UTS has a diverse student and staff community which reflects the diversity of Australian society and brings with it valuable opportunities for understandings of different cultures and perspectives. Benefits of these diverse intercultural perspectives are outlined in the UTS Internationalisation strategy. While classes include students from differing cultural and language backgrounds, we should also consider many other forms of diversity such as age, gender, socio-economic background and physical capability. Every class of UTS students could be considered diverse.
Sensitivity to this diversity is a first step. All academics are expected to abide by the university policies on equity and diversity, and comply with national and state legislation. The UTS Equal Opportunity and Diversity Policy is summarised below:
“Equal opportunity at UTS refers to the right of all staff and students to work, study and access services in a university environment which is safe, equitable, free from discrimination and harassment, and in which everybody is respected and treated fairly.”
In some cases, where students may be considered to experience an acknowledged disadvantage, there may be special provisions available.
With these principles of equal opportunity in mind, here are some suggestions for activities and teaching practices which will foster inclusive practices within the various teaching contexts at UTS.
Teaching in diverse classes - actively planning for inclusion and communication
In addition to providing a context for learning disciplinary content and skills, lectures, tutorials, labs provide opportunities for students to develop relationships which may be useful for peer support during their university study, to determine who they would like to work with on group assessment tasks, and to find other students who have common non-academic interests. The relationships students develop in their classes may also result in long-lasting friendships and professional relationships, which may extend across the world. On the other hand, isolation, or lack of "belongingness" is often cited as a contributing factor to student attrition, particularly in the first year of university study.
Some forms of university teaching, may appear to provide little opportunity for inclusive student interaction, particularly those forms of teaching where interaction is between the lecturer/tutor and the whole class. For example, when a lecturer poses a question to the class, often only a few will put their hand up to respond, even though many may know the answer. Students may have limited confidence because they are learning in a second language, but also for many other reasons. A woman may feel intimidated in a predominantly male class; a mature age student may feel that they do not fit in with a younger student cohort; a student who comes from a background where very few of their local community have ever attended university, may feel that they do not “belong”. Some students simply need more time than others to process the question and come up with a response. Some feel that there is a risk in asking or answering a question, as they may look foolish.
With these considerations, we can modify our teaching practice so that we provide opportunities and classroom guidelines which encourage participation. As a lecturer/tutor in these situation there are a number of activities you may facilitate which will foster interaction among the students within your class, and increase inclusion in diverse classes.
Planning for interaction in large lectures
While large lectures may seem a challenging context for developing interaction, there are some simple practical activities which work well, and provide opportunities for you to make the lecture more engaging for students
- Ask students to introduce themselves to the people sitting near them. You may wish to set two or three questions for the students to ask each other.
- Pose questions to the class which result in discussion in twos and threes. Questions which have no single correct answer work well. Students may then "vote" on an issue with a show of hands, or feel more confident about sharing their response with a large group.
- Set examples which require students to work with the person beside them in a lecture. This is sometimes referred to as "Peer Instruction"
Planning for interaction in Tutorials /Workshops
Smaller class sizes for tutorials and workshops allow for a great deal of interaction, and movement within a room.
Plan an “icebreaker” activity for the first tutorial workshop in a subject – this could involve moving around the room.
Icebreaker Activity - "Where do you live in Sydney?"
"Where do you live in Sydney?"is an icebreaker activity which allows students to meet others who live in the same locality. Simply establish a line in the room for the harbour, indicate north and south and allow students to move to the relative location of their home address. Students then find out something about the people who live in the same locality, and may find someone who might join them on their commute to UTS.
Discussions, problems in table groupings
Activities which are based around table groupings work well in tutorials and workshops. For most people, contributing to a table discussion is far less intimidating than contributing to a whole class discussion. It is useful to provide guidelines to ensure that everyone at the table has the chance to contribute to discussion.
Providing butchers paper for presentations of group discussions
Providing butchers paper and pens to record table group discussion offers a number of benefits. Students have the opportunity to both hear speech and to read the text recorded on paper, whether it is as notes, diagram, annotated drawings or any other form. If students are asked to share the results of their discussion with the rest of the class, the hard copy record is both a prompt for the presenting students to present from, and also a visual representation of the presentation for students who have difficulty following the oral presentation. Further suggestions for inclusive activities.
A strategy for using student names
It is helpful to develop a strategy for using students’ names. You may then call upon all students to contribute to class interaction over the period of a semester. Using names also allows you to politely request students to pay attention if they are speaking at inappropriate times. Some academics use a class roll, and pose questions to students in alphabetical order. Students know that they are next on the list and are prepared for a question.
A respectful approach to names
Some names from other languages are difficult for teachers to read and pronounce. Some languages place the family name first, followed by the first name. Some students choose to use a “nickname” when studying in a different country. It is a respectful practice to ask students if you have pronounced their name correctly, or if the name you used, is the name they wish to be called. We may still make mistakes, but students tend to appreciate the intention.
Name-plate design activity
Students may create a name-plate from folded paper, which you may collect at the end of class and re-distribute next class, or ask students to bring to each tutorial. Designing a name-plate with a “logo” which students then explain to their group or the whole class, can be an interesting “introductions” or "icebreaker" exercise. This activity also allows students to advise the class of their preferred name or nickname.
Considering English language in teaching contexts
Students at UTS differ in their facility with English language. Overseas students may be learning in a second language, local students may speak a different language at home, and many students are unfamiliar with the conventions of academic English.
Language is often categorised as including reading, writing, listening and speaking. Reading and writing can often be done at the students’ own pace, and allows students to revisit material which they do not understand at the first encounter, and engage with the material at their own pace. In contrast, listening and speaking is a real-time activity, and may be challenging to students.
Providing materials/ handouts before the lecture tutorial
You may provide notes on UTS OnLIne which students may read before the lecture/tutorial. This allows students to focus more on explanations and discussions within a teaching session, rather than recording notes. Some lecturers provide notes with spaces for the examples that are worked through in the lecture.
Providing readings/ discussion material before the lecture/tutorial
Students read at different paces. Some material may need to be read many times before it is understood - even by academics :) If discussion on a reading is the focus of the tutorial, it is important that everyone has had sufficient time to read the material before the tutorial begins. In many cases, providing readings at the beginning of a tutorial session, does not allow all students sufficient time to understand the material well enough to contribute to a discussion.
Facing students while speaking
There is evidence that visual cues such as gesture, facial expression, and lip movement enhance comprehension. If your subject matter requires working through examples, it is more effective to use an overhead projector or document reader. This AV equipment allows you to face students while speaking. In contrast, writing on a whiteboard or blackboard often involves turning your back on students. Facing students also ensures that your voice remains audible to all students.
Explanation and pronunciation of new technical or discipline specific terms
New disciplinary vocabulary can often pose difficulties. Some academics produce a glossary of known technical terms on UTS Online, and/or make a point of writing the new word on the while-board or document reader, and pronouncing it slowly and clearly when it is first introduced.
Providing resources online which students may use in their own time
Some students simply need more time, and more repetition to fully understand subject material. Some academics may provide podcasts of important aspects of the material, links to support materials, quizzes, discussion boards, FAQ pages on UTS Online. These materials allow all students to engage with the subject material at their own pace.
Humour, and specific cultural references including sport and Australian celebrities/politicians
Jokes which rely on stereotypes may cause offence. Often the understanding of humour has a cultural aspect, and in diverse classes, may simply fall flat. Sometimes examples which are used by academics require an understanding of the Australian context which many students do not have. References to football, are often understood by males in a class, but not by many females. Some academics make comments about Australian celebrities or politicians which are not understood by non-Australians. While these examples may be used, academics may need to explain the background in order to ensure that the point of the example is understood by all students.
Cultural differences in the representation of numbers
Numbers are represented differently in various cultures. While Australia, along with many other countries uses the following divisions in 1,000’s, 1,000,000. Other cultures do not. In some cultures, comma dividers are used to separate pairs of numbers such as 1,00,00,00. Some cultures conceptualise numbers such as 24, as four and twenty, so it is not uncommon to be confused between 24 and 42. While most students at university are able to operate with numbers on paper, there may be difficulty when using numbers to communicate orally. Large numbers such as 436,029 are often difficult to say aloud in English, if English is the student's second language.
As many UTS graduates aspire to work in fields where competence with numbers, and communication which involves numbers is critical, it is important that this capacity is developed. Some academics require students to read the numbers of a worked example aloud.
Thoughtfully considering groupwork
Some students will describe groupwork as the best learning experience in the subject, while others in the same class will describe it as the worst. Group activities and assessment tasks provide some of the best opportunities for students to benefit from the diversity of their group, however, to ensure that all students in class benefit from their groupwork experiences – not just those who had a “good group” - requires careful planning, in group formation, the design of the group task, and in approaches to assessment. More information on managing effective groupwork.
Awareness of support services which foster equal access
There may be situations and particular students who require additional assistance beyond the lecture/classroom situation. UTS Equity and Diversity has details of relevant policies and programs.
You may meet a student who requires some support. If you do not know the appropriate course of action, you could first discuss the enquiry with your academic supervisor, your faculty academic liaison officer, or IML.
For example the UTS library provides an Alternative Formats Service for students with visual disabilities, HELPS provides services for students who need help with English language, UTS student health provides a counselling service.
- UTS Accessibility Information for students with access needs
- UTS Jumbunna house of Indigenous Learning Support Services for indigenous Students
- UTS Equity and Diversity Inclusive language and Diversity Resource
- UTS Equity and Diversity Guide on Indigenous Issues
- UTS Equity and Diversity Information for Indigenous Australians
Find resources specifically related to developing relationships between local and international students in Finding Common Ground: enhancing interaction between domestic and international students (PDF).