Let's now think about access and opportunities to succeed. Students are diverse here, including a high proportion of BAME students, a growing number who are the first in their families to go to university and a growing number who declare a disability. These and other groups of students may face particular exclusions which are showing up as award gaps (attainment gaps).
Only a small proportion of our students intended to study fully online when they applied here. Most thought they were choosing a campus-based degree programme and weren't expecting to be kept away by a pandemic. Consequently there are several things we cannot take for granted about how students access resources, participate, or how they can be assessed.
This is the principle of diverse learning needs.
Thinking first about access, it's important to find out whether there is a digital divide in your students' access. A proportion of students will not be able to rely on:
- Access to a computer whenever they need it.
- A reliable, high bandwidth internet connection.
- A place to concentrate on their studies.
- Freedom from competing commitments and interruptions (students may also be carers).
- Because of their timezone, working hours that that overlap with their educators' and fellow students'.
- Digital capabilities to fully exploit the environment and resources available.
These circumstances make a compelling case for leading with asynchronous learning, and treating the live time together as a precious but scarce resource.
In practice this means being very focused in the live sessions, understanding the extra time transitions take between activities, and not trying to do so much that everyone's thoughts become dominated by hyper-awareness of time (you can learn more about this in the workshop on live teaching online). The main aim here is to minimise the deficit for students who cannot participate in live sessions, to maintain cohort cohesion even if subgroups are formed according to students' time-zones, or whether or not they can attend live sessions. For example, students who join live sessions could be tasked with preparing guided, collaborative notes for those who couldn't be there - in the understanding that note-making is an extremely important, metacognitively-valuable strategy to master (see the Scaffolding principle) especially if they are structured so as to guide students to distil, say, facts, questions and a summary. Using these notes as a handover to those who couldn't be at the session could be the stimulus for their guided asychronous responses.
Diverse students are likely to have diverse preferences and needs around the modes and formats of resources. It is important that educators know how to author accessibly in a range of media, but the idea is that technology should be able to meet us half way here and enable students to, for example, render typographic text as audio, or generate a transcript from an audio file. Our side of the partnership is to sufficiently understand the principles of accessibility to prepare materials for maximum accessibility.
For assessment and checking learning
Students are also authors - particularly in the context of assessment and participating in learning activities, and diverse students are likely to have diverse preferences about how to express themselves in their participation and assessed work. While working digitally closes off some opportunities, it opens up others, potentially expanding the range of ways students can demonstrate their learning and be assessed. Where appropriate - and taking care to avoid disorientation - inviting students to author in an expanded range of genres and an expanded range of media can help them find their academic voice, can make assessment feel less disposable and more relevant to the world beyond King's, and can invigorate assessment for markers as well as students. Specific digital work includes multimodal authoring such as:
- small websites (Portfolio);
- video and audio (Kaltura);
- infographics (PowerPoint);
- structured or guided discussions (live talk or chat in Teams, asynchronous Forum in KEATS);
- a range of media in Padlet;
- and formulating questions (also Padlet and PollEverywhere).
These are all services King's supports. Turning outwards beyond King's, there is scope for students contributing to global projects:
- formulating questions and feedback for Peerwise, a global multichoice question bank in their subject;
- contributing to Wikipedia articles (including translation, and potentially including participating in the communities of interest around those articles);
- and collaborative annotation of texts (Hypothes.is for written texts, ).
For local digital examples, see Assessment for Learning at King's.