A group of students sitting around a desk in an academic English class talk to a teacher

Preparing students for learning

Inclusive learning and teaching means enabling learners to prepare themselves for a face-to-face session or other learning activity. To enable students to prepare in advance:

Preparing students for learning

  • Provide materials and any reading at least 48 hours in advance so that students prepare themselves e.g. by looking up definitions of unfamiliar words. This can also enable students to optimise their materials by printing in a larger font, printing onto a more easily readable colour of paper, converting into another format e.g. MP3, text to speech.
  • Help students learning your disciplinary language. It is no-one’s first language. Provide students with a glossary of technical terms and a list of standardised notation.  Identify with colleagues whether standardised notation is used across the department and advise students accordingly.
  • Give guidance on how to use learning materials to make them manageable. For example, “Please read pages 3 – 25 before lecture 3.  As you are reading think about X…. We will be looking at problems that apply this theory in lecture 3.”
  • If you decide to provide students with notes before a session, make it clear whether there is a requirement to read the notes before the session (e.g. in a flipped classroom style [pdf] because, for example, during the session they will be answering questions on this material, or, alternatively, whether it is optional to read it as it as all content in these notes will all be taught in the lecture.
  • Talk to students about whether and how you expect them to use Panopto lecture capture footage to support their learning. Here is Imperial's advice to students for using lecture capture.
'It’s always important in terms of inclusivity that it isn’t always the same strategy that’s being used. So a lecturer may have a very valid reason for why they don’t want to make that material available. If students, perhaps because of their statement to do with disability, are used to having resources made available, then the lecturer needs to discuss with the student why it won’t be available on this particular occasion, talk about what the impact might be for that particular student, and whether actually there is an alternative way in which they could approach things, so that the lecturer doesn’t forego the surprise element that they might want to engage in in their lecture or the other strategies that they want to cover.'

Ann Marie Houghton, Higher Education Academy project 'Building inclusivity: engagement, community and belonging in the classroom'

Remember that academic English and the language of your discipline is no-one’s first language. We all had to learn it. To aid learners’ comprehension and development of academic English language:

  • Acknowledge and make explicit to students that academic English and your disciplinary language is challenging and create opportunities to practise using it in spoken and written form, with feedback. For more information see this Panopto video of Julie King, Director of Imperial’s Centre for Academic English on Transitional success for international students.
  • Signpost the Centre for Academic English courses that help students to develop their academic literacy.
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon, idioms and colloquialisms. If the terminology being used is unfamiliar and/or complicated, provide definitions and/or links to further information.
"The tutor’s ability to engage in ‘linguistic reformulation’ (using discipline-specific terminology and immediately re-phrasing it in simpler language) is a key skill” (Plymouth University, 2014)
  • Make use of Panopto lecture capture or allow students to make personal recordings of lectures so that they can listen back to more complex explanations.
  • Be conscious that there are many reasons for students not speaking in large or small group settings activities. Incorporate a range of opportunities for participation e.g. individual reflection on notes and associated thoughts and paired discussion. Offer alternative modes of response (e.g. written/oral) – Mentimeter, a freely available interactive e-voting tool, is a good way to encourage all students to anonymously respond to a question in a large (or smaller) group setting.
  • Avoid singling out students but offer private one-to-one conversations when you think students may benefit from additional support, so that they can tell you about their needs.
  • Acknowledge that plagiarism is a culturally-specific concept linked to a particular view of academic integrity and help students to understand what the issues are and how to avoid plagiarism. Imperial College's Library offer Plagiarism awareness resources

Inclusive practice at Imperial

Imperial’s Department of Chemical Engineering run a 3 hour-long session in Week 0 for their new first years to discuss expectations around what students want to get out of their degree programme and how to go about it. Students work in small groups, giving them opportunity to get to know the 5 students allocated to their academic tutorial group who they will work with 2-3 times per week throughout their first year. The PowerPoint presentation (Foundation Course October 2016 [pdf]) gives an overview of the session's design and the questions students discuss to explore their expectations, as well as students’ recorded answers. Staff-student expectations [pdf] establish what staff, students and peers can expect from each other. The impact on students includes:

  • sustained motivation and effort levels as students can better keep in sight their ultimate goal 
  • improved ability and attitude for giving constructive feedback to peers, which is then discussed with personal tutors. 

Andreas Kogelbauer, colleagues and students, Department of Chemical Engineering.