Student diversity equity and partners
The traditional notion of university students being predominantly school leavers, whose parents support them financially, is becoming less and less of a norm. The tertiary sector sees a much higher percentage of mature age students, who juggle study with work and family commitments. The emergence of ‘open access education’ has also brought down many of the traditional barriers to university entry, enabling students of more diverse backgrounds than ever before. Examples include:
- Students with a disability
- First in family students
- Indigenous students
- International students
- Low SES and regional students
Consider the following opportunities for equity in learning:
- Equity in offering – Should the student be expected to conform to the teaching approaches of the university? Or should the university be adapting its practices to support the learning needs of the student?
- Equity in access – Whether it be accessibility to physical learning spaces on campus, or accessibility to computers or internet to access online; learning spaces, have you considered the accessibility of your learning journey to all your students.
- Equity in design – the way you design and present the learning journey can impact significantly on how accessible it is to various student cohorts. Have you considered accessibility for all students in your online course design?
- How do you know if you have hearing or vision impaired students in your course that you need to accommodate for?
- Should you wait to be informed you have students with additional needs that you need to accommodate as part of your online design?
- Or should you include these design features regardless?
- Equity in usability – How user friendly is your online learning materials? Whilst it may be accessible to your students, how easy is it for your students to view and engage with?
Students as partners
We are all familiar with the value of partnerships within the context of teaching peers, research peers, industry and education. The notion of the more involved someone is with a process or event, the more invested they become in engaging with the fulfilment of that process or event. We acknowledge the value that our students have in the evaluation process of learning and teaching, but 'students as partners' can be so much more.
The Higher Education Academy UK (2015) regards student engagement through partnership as a relationship and promotes four areas where partnerships may be fostered:
- Learning, teaching and assessment – students as active participants in their learning.
- Curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy – student engagement in formal processes of course design, revalidation and staff development.
- Subject-based research and inquiry – student engagement as co-researchers and co-inquirers within a programme or extra-curricular research projects.
- Scholarship of teaching and learning– student engagement in inquiries into learning, teaching and assessment
‘Students as partners’ is a particular approach to student engagement. It means involving students as genuine contributors to all aspects of university life, from co-designing curricula to student-led peer mentoring programs, for example. It calls for a shift from merely ‘listening’ to the student voice to engaging with them in decision-making processes’ as they become ‘evidence-based change agents’ (Healey, Flint & Harrington, 2014).
- Healey, Flint & Harrington (2014) Engagement through partnership: students are partners in learning and teaching in higher education. The Higher Education Academy
- Cunninghame, I., Costello, D., Trinidad, S., & Dockery, M. (2016). Facilitating Student Equity in Australian Higher Education. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.
- Liddle, C. (2016). First Peoples: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Participation in Higher Education. In A. Harvey, C. Burnheim & M. Brett, Student Equity in Australian Higher Education. Singapore: Springer.
- Arkoudis, S. (2006) Teaching International Students: Strategies to enhance learning. The University of Melbourne, Australia.
- Koshy, P. (2017) Equity Student Participation in Australian Higher Education: 2011 to 2016. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Perth: Curtin University.
- Devlin, M., Kift, S., Nelson, K., Smith, L., & McKay, J. (2012). Effective teaching and support of students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds: Resources for Australian higher education. Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.
- Halsey, J. (2017). Independent Review into Regional Rural and Remote Education— Discussion Paper. Commonwealth of Australia.