Inclusive Academic Practice as Pedagogic Competence

We are all aware that institutions have a legal obligation to support members of our learning community with protected characteristics, and a moral duty to ensure we all have fair and equal opportunity to reach our full potential. However, inclusive academic practice can be a challenging to colleagues who may find the necessary re-assessment of academic knowledge and its production, and the re-thinking and re-shaping of academic practice on more democratic, less imperialist grounds deeply destabilising.  I suggest we, as academic developers, recognise inclusive academic practice involves engaging our personal, political and professional selves but must be complimented with clear guiding principles and advice on practical action and, as Hull’s recently launched Inclusive Education Framework advises, involves the whole institution. The University of Hull has adopted this approach since the launch of the Teaching Excellence Academy in 2019 to positive effect:  NSS returns have lifted year on year contributing to our 42 place uplift in the Guardian University Ranking over the last 2 years, we are now 53rd.

Framing inclusive academic practice as pedagogic competence facilitates this whilst mainstreaming inclusion. Good pedagogic practice in inherently inclusive after all. Based on a model for competence-based education used at the University of Hull (Lawrence 2020; Huxley-Binns, Lawrence and Scott, forthcoming) pedagogic competence is the synthesis of personal, professional and academic experience; disciplinary, pedagogic and institutional knowledge and self-awareness. I have presented competence-based pedagogic practice at two UK Universities: a teaching and a research focussed institution (Lawrence, 2021). Almost all that attended a series of workshops at the teaching focussed institution responding to evaluation found balancing practical steer with acknowledging the personal is pedagogical (if you can forgive this play on the feminist ‘personal is political’) extremely useful, for some revelatory, and almost all found the principles and activities outlined useful and will adopt them.

Figure 1: Competence-based Pedagogic Practice

Building competence-based pedagogic practice

Drawing on my experience using this model in academic development, and the evaluation of and feedback on the workshops, academic developers might wish to bare the following in mind when supporting colleagues in growing their pedagogic competence.

experience

Draw on, recognise and create opportunity for staff to critically reflect on the following as integral to and valuable in academic practice:

  • Individual life experience
  • Past, present and future teaching, scholarship and/or research

For many this is realised through application for Fellowship HEA and peer-observation and the wiley academic developer will embed this reflection and connection within developmental activity.

Knowledge

Ensure colleagues have access to the following information

  • Students within their cohort
  • Disciplinary specific practice and research
  • Institutional process, curricula, assessment & VLE
  • How to create inclusive resources
  • Institutional study and pastoral support services and resources

At the University of Hull we have found staff appreciate and engage with carefully curated resources that offer guidance on interpreting, accessing and using this information as and when they need it, at a time that suites them. Our ‘Teaching Essentials’ VLE has over 650 active users (of approximately 800 academic staff).

self-awareness

Allow opportunity for staff to critically reflect on the following:

  • Positionality (personal & professional identity)
  • Personal strengths & limits (and where to go /how to develop specific practices).
  • The classroom/online ‘climate’
  • Personal/professional responsibilities (EDI policy and law)

In my experience staff appreciate the opportunity to ‘check their own privilege’ as much as acknowledge their own journey to where they are now and where they want to go. There is much to be said about mandatory EDI training, at the very least it reminds staff of their legal obligations while the meaningful and deeper, consciousness raising work goes on.

Principles for Inclusive Academic Practice

The following principle and examples of action are a starting point to building the ‘knowledge’ necessary for pedagogic competence:

Develop learning community & belonging (Thomas, 2012)
– Regular breaks & social chat in class time
– Team-based activity/assignments & ice breakers (Thomas, 2012)
– Inclusive language e.g. use of the pronoun ‘they’ 
– Decolonize curricula & diversify reading lists, visuals, examples, teaching team (Bhopal, 2018)

Build equitable learning relationships (Freire, 1997; hooks, 2010)
– Share our university experience (Lawrence et al, 2020), past present and future aspirations
– Module/session design in partnership (Cop, 2004; Healey et al, 2006)
– (Rolling) chair of respectful dialogue and discussion, call gaffes to account with good grace (Hooks, 2003)

Deploy active/flipped learning (and explain how it works)
– Explain the obvious: terms, protocols, process (Thomas, 2012)

Personalise learning activities (flexible, applied and relevant, Hocking, 2010)
– ‘Apply x to a situation of your choosing’ 

Nurture and inspire all students (Bhopal, 2018)
– Be flexible and accommodate different learning paces e.g. have ‘Reserve’ activities for groups that steam through a task
– Note that students are more receptive to feedback in positive learning relationship (Donovan et al, 2020)

Conclusion

Framing inclusive academic practice as integral to pedagogic competence helps us be vigilant and alive to our own unconscious bias, evolve our practices, remain alive to our own positionality and prioritise the educational needs of our diverse community. Further, it acknowledges we need practical steer to guide us through the destabilising process of re assessing and reshaping our practice. It is inherently political, but more than that, personal.


Dr Jenny Lawrence AFSEDA, PFHEA, NTF is Director of the Oxford Centre for Academic Enhancement and Development at Oxford Brookes University. Her research interests include programme and educational leadership and wellbeing in HE.
Twitter: @jennywahwah

References

Bhopal, K. (2018) White Privilege: The myth of the post racial society Bristol: Policy Press

Berry M. O’Donovan, Birgit den Outer, Margaret Price & Andy Lloyd (2021) What makes good feedback good?, Studies in Higher Education, 46:2, 318-329, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2019.1630812

Educause (2012) 7 Things you should know about … Flipped Classrooms. Educause.

Healey, M., Bradley, A., Fuller, M. and Hall, T. (2006) Listening to students: the experiences of disabled students of learning at university. In: Adams, M. and Brown, S. (eds.) Towards Inclusive Learning in Higher Education: developing curricula for disabled students. Abingdon. Routledge

Hockings.C. (2010) Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education: a synthesis of research. EvidenceNet . HEA York

Hooks[1], b (2003) Teaching Community: A pedagogy of hope. London: Routledge.

Hubbard, K and Gawthorpe, P (2021) University of Hull Inclusive Education Framework. University of Hull.

Huxley-Binns, R. Lawrence, J and Scott, G. (forthcoming) Competence-based HE: Future Proofing Curricula in Blessinger, P and Sengupta, E (forthcoming) Integrative Curricula – A Multi-Dimensional Approach to Pedagogy. UK: Emerald Group Publishing

Lawrence, J (2020) Assessing competencies could equip graduates for an uncertain post-Covid future  WonkHE 

Lawrence, J (2021) Advancing Inclusive Education: Competence-based pedagogic practice. Inclusive Education Symposia, Teaching Excellence Academy, University of Hull. January 16th 2021

Lawrence, J. Wales, H. Hunt, L. and Synmoie, D.  (2020) Teaching excellence: the students perspective. French, A. Thomas, K. (2020) Challenging the Teaching Excellence Framework: Diversity Deficits in Higher Education Evaluations. UK: Emerald Insights. pp. 129-150.

Highs and lows, ebbs and flows: buckle up for the educational development rollercoaster ride.

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Multi-purpose vehicles

University centres for learning and teaching (CLTs) have multiple purposes and impacts. They can hold, curate and foster expertise in learning and teaching and offer opportunities for this to be recognised and rewarded. They can act as innovation hubs and ideas incubators, supporting practitioner and/or pedagogical research to provide an evidence base for teaching and learning enhancements. They can offer opportunities for those who teach and support learning to gain professional qualifications, and to join peer communities of practice. Through these communities and through other events, CLT also act as connectors – facilitating exchanges on common themes across institutional boundaries. They often also act as interpreters and filters for evidence that may not be universally accessible – supporting those who are not experts in educational research to understand the benefits, validity and reliability of different evidence types.

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Realigning the staff development offer to new academic career pathways

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We are based in two different universities in the Midlands, each with its own distinct mission and history.  Our roles are substantially different, as are our professional backgrounds and life experiences.  Our paths might never have crossed had it not been for a spur of the moment blog (Sterling, 2022a).  We quickly discovered a shared interest in the need to create, support and celebrate flexible academic pathways – quite an odd thing on the face of it!

HESA’s broad categorisation of academic employment into teaching only, teaching and research, research only, and neither teaching nor research helps aggregate and simplify an extremely complex dataset.  While dealing with one challenge, however, it creates another.  The teaching/research binary erases in one fell swoop the visibility of richly varied learning-focused roles in a university.

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User experience: When you need to know something, show something, and solve everyday problems

User experience (UX) is a broad field that focuses on how people use software, systems, and services. I practice an adjacent field, known as learning experience (LX) which has overlapping design and research methods. As a Learning Technologist I use my LX skills to investigate, understand, and solve a variety of learning-focused problems. This relies on a professional toolbox stocked full of methods for digging into problems and then designing better solutions.

Explore, know, and show

I am going to share design and research methods that I have used to solve problems and enhance student and staff experiences. In my domain, a ‘problem’ is the underlying reason for a change e.g., a software update, or the introduction of a new service. Design methods can provide strategies for thinking about a problem on your own, or with a group of people. Methods can also provide ways of gathering feedback and showing your thinking to stakeholders and senior managers. Some of the methods may feel familiar, as they derive from anthropology, psychology, and social sciences.

Example from practice: Individual reflective research for uncovering opportunities

I needed to introduce a new accessibility tool as part of the VLE. Early on, I drew the customer value chain map below (based on Kalbach, 2016). The map explores the value of the new accessibility tool for different user groups. I later showed a version to colleagues to ask for feedback on my reasoning. The final version of the value chain map helped explain the benefits to users and learners.

On left original pen drawing showing a service with benefits such as alternative formats for students and accessibility feedback for staff. Final version with the same content created as a digital drawing on the right.]
Explore: Customer value chain map based on Kalbach, (2016) used to explore the value of introducing a new accessibility tool. Original pen drawing shown on left. Polished digital drawing on the right shows the same information and the indirect value for the libraries for copyright compliance.

What is it you want to understand or know?

I needed to introduce a new version of an electronic marking tool. So, it was important to understand how the current version of the tool was being used. I do not mark student work, so I asked academic colleagues for help. I conducted video interviews including verbal walkthroughs. This allowed me to observe the marking process and helped me to better understand:

  • staff actions or jobs while marking
  • thought processes
  • guiding principles
  • the types of issues identified in student work
Complex hand drawn diagram explained in the image caption
Know: flow of activities starting with video interviews, followed by a written interview transcript. and a chart showing click activities when using software. Then example statements for a job or action: when I am [context], to help me [motivation push/pull], so I can [outcome]. A functional test list comes from the job statement followed by video and written web tutorials.

This research activity was part of service evaluation and resulted in rich output. I analysed the interview recordings to understand interactions (click analysis) and produce transcripts. I used the transcripts to compile jobs-to-be-done statements, a user experience design method. These statements explained the actions, motivations, and the desired outcomes. This supported software testing and creation of improved tutorial materials for students.

Who are your audience?

Understand your audience when you explore a problem. Start with existing research to explore this area, e.g., institutional survey data, usage statistics. Then feed this data, alongside qualitative feedback from open text answers and interviews, into a user experience design method like empathy mapping. This works well as a group activity. I used an empathy map when I designed new workshops for staff during the height of the pandemic in 2020. I wanted my designs to consider the context of work and the pressure that staff were under at that time. As an added point, I tend to avoid the persona aspect of this method due to potential for stereotyping and bias. I prefer to use anonymised first-person testimonials based on feedback and interviews alongside the mapping.

Illustration of a table with post-it notes, pens and an Empathy Map poster on it, the poster has a person’s face in the middle. The top section of the post says, ‘Thinking and Feeling, the right section says ‘Hearing’, the bottom section says ‘Name’ and ‘About’ and the left section says ‘Seeing’ and ‘Saying’.
An empathy map is a way to think about a segment of an audience. It is a good way to think about the different experiences of your service users. The persona segment is shown in the ‘name’ and ‘about’ section in the template illustrated above, I do not use this in my practice. For more on empathy mapping, see Brignull (2016).

If you need to show your thinking, who are you showing it to?

The answer to this question may well determine the technique you select. For instance, a user journey map is a way to visualise a service experience. Complete the map by involving a range of stakeholders and use it to find gaps, illustrating areas of need. This can then support your work with those who manage resources at your organisation.

Illustration of a User Journey Map which is formatted as a grid and pinned on a wall, the top row of the grid includes the steps: research, save, read, compare, write. The left-hand column includes actions, questions, high points, pain points, opportunity.]
Show: A user journey map for thinking about a process involving steps and actions. The mapping process uncovers successes, frustrations, and potential opportunities for improving the process. For a brief introduction, see Brignull (2016).

Conclusion

Learning experience, and the user experience methods it draws upon, can be a force for good in higher education. If you decide to use these methods, you should also follow the results. This can mean disrupting accepted assumptions. Particularly in relation to accessibility, equality, equity, and bias. You also need to consider the methods you select and their origins (Seale, Hicks, and Nicholson, 2022). Ask yourself, does this method investigate a problem? Or might it perpetuate existing structural issues? Find opportunities to collaborate with academic and professional colleagues who want to solve problems too. Check out this list of methods (Teixeira, 2021) and start with small problems in your own area. UCISA’s UX Community of Practice is a great way to connect with other user experience practitioners in Higher Education. There are also local user experience meet-up groups across the UK.


Fiona MacNeill is a former Learning Technologist and a current Learning Experience Specialist based in Brighton. Fiona’s Website | @fmacneill on Twitter.

References

Brignull, H. (2016) ‘How to run an empathy and user journey mapping workshop’, Harry Brignull on Medium, 4 January.

Kalbach, J. (2016) Mapping experiences – a guide to creating value through journeys, blueprints, and diagrams. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media Inc.

Seale, M., Hicks, A., and Nicholson, K. (2022). Toward a critical turn in library UX. College & Research Libraries, 83(1), 6. doi:10.5860/crl.83.1.6 Teixeira, F. (2021). ‘A comprehensive list of UX design methods and deliverables’, UX Collective on Medium, 18 January

Repurposing hackathons to engage students as partners

We, as institutions, are brilliant at listening to students and engaging them in conversations about their teaching, learning and general experience of university. However, when it comes to finding fresh and innovative ways to improve the student experience, it is often left to committees, boards and senior management.

Here at the Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching we’ve decided to try a new, playful, student-centred approach, allowing us to get real, in-depth, authentic feedback from students.

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Dancing in the boundary lands through “interesting times”: educational development in the third space

“May you live in interesting times” is a commonly quoted curse, and HE has definitely been going through interesting times for far longer than we might like to admit. Most recently a few “interesting” aspects have been: Brexit; a pandemic; government consultations on funding and regulatory arrangements; and public and press rhetoric about university standards and politics on campus. As educational developers we occupy many spaces in universities, which are often the first to bear the brunt of interesting times. There has been a great deal of discussion on the SEDA Jisc list and in blog pieces here about strategies to adapt to these interesting times and we often support each other with solutions, or at least a listening ear.

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Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and Reflective Practice

Opportunities for Meaningful Outcomes

In January 2022 we were delighted to facilitate a two-hour webinar where we explored how best to engage in continuing professional development (CPD) and the opportunities for reflective practice.  The basis of the webinar was a recent SEDA special on Reflective Practice which we collaborated on.   As we know here are a wide range of ways to engage in CPD – both formal and informal.  The formal approaches highlighted focussed on accredited / unaccredited programmes, workshops and conferences, where reflection of learning is often more structured, either as a requirement of the programme or conference funding. The informal approaches explored included discussions with colleagues, reading literature and mentoring, where the reflection on learning may be less structured but iterative.

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The Importance of Trust in Nurturing Student Engagement Online

Positive relationships between students and instructors are crucial to meeting students’ academic and socio-emotional needs as outlined by the American Psychological Association (APA). As university educators, we contend that trust is an essential ingredient in these relationships. While teaching is inherently relational, we argue that models of “good teaching” must include trust to acknowledge that learning is not simply a cognitive process; it has affective elements. Evidence from student perspectives suggests that, for them, “good teachers” show attention, affection, and appreciation as part of the teaching process. If a student trusts that their teacher is engaged in and cares about their learning journey, as a unique individual, they are more likely to meet their academic goals.

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Possibilities for Change – Evaluating Academic Development

Academic Development is a straightforward enterprise.  The idea being that academic development interventions influence lecturers’ conceptions of teaching and learning and this in turn brings about changes in practice.  If these changes are representative of a range of pedagogic approaches that foster student-centred active learning, then this can impact positively on student learning (Gibbs, 2010). Job Done! However, despite this simplicity, evaluating it is a complex task and as a result the literature (and SEDA mailing list e.g.  Hancock, 2021) is peppered with debates about what and how to evaluate; and what value should be attributed to results. These debates have taken place against a backdrop of shrinking funding for pedagogic projects including academic development across the UK sector, which has led to confusion about the purpose of evaluation. Is it to save out skins? Or to evidence how, where, and to what extent our practice impacts on the student learning experience? Luckily – and as you are probably aware, these are the same endeavour. So why are we finding it so hard to do, and how can we do it better? Existential questions beyond the remit of this blog, but I do want to use this space to comment on three issues which if addressed could, perhaps make evaluating academic development less onerous. These are raising awareness of existing practices in evaluating academic development, challenging how we measure learning, and suggesting that we use other trends in HE evaluation to further our own agenda.

In terms of directly evaluating our impact on lecturers and triangulating this with institutional metrics there is some brilliant and very accessible work being done on data use by for example the QAA with Liz Austin and Stella Jones Devitt, and work that has specifically looked at how to evaluate academic development (Bamber, 2020; Baume, 2008; Kneale et al, 2016; Spowart et al., 2017; Spowart and Turner, 2021; Winter et al., 2017). Upskilling ourselves as part of routine academic development practice is a solid first step.

Whilst the sector is good at conceptualising how to evaluate learning it tends to be less good at putting it into practice. A cursory glance at in most in-house module evaluation formats tells us that. The emphasis on Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) instruments over those which capture learning gain, learning transfer, students’ behavioural, emotional, and cognitive engagement, and subsequent engagement in life long and life wider learning, means that we do not often have the right data to answer our own question. Creating awareness of these alternatives to SET is an essential endeavour because measuring student anything takes place outside of academic development units and so we need others to measure learning for us. This then should be core business via our PGCerts and in our sphere of influence across the institution. Once others are evaluating learning properly, we will be in a better place to evidence our own contribution.

The focus on evaluation as underpinning evidence-based practice is being laid at the door of HE in many ways. One which I see as offering academic development possibilities is the OfS Access and Participation Plan mechanism to eliminate inequality in access and participation in UK HE. This has brought about significant changes in how the sector creates, manages, and uses data on and by students. Within Universities data analysis for the OFS is evolving as its own enterprise as interventions underpinned by theories of change, iterative evaluation strategies carefully developed conceptions of value are put into place. These interventions are often modest but linked through different aspects of the student/university cycle. This sort of project offers academic developers’ opportunities to be part of institutional interventions advising on how learning is and can be embedded, the sharing the data produced – and a seat at the (often senior level) table where these projects are discussed. Evaluation of these projects is often innovative which can be adopted within our own evaluation practice, fostering creativity in method and dissemination.

With the financial pressures on the sector looking set, and the imminent reinstating of institutional TEF, generating positive evidence-based impact ‘stories’ continues to be important. So, let’s ask the right questions, get ourselves sat round the right tables and then shout our value loud!


Jennie Winter, Professor of Academic Development at Plymouth Marjon University. Her current research interests are teaching sustainability in Chinese higher education and decolonising curricula in non-diverse contexts.

References

Bamber, V. (2020). Our Days Are Numbered: Metrics, Managerialism, and Academic Development. Staff and Educational Development Association

Baume, D. (2008). A toolkit for evaluating educational development ventures. Educational Developments, 9: 1-6.

Gibbs, G. (2010). Dimensions of quality. York: Higher Education Academy.

Hancock, J. (2021) SEDA discussion ‘Evaluation of the impact of learning and teaching development’

Hughes, J., McKenna, C., Kneale, P., Winter, J., Turner, R., Spowart, L., & Muneer, R. (2016). Evaluating teaching development in higher education: Towards impact assessment (literature review). York: Higher Education Academy.

Kneale, P., Winter, J., Turner, R., Spowart, L. & Muneer, R. (2016). Evaluating Teaching Development activities in higher education. Higher Education Academy.

Spowart, L. & Turner, R. (2021) Institutional Accreditation and the Professionalisation of Teaching in the HE Sector.

Spowart, L., Winter, J., Turner, R., Muneer, R., McKenna, C. & Kneale, P. (2017). Evidencing the impact of teaching-related CPD: beyond the ‘Happy Sheets’, International Journal for Academic Development, 22(4): 360-372.

Winter, J., Turner, R., Spowart, S. Muneer, R. and Kneale, P. (2017) Evaluating academic development in the higher education sector: Academic developers’ reflections on using a Toolkit resource. Higher Education Research and Development. 36:7 1503-1514

The FFYE program: Enhancing inclusion with a community of transition practice

The First and Further Year Experience (FFYE) program at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia represents a sustained institution-wide approach to building an engaged academic and professional community. Implemented in 2011, its commitment to the transition, retention and success of students from low socio-economic status (LSES) backgrounds has deepened inclusive educational practice and enhanced the student experience for all students.

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