Listening to Students for Equity

26 Jan

gonzo & camilla

Recently we investigated how students could learn  oral communications in the online learning environment (here’s the full report). None of us involved in the trial had tried this before and we were all a little nervous. Our shared experiences as teachers really helped us learn from one another but what really helped the most was listening to the experience of our students.
By analysing student feedback from surveys we identified a number of ways that teaching could be nuanced to cater for differences between our student. Our findings indicate, for instance, that undergraduate students, females or younger students may benefit from extra instructor support and encouragement to allay perceived anxiety which may affect their learning experience.
Analysis of trends and patterns helped us develop recommendations which help others also wishing to teach oral communications online; however, the more we thought about the data the more we realised that its power went beyond just trends and patterns.
The real power of listening to the student voice also came from paying attention to the variability in the student experience – which is typically high (Sharpe and Benfield 2005Phelan 2012). For some students, for instance, different aspects of the assessment task were a real a challenge whilst for others it was straightforward. Paying attention to the variability does two things.
First it means that we can test our own assumptions about our students and how they learn best (Sharpe and Benfield 2005). The experiences reported by our students  challenged some of the assumptions we as instructors had made about them, their capabilities and their resources – all of which affected their ability to undertake the assessment task. This understanding is important in the interests of student equity.
Secondly, by understanding the full diversity of student experience, we could put in place nuanced teaching approaches and resources which ensure that all students have equitable resources and support for learning – thus minimising the creation of any inadvertent student disadvantage.
By broadening our inwardly looking teacher-centred focus to an outwardly looking student ‘lense’ (Phelan 2012), we as educators can become more reflective, and thus responsive, to the varied needs of our students. Although pedagogy (the recommended method or approach to teaching) is critical to informing great teaching for sustainability, adopting teaching approaches which are student informed are just as valuable to equitable student learning outcomes.
You can read our full research paper analysing the student experience of undertaking oral communications online and the implications for our teaching approaches here.