May 30, 2019, by Simon Langley-Evans
Teaching- an EDI perspective
I offered to review the University of Nottingham Annual Teaching and Learning Conference in May from an equality and diversity perspective. Teaching is a large part of what we do in Biosciences and involves a large proportion of our stakeholders, taught students. The Teaching and Learning Conference provides a welcome opportunity to stop, reflect on approach and content and find out more about new ideas and opportunities. In order to get the most from this, two Biosciences colleagues kindly offered to provide their perspectives from the parallel sessions they attended, so this blog is a shared submission from myself, Natalie Mack and Gavin White.
I chose to write about the conference as the theme for 2019 was ‘Universal Design’ which fully supports the spirit of inclusivity. Universal design principles are based on provision of ‘Multiple Means’, to supply information, engage students and allow students to demonstrate what they know. During the day there was opportunity to find out more on what requires consideration when undertaking this approach, suggested future practice and potential challenges that could be faced. There were many shared threads woven through the array of central and parallel items, and thanks once again to Natalie and Gavin for helping cover as many sessions as possible. However, three sessions exemplified some key topics well.
In ‘Decolonising the curriculum’ Andy Fisherfrom Philosophy urged academics to take formal time to examine reading lists and teaching materials and see where an increase in diversity was possible, such as use of contextual examples that would increase diversity in nationality or gender. My personal assumptions of science curricula being largely exempt from these considerations was challenged when I reflected some of the images and examples currently used in my teaching. Important questions were raised in discussions around whether students want a more “globally diverse” curriculum or international students may desire a more “British” teaching experience and no consensus reached. But the notion of making a conscious review by all, regardless of subject area was agreed by all as valuable.
A number of sessions considered inclusion of mature students, an appreciable proportion of undergraduate and postgraduate cohorts. In some aspects, the topics involved mirrored perspectives of new researchers and staff arriving at Nottingham. A session by Wei Hoong Choo, a 2ndyear PhD student exploredfindings from focus groups with UK undergraduate mature students on their sense of belonging. Difficulties in integration, especially when living remotely or in non-student rentals were raised. Other issues raised included financial constraints, lack of parental support and less likely access to smart phones and laptops used increasingly in classroom sessions. Aspects noted most useful to support mature students were personal tutors, recorded lectures and effective signposting to find resources for study and financial support.
The conference keynote speaker, Pauline Neale, originally with a background in hydrology, established the Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory (PedRIO) at the University of Plymouth over 8 years ago. In discussing the need for change in 21st Century Higher Education, she supported contemporary challenges on the efficacy and fairness of examinations for assessing competence of all students. She urged us to design assessments that give all students an accessible chance to demonstrate what they have learnt. Work or job-relevant assessments were also emphasised as imperative for future relevance and thus value, a theme supported by a number of other parallel sessions and reassuringly also increasing use in Biosciences teaching.
In conclusion, the conference provided opportunity to explore new concepts and tested developments under the umbrella of universal design. The foremost take-out personally was a reminder to consciously review and reflect on teaching content, delivery and assessment, mindful not just of a typical student but of the range of individuals that may choose to study with us. This requires finding out more about experiences of a variety of students to shape and evolve future teaching to best effect. Technology can support in some way in this endeavour. I would suggest the same approach to construction and delivery of duties is a worthwhile consideration for other aspects of working with people at Nottingham beyond teaching.