Annie Hughes – Social justice in our teaching and learning practices (Live Blogging 28 Feb 2018)


So, we’re here for one of the Department of Higher Education, University of Surrey’s Learning Lunches. Joining us today is Dr. Annie Hughes from Kingston University. Sizeable crowd considering there are strikes and the inclement weather. I’ve got my prawn sandwiches, a packet of crisps and a tangerine (one of my five!) and ready for the seminar.

Annie asks us to question the idea of the homogeneity of an HE sector as there are different types of students that attend different types of university.

Annie explains that she doesn’t like the idea of using the traditional/non-traditional dichotomy because it hides the variety of non-traditional students we have:

  • Traditional student: The white middle-class 18-year-old
  • Non-Traditional: includes people with different ethnicities, ages, those with caring responsibilities etc.

Annie is showing us the HEFCE (2015) report on the Differences in Degree Outcome. The HEFCE data generally shows that those who have high grades generally have better degrees (not unexpected!) but what is more worrying is that the difference between the White and BME students, if they had high grades, was about 15%.

Annie indicates that for Kingston University, that the BME students underperformed in comparison to the White students based on their entry qualifications.

My View Point: I find this is an interesting finding for BME students because I wonder what this is for the University of Surrey and whether this varies depending on the type of university and the discipline. But I think more interesting because we are lumping all BME students here – does it differ between ethnicities?

Annie is saying at first it appears that the staff thought it was because we need to “fix the student” but when looking at the things that might affect students (including commuting, social-economic status, first-generation etc), it didn’t make much difference between BME and White students.

She is wondering if the teaching methods we use advantages the White students. The HEFCE (2015) report on Causes of Differences in Student Outcomes suggests that students might be because of the lack of sense of belongingness and the need to feel supported and encouraged in their daily interactions.

My View Point: I find the idea of belongingness interesting because it speaks to self-determination theory. The BME students are clearly competent to be on the degree programme but their feelings of relatedness may be affecting their motivation to get a good degree – or possibly their feelings of competence or autonomy are being suppressed more than the White students.

Annie is suggesting that we are more likely to spend more time with people we feel comfortable i.e. people who look like us or think like us or have the social capital as us (and conversely our students may be more likely to spend time with people they feel comfortable with us). We may, therefore, have to consider our unconscious bias.

My View Point: This perhaps speaks to the debate about the curriculum being too white. It is possible at times our Faculty Staff is too white (not necessarily white in ethnicity but white in their approach/ curriculum). Perhaps this is why the international students sometimes find more comfort in speaking to international staff, particularly those who look like them. I have some concern based on this argument where the diversity/ ethnicity of students is not reflecting in the diversity/ ethnicity of staff.

I seem to have pre-empted Annie – she is now speaking about the Whiteness of the curriculum as she refers to a geography module she taught which concentrated on the British countryside and disadvantage the BME students who were more aware of other countries’ countryside rather than the British countryside which made it difficult to critically analyse it from the British tradition that the countryside is an idyll. Hence, she changed the module to be about the Global countryside because for them at Kingston it is important for them to have an inclusive curriculum.

Annie keeps mentioning Chris Brink’s “Standards will drop” paper that suggests that we learn more from people who don’t share our views than those who do.

My View Point: I like this idea and I think this is true – otherwise we would have echo chambers of our own ideas. Instead, we need to embrace the different to create a pedagogy of discomfort.

At Kingston, they have used Hockings (2010) work to try and create an inclusive curriculum through it being meaningful, relevant and accessible.

 My View Point: It is important to ensure that our curriculum is inclusive but helping students to recognise different global viewpoints. Students need to be challenged and recognise what they learn is one viewpoint and need to challenge these viewpoints and understand how these are seen in other countries.

Annie is now presenting the Kingston’s Inclusive Curriculum Framework which I find very interesting:

  • Create an accessible curriculum
  • Enable students to see themselves reflected in the curriculum (I like this one!!)
  • Equip students with the skills to positively contribute to and work in a global and diverse environment

I like the principles of this inclusive curriculum.

My View Point: I think this speaks to my current research with migrant academics and thinking about to what extent does the curriculum actually reflect the academic who is teaching it or do we expect them to teach the “white/British/Eurocentric” curriculum that was created and to what extent do they feel there is legitimacy in bringing in the experiences or viewpoints from their country.

The seminar has come to an end, time to dump the empty crisp packet and the tangerine peel. Quite an interesting seminar which has left me with a lot to think about and to consider how to share this information with my tutees and to change my teaching/ curriculum design to reflect these issues.



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