I teach a postgraduate module in the United Kingdom that has a high percentage enrollment of international students, and I have always struggled to find ways to create an inclusive classroom, especially for students who are not familiar with Western pedagogy.
During the pandemic, I seized the opportunity to revamp my teaching approach when my university announced we would be teaching online. I gathered tools from my teaching toolkit as a means of creating an inclusive learning environment.
While revamping my teaching approach, I asked myself:
- How can I create an inclusive classroom with students based in different time zones?
- What extra support might students need?
- How can I use existing tools to enhance student learning?
I decided to create an induction checklist to get to know students in an informal way. Prior to delivering the theoretical content, this checklist was made available to all students. The thought process behind this was to create a sense of community and address any concerns they had, if any. The induction checklist included:
- What would be taught, why, and how
- Assessment methods, marking criteria, and university guidelines on academic misconduct
- Encouragement of collaborative learning through group activities
- Establishing rapport between students and myself with icebreaker activities
- An introduction activity including: name, where students were from, whether or not this was their first time studying in the UK, motivation for studying a postgraduate degree, what they expect to gain from the module and program, and fears and concerns
- Career aspirations
- Support services such as the library, language center, international office, and more
The induction checklist has helped students assimilate into university life and form their own active learning sets based on common interest(s), location in the world, and career aspirations. Students found the active learning sets rewarding as it encouraged them to actively engage with their peers and minimized the feeling of isolation and nervousness that often comes with studying online.
In addition to the induction checklist, students were encouraged to submit learning logs every two weeks. Learning logs encouraged students to engage with learning materials through reflection and construct meaning in their own context (Branigan and Donaldson, 2019). A typical learning log addressed the theories/concepts covered on the module, areas of difficulty, and a short/long-term goal setting plan to create a sense of ownership. A submission point was created on the university’s portal so students could submit their learning logs, receive feedback, and feedforward on their submissions. In addition to feedback and feedforward, tutorials were organized based on recurring themes from the submission. Some of the themes addressed in the tutorials were:
- Time scheduling
- Listening and note-taking
- Reading and writing skills
- Referencing skills
The learning logs gave me insight of the challenges students were facing. They also created opportunities for students to share their concerns about the module—what was going well and areas that needed attention so teaching could be tailored to address their concerns.
Another tool I utilized was the 3E framework (Enhance, Extend, Empower) developed by Smyth et al. (2011) which encourages the active use of technology to meaningfully enhance the learning, teaching, and assessment experience. Below is a demonstration on how I used this framework in lectures:
Enhance: Provide an outline of key concepts for students to explore prior to the next class
Extend: Students work in active learning sets to prepare mini presentations on a particular theory as part of the lecture to build confidence, improve their learning, and create a sense of belonging
Empower: Provide opportunities for collaborative learning by designing tasks and providing tools that create a shift from teacher-centered to student-centered learning.
These teaching interventions have helped students in their academic journey as they navigate each module. For me, the key takeaway points from this process include:
- Providing opportunities for students to know their peers in a supportive environment
- Creating opportunities for students to create their own learning communities and share experiences—both positive and negative
- Incorporating avenues for feedback and feedforward during the teaching and learning process
- Creating spaces that give students ownership of learning
I found this process thoroughly rewarding, and students enjoyed the teaching methods used and the opportunities it created for them to connect with their peers and share their experiences. Their end-of-term assessment grades and module evaluations demonstrated how beneficial these interventions were.
Josephine Van-Ess, CMBE, FHEA, is a lecturer in management and the director of teaching and learning for postgraduate students at the University of Sussex Business School in the United Kingdom, where Van-Ess teaches management and organizational behavior modules at various levels. Van-Ess’s research interests are in innovative teaching practices and student engagement.
Branigan, H. E. and Donaldson, D. I. (2019), Learning from learning logs: A case study of metacognition in the primary school classroom. Br Educ Res J, 45: 791-820, https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3526
Smyth, K., Bruce, S., Fotheringham, J., and Mainka, C., (2011) 3E Framework. Available at: 3E Framework | 3E Education. (Accessed 19th January, 2020)