The sudden shift to remote learning caught us all off guard, but perhaps not more so than our equity students. Faced with studying from home in isolation, away from the space, structure, resources and community afforded by on-campus study, many of our students face daily challenges negotiating the demands of learning in this new environment. This became apparent in conversations with the FFYE Advisory Group coordinated by Kathy Egea in IML. In response we recently hosted a webinar, where we invited colleagues from the Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion, Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, and Student Services to talk to us about what they were observing.
What was learned from student feedback
We started with some of the findings of a recent cross-institutional student survey* led by the Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion and targeting equity groups and international students. Sonal Singh, Manager Student Equity, reported that of the 708 student survey responses received, 23% said that they didn’t have a suitable learning environment at home, and 18% didn’t have access to appropriate accessories, such as a webcam. Additionally, they found that a number of students’ lives and their wellbeing were being impacted by a loss of employment, either their own or someone in their family, and increased anxiety around payment for housing. The survey also found that those who were feeling the greatest impact of the shift to remote learning were students with caring responsibilities, international and mature age students, and students with disabilities living independently.
Similar themes emerged from the other panellists, but this time based on their observations and conversations with students. Amanda Moors Mailei talked about the issues facing our asylum seekers and refugee students enrolled in the Humanitarian Scholarship Program (CSJI). Natalie Gooch presented reflections from interviews with students in the School’s Recommendation Scheme (Transition and Academic Support Program, SSU). Additionally, Aunty Glendra Stubbs and Kylie Garratt from the Jumbunna Institute shared their understanding of Indigenous students’ experiences at this time.
It became clear that a significant number of equity students do not have a dedicated study space at home or the material resources to engage effectively in online study. They may have carer responsibilities or be required to work additional hours to make up for recent unemployment within the family. They may have lost work themselves and be suffering from financial difficulties. If they are on a scholarship, they may be feeling pressure to maintain their studies while struggling with significant stress. If they are an Indigenous student, they may have returned home to the family and be fulfilling additional responsibilities to their family and community. If they are a first year student, they may be feeling a sense of disconnection and isolation, or a lack of belonging that may impact on their willingness to persist with study. Any number of factors could be impacting on our students’ ability to engage optimally in their study at this time, so what small things can we do in our practice to improve their learning experience?
Providing support to students
Drawing from the extensive literature on supporting students in remote learning, some basic principles are as follows:
- Know who your students are: find ways to understand your students’ needs, strengths and circumstances (eg. subject dashboard, student survey)
- Maintain a strong online presence: create a warm and welcoming environment. Post your teacher profile, provide a welcome message, create an opportunity for online introductions (such as the examples in Icebreakers on LX Resources), and facilitate discussion and engagement online (more on this in Managing Discussion forums online on LX Resources).
- Maintain a consistent and comprehensive communication strategy: let students know when and how you will be communicating. Use weekly announcements (preferably the same day of the week) to reinforce learning goals and provide clear instructions for what they need to be doing that week (eg. weekly ‘road map’).
- Foster students’ sense of belonging: create safe and deliberate activities that facilitate students’ connection to the subject, their peers and the profession, and provide a space where they feel their opinions are both welcome and respected (read more information on safe spaces in the classroom in this blog post).
- Make appropriate use of the online space: enable flexible access to course material by utilising the affordances of the online space, such as recorded lectures and online activities students can do in their own time (read more information on structuring large classes online in this LX Resource).
- Provide regular, timely, constructive and specific feedback: think beyond formal feedback on assessment to consider all the opportunities you might have to motivate and engage students with feedback (examples on LX Resources).
- Anticipate students’ skill development needs: consider how you can identify and support students’ who need additional support.
- Inform students of the support available to them: you can provide a link to the Supporting Online Study site that is a one-stop-shop for student support.
Watch the seminar
You can view the webinar, Small Changes, big difference: Addressing the learning needs of equity students on YouTube.
*The student contact list for the survey was collated from data provided by UTS international, SSU including the Financial Assistance Unit and the Student Recommendation Scheme (SRS), and the Jumbunna Institute.