Community, cameras and challenging the status quo

Student waving to her classmates and lecturer on an online video call.

In this issue’s Peer Review, our panel answers your questions on how to help students take risks in their learning, feel they belong, and turn their cameras on! Sharing their perspectives are students Sumaiya Shaikh and Jigyasha Kathrani, and staff member Dr Louise Taylor (Bunce).

How do we enable all students to feel that they belong? 

Mary Davis (Staff)

Sumaiya: By being serious about inclusivity, and being willing to speak with students and understand their issues, staff can ensure that students feel welcome and that they belong. Being approachable and truly honest about having an open-door policy will give students the confidence to speak up, question, or debate issues that will build a better understanding of the subject. This will also help foster a sense of trust among the students toward staff.

Jigyasha: Creating a supportive and caring environment would help students feel part of something. For example, if a student hasn’t attended two classes in a row, reach out to them and ask them if all is well and if there is any way to help. This would help students to feel like they belong.

Louise: A sense of belonging is associated with a positive experience at university and academic achievement (Abdollahi & Noltemeyer, 2018). Providing an inclusive curriculum can foster a sense of belonging because it enables students to see themselves reflected in the material and provides all students with equal opportunity to fulfil their potential (see here for resources on how to develop an inclusive curriculum). 

How can we encourage students to take risks with their learning?

Lucy Turner (Staff)

Jigyasha: By sharing your experiences when you have taken risks and how it turned out for you (the teacher). Teachers could basically reflect on their own experience, which would encourage students to do the same.

Sumaiya: Encouraging alternative viewpoints and challenging students to question things that are being taught will increase their inclination to take risks with learning. Teaching students about a specific theory and then showing them a case study where someone was successful in questioning or going against the theory will show students that these kinds of problem-solving skills will help them in their future careers. Thus, emphasising to students that even though they may be learning all kinds of theoretical best practices, there is always scope to learn (and unlearn) things on their own, will push them to take risks with their learning.

Louise: Taking risks is undoubtedly important for learning; it can involve letting go of any worries about looking clever and putting energy into discovery and creativity. One way that may encourage students to take risks is by fostering a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. Individuals who have a growth mindset believe that their talents can be developed through hard work, effective strategies, and support from others, whereas individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their talents are innate gifts (Haimovitz & Dweck, 2017). Mindset interventions can improve students’ beliefs about their academic capabilities and are subsequently more likely to engage in successful and potentially ‘risky’ academic behaviours, which results in improved academic outcomes (Farrington et al., 2012). It’s also important for teachers to model a growth mindset (Heggart, 2015). For information about developing a growth mindset, a 10 min video of Carol Dweck explaining this can be watched here.

How can we teach or show students that sharing their ideas is part of the learning journey, and that this is beneficial and not usually about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers?

GC (Staff)

Sumaiya: Encouraging students to ask questions, challenging them to present counterpoints, and putting forth questions or discussing case studies where success was achieved by going against the status quo will help students understand the value of thinking outside the box and going against the grain, thus giving them the confidence to share their ideas with the class, no matter how different they may be.

Louise: Part of the way in which we can encourage all students to share their own perspectives and experiences is to provide an inclusive space in which they feel safe to do so. Research with minoritised groups of students such as Black students reveals that they often feel unable to express themselves for fear of being discriminated against and misunderstood (Bunce et al., 2021). Educators need to be mindful of how they structure and frame requests for students to share their ideas so that students are reassured that they will be heard and respected, while also being constructively challenged if appropriate.       

How can I encourage students to turn their cameras on during online taught sessions?

Rachel (Staff)

Sumaiya: What staff may not know is that for many students, rather than disinterest or apathy, it is self-consciousness that makes them turn off their camera! While there are some students who would be inclined to leave their cameras off no matter what, simple ice breaker activities at the beginning of a session which require cameras to be on is a great way to make students feel comfortable enough to be on screen. Similarly, asking questions, or explaining to students that communication and engagement works much better if everyone is visible to each other will encourage them to turn on their cameras as well.

Jigyasha: The use of the “Ask to Start Video” prompt (or similar) can encourage some students to turn on their cameras. Encouraging virtual backgrounds might help too, as many students are worried about how their room looks, or how messy it is.

Louise: There are a whole host of reasons why students may not want their camera on during an online taught session, including feeling self-conscious, fearing cyber-bullying, and not having a suitable work-space. Certainly, enforcing a camera-on policy has its issues (Harvey, 2020). However, we know that having cameras on enables educators to monitor student engagement and understanding. In my classes, I’m honest with students and tell them that. I also tell them that it’s much more enjoyable for everyone to see each other, and that speaking to ‘black boxes’ is not very engaging or interesting. There are some more tips provided by University of Massachusetts Amherst here.

Would you like to submit a question or share your perspective as a Peer Review panellist for our next issue? Please see our Contribute to Teaching Insights page for details on how to get involved.

Acknowledgements

With thanks to Sumaiya Shaikh, Jigyasha Kathrani and Louise Taylor (Bunce).

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