Recognises diversity and provides skills upfront
The common units recognize that student success lies in their ability to make a successful transition into academic study and become active and confident participators in the university learning community. To assist this, it is essential that students are provided with the academic skills up front and are respected and recognized for their diversity in culture, age, economic background and educational attainment.
We encourage students to discover the value of what they bring to the learning experience as individuals and design assessment and learning experiences that value differences in culture, learning style and educational background.
Recognition of the following aspects of diversity is particularly important.
Diverse language backgrounds
We recognize that the standards achieved by students in the units will vary and that some students will be required to make a great deal of effort to achieve minimum standards. This may often reflect the language or educational disadvantage a student has begun university with but does not reflect the student's ability to build these skills to a higher standard with further experience and exposure to academic language and culture as they progress through their course.
Diverse cultural backgrounds
Students increasing diverse cultural backgrounds also impact upon their knowledge, learning approaches and skills so learning materials, tasks and assessments are designed to encourage students to draw on their prior knowledge and experience to enhance their learning.
Another dimension of this diversity is the fact that students attending the program are from all disciplines. Consequently, our students bring diverse levels of prior experience, interest and knowledge to the strong language and humanities orientation of the common units (particularly CUC100 and CUC107).
This understanding of diversity informs the supportive, flexible and developmental approach we adopt in the Common Unit Program:
- A supportive aproach
- A flexible approach
- A developmental approach
A supportive approach is employed by Common Unit teaching staff to encourage, motivate and inspire students' confidence in their ability to learn and succeed in their study. This approach requires staff to be able to empathise with the diverse skills, knowledge and backgrounds that they arrive at university with. It involves assuming the role of teacher as mentor rather than teacher as didactic gatekeeper.
As part of a supportive approach we aim to empower our students to develop the meta-cognitive aspects of successful study. This requires an approach that respects students and emphathises with the complexities of their lives and how these might impact on their study. These complexities may include some of or all:
- Non English speaking background
- Other cultural background
- Geographic displacement
- Financial pressures
- Familial pressures
- Poor esteem and self efficacy
- Minimum educational attainment (students from VET feeder courses may have only completed year 10, NESB students may have IELTS below 5)
- Lack of technological experience (particularly mature age students)
Akourdis (2006, p.5) sums up the specific challenges for international students as:
- learning and living in a different culture
- earning in a foreign university context
- learning while developing English language proficiency; and
- learning the academic disciplinary discourse
While teaching staff are not expected to solve these issues, empathy, flexibility and initial diagnosis and referral can improve the experience and success of International students enormously.
Some general principles for supporting our diverse student body include:
- Fairness – assessment and learning experiences should be culturally and stage appropriate, adopt an educative approach to plagiarism, explain assessment expectations clearly.
- Utilising mentoring from both peers, through group work, and from teachers.
- Responsiveness – understanding that students learn through experience and enquiry so responding to individual students' enquiries is an essential part of the teaching role. We aim to reply to students emails and queries as promptly as possible, just in time, in a respectful, helpful way (no question is too stupid) that is emphathetic towards individual student’s needs.
- Feedback – providing feedback to assignments that students can learn from (Beattie and James 2011)
(Guiding documents from CSHE: Beattie and James 2011 (pdf 111kb)
A flexible approach is important because of our students’ diverse backgrounds. The assessment and learning activities in our units need to be flexible so all students can access the skills and knowledge for academic success. We also support students by adopting a collaborative mentoring approach rather than a didactic punitive one.
Flexibility is applied to all components of our teaching and learning in the program:
- Learning modes and timing of learning so that students can choose when and how to learn
- Learning materials allow students to engage with learning and ideas in different ways according to learning style, culture and discipline
- Assignments students are presented with a range of different kinds assignments and a flexible approach that allows students to access the support they need in understanding and completing them.
The following links encapsulates important principles of a flexible philosophy and approach to developing learning materials:
The Teaching and Educational Institute at the University of Queensland provide a comprehensive summary of the following aspects of flexible learning:
A developmental approach is also an essential aspect of empowering students. This approach recognises that the levels of skill development relate to the levels students begin with and the need to provide adequate support (scaffolding) for students to succeed. Moreover, skills and knowledge introduced in the common units are pitched at a level that assumes no prior knowledge. It is assumed this base-level provided in Common Units will be developed and perfected as students’ progress through each year of their course.
Part of a developmental approach to students learning is to assist students in going beyond what they already know, while at the same time providing them with enough support (scaffolding) to succeed. Scaffolding is provided by peers and teachers through a transactional social approach to learning.
Approaches to scaffolding need to take in to account the diversity of language levels and educational attainment students so that all students are supported adequately. (Hammond & Gibbons, 2001; Mariani, 1997; Gray, 2007; Rose 2009) This involves designing assessment, learning approaches and materials (including readings) that are:
- Sequenced from less to more challenging, so that initial assessments, readings and learning activities are accessible (concrete) and non threatening allowing students to build up skills, knowledge and confidence for subsequent more demanding conceptual learning tasks.
- Accompanied by appropriate explanations and support so all students can understand materials including processes, content and, specialised language
- Formative and provide experiential learning opportunities.
Juah et al (2004) sum up a formative approach to assessment practice and identify some broad principles of good feedback practice in this provisional list:
- Facilitates the development of self assessment (reflection) in learning.
- Encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning.
- Helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, standards expected).
- Provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance.
- Delivers high quality information to students about their learning.
- Encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem.
- Provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape the teaching.
A formative approach to feedback is described by Culley (2006) as consisting of a cycle that allows students to reflect and revise a task after it has been assessed.
A full report on enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback from Juah et al (2004) is at:
Shepard 2005 sums up the link between scaffolding and formative assessment:
- Linking Scaffolding to Fromative Assessment (pdf 114kb)