the world is finding employees with adequate intercultural skills”. For today’s graduates, it is becoming ever more compelling not just to be able to communicate across cultures, but to develop communication skills in multilingual settings, and to do so quickly. These skills can be further enhanced, for those aspiring to leadership positions, by the ability to analyse and evaluate the success of international discussions and to provide ad hoc advice to conversation participants.

LT Event Talk 99.jpg

This discussion paper, given by staff and students from CELT, presented CELT’s work in Transcultural Communication addressing the above needs and to focus in particular on:

(i) how students meet the challenges of moving between self- and peer-assessment (by developing criteria for the evaluation of successful communication) and selfmonitored practice (applying and modifying those criteria)

(ii) how ‘home’ students struggle where ‘international’ students succeed.

The presentation included video clips of students’ transcultural interactions, with their self-assessing commentaries. Delegates were then invited to discuss the effectiveness of the self-assessment process and ways in which more students might be engaged in this essential skill building process, for example by embedding TC into programmes being redesigned within the York Pedagogy.


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 I – Inclusivity

i) ‘‘But most of it’s banter’ Exploring the perspectives of staff in UK HEIs, Vanita Sundaram – Education
Abstract | Presentation: Session I i | Recording (University of York login required)

ii) Inclusive Postgraduate Teaching in the Department of Chemistry – A Tool to Improving Assessment and Feedback, Glenn Adam Hurst, Rob Smith and Sue Couling – Chemistry
Abstract | Presentation: Session I ii | Forum magazine article 

What kinds of cultures are you creating in your university?

Are the spaces you share with others in the university fair and equitable? Are you conscious of partialities, exclusions or objectifying behaviours among your higher education communities of practice?  How do you foster respect, integrity and an ethical sensibility both in your own work and in the work of those you teach or with whom you collaborate?

Vanita Sundarum leads a sessionThese were some of the foundational issues behind the session that I chaired at last week’s annual Learning and Teaching conference at the University of York – #YorkLT15. Bringing together two seemingly disparate talks by the excellent Vanita Sundaram – on the subject of lad culture – and Glenn Adam Hurst – on the topic of postgraduate training – the session ultimately converged on matters of inclusivity and equality. As I understood it, Vanita and Glenn, although grappling on the surface with different tensions and diverse contexts of action, were both probing how we go about nurturing constructive, empowering environments for our students, staff and ourselves in the university sector. These are spaces where trust, support, care for others, responsiveness, reflexivity and critical self-awareness are practiced and actively cultivated. They are atmospheres where exclusive practices that breed gendered, power-related and other socio-economic disparities are not tolerated; and where everyone – from sports club leaders to administrators to security personnel, academic staff and the full student body – takes an operative role in advancing just and attentive learning cultures.

Glenn’s work in the Department of Chemistry, which focuses upon training postgraduate students as teachers (within the framework of the iDTC at York), is very clearly an effort in crafting positive social and intellectual spaces. That training seeks to develop critically reflective pedagogical practice and engagement in postgrads themselves, but also to pass on those same skills to the postgrads’ own pupils. Glenn’s talk, in fact, went further, deploying tools – specifically, ‘clickers’ (custom handsets for rapidly collecting quantitative data from students; see Simon Davis’ and Rob Stone’s posts on these technologies) – to encourage parity between and contributions from all of us in the audience. In other words, in Glenn’s presentation, everything from the theory to the hands-on skills training to Glenn’s actual performance using enabling media like clickers coincided in their emphasis on democratic and inclusive practice.

Participants use clickers

In her engaging talk, Vanita reported on both the overt and the tacit activities that have deeply divisive impacts upon such inclusive practice – specifically the enactment (often by men) of sexist, misogynistic and homophobic behaviours, from so-called conversational ‘banter’ to overt acts of objectification, sexual harassment and violence. Vanita’s fascinating original research into such ‘lad culture’ in UK universities indicates that ‘ladism’ manifests not only in social contexts, but in the classroom too, for instance as interruptions, disruptive gestures, general disrespect, ostracising forms of communication, and sexualised module feedback (especially towards females). Most worrisomely, lack of awareness of its damaging effects, lack of understanding of its many manifestations, and lack of recognition of its primary perpetrators (i.e. men*) seem to be rife across the higher education sector. Vanita and her collaborators have found no examples of higher education institutions actively challenging lad culture. And where interventions have, indeed, been installed in universities to curb sexist, homophobic or other prejudiced and harmful behaviours, they have often been directed primarily at health and safety issues, e.g., controlling drinking. As I understand it, there has been virtually no effort whatsoever to instigate real cultural change in matters of gender and diversity at UK universities—that is, there have been few attempts to impact on modes of conversation and socialising, and equally few to more aggressively intervene in established or ubiquitous traditions (e.g., club/group dynamics, module conduct, social media engagements).

My take-away message from both Vanita and Glenn’s presentations has been that there is not just more we can do to generate and sustain inclusivity in higher education, but that some of us have yet to recognise – let alone engage in – even the most basic forms of equal and humane behaviours on our campuses. One of the simplest next steps, then, is for us to begin following Vanita’s and Glenn’s various lines of work more closely (if you aren’t already). They are aiming to foster – and to model – the kinds of rigorous, ethically-engaged, equal and sympathetic cultures that make a truly inclusive university environment possible.
* This gendered bias in perpetration is an important point given the misconception that men and women are equally implicated in ‘laddish’ acts. It is worth reiterating Vanita’s argument: there is no gender parity here – men and women are not equally implicated.

Sara Perry, Archaeology, University of York

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 D – Fitting Language – but how many sizes?

Paul Roberts – Education/CELT

AbstractPresentation: session D | Forum magazine article Recording (University of York login required)

Language is central to academic life: as students struggle to ‘language themselves’ into an academic identity, knowledge is constructed in acts of language use. When it comes to interacting with a wide, diverse range of students, how do varying accents affect progress and outcomes? And when you are marking students’ assignments, how does students’ language use affect your attitude and, therefore, the resulting mark? Dealing briefly with spoken language, I would like to raise questions over which accents are deemed to ‘fit’ and which not. I will then move on to examine how writing with an accent appears to be even less acceptable than speaking with one. While English is the dominant international language of the Academy, students are often disturbed to find that they are discouraged from transferring, to English, patterns of writing learned in association with their other languages. Their potential is, inevitably, compromised. At the same time, insistence on a narrowly defined writing style may mean that the resulting knowledge is also stunted. One size not only hangs unhappily on many students, it also limits the production of knowledge. I will conclude with some recommendations on how we might accommodate a wide range of speaking styles and how we could draw benefit from diversity in approaches to academic writing.

L&T Session C – Power to the people: addressing inclusivity and student motivation through choice in assessment format

Cecilia Lowe (ASO); Kathryn Arnold (Environment); Benjamin Poore (TFTV); Celine Kingman (TFTV); Scott Slorach (York Law School)

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

Images from session slides; Video, student working, feedback diagramReport
If, like me, you were at workshop C entitled ‘Power to the people – student autonomy and assessment’ you will understand why I left with an urge to go onto Youtube and look for a clip of a student pitch to produce a soap opera about a smooth talking parrot. If you weren’t, I’ll explain why…

The session was introduced by Cecilia Lowe and grounded in learning, assessment and motivational theory but the emphasis was very much on sharing practice.The four presenters, in individual concise and thought provoking presentations, explained a range of assessment techniques they had trialled and their rationale for doing so. Kathryn Arnold talked about planning and creating Youtube videos in her environment and society module; Benjamin  Poore and Celine Kingman from TFTV explained the use of pitch presentations and a groupwork exercise to create a scene from a soap opera respectively; and Scott Slorach from YLS emphasised the importance of programme level assessment design to avoid the over assessment of skills performance, which has the by-product of creating those ‘smooth talking parrots’.

The open discussion focussed on the management of innovative assessment design and the importance of ensuring that learning outcomes are linked to the medium of assessment as well as the substantive content. There was also a fascinating discussion about the ‘anxiety of authenticity’ which, as always at these events, was cut short by the need for refreshment. What this session proved to me was that there is definitely a rich source of future forum workshop events in sharing practice about student autonomy and innovative assessment design. Watch this space..

Jenny Gibbons, York Law School