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Transforming Education

Driving Success for All Students

Success for All our Students is one of five Focus Themes at the heart of our Education Strategy and makes inclusivity, accessibility, potential and wellbeing all key pillars in achieving potential and eliminating gaps in access, attainment and progression.

The Education Incubator is at the forefront of achieving success for all and represents considerable investment in cultivating innovation in teaching and learning by enabling any of our academics to collaborate with students and colleagues in exploring key educational themes.

An excellent example of this ambition in action is the Exeter Spectrum Programme. Established in 2019, the Programme aims to address a gap in the level of support for autistic students at university level AND to promote awareness of neurodiversity with academic staff, enabling them to better support autistic students.

Already, the Programme has helped to create a network of Autism Champions, including and influenced by students, and hosted a national conference on Autism in Higher Education. The virtual event hosted 120 delegates and guest speakers from seven universities, with presentations about supporting transitions; inclusive course and assessment design and delivery; understanding and embracing neurodiversity; communication strategies; and creating community and belonging. The team have also worked with the Wellbeing team to tailor online transition days for autistic students, and with the National Autistic Society who are advising on how we can improve the conversation around and understanding of neurodiversity.

Going forward, the Programme continues to look ahead at how we can best share and communicate resources, how implementing best practice for autistic students can benefit everyone and establishing the Autism in HE conference as an annual event.

“We absolutely wanted to compliment the really great work that's being done by the Accessibility, Wellbeing, and widening participation teams for autistic students, and the gap that we saw was making sure we helped staff understand Autism better, and how the design of learning activities in the curriculum can affect students with autism.”

Dr Barrie Cooper

Driving success for all students

Acting on student feedback and the concern around the numbers of mature students withdrawing from HEIs, we initiated the Realising the Potential of Flexible Blended Learning for Mature Students project. In exploring how a flexible learning approach could transform and enhance mature students’ experiences, we worked with students on two different programmes and the e-learning team to learn about the opportunities and challenges.

We used data collated from interviews to redesign modules for blended learning and trialled these with our student groups. Many noted how rewarding it was to be part of a project that delivered immediate change: the blended format was more manageable and flexible, the variety of learning resources was appreciated and students could learn at their own pace. Given that the research was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the programmes involved felt they were better prepared to redesign learning materials for the 20/21 academic year.

Also a response to student feedback, the Equality of Opportunity in the Practical STEM Environment project set out to address concerns that some female students felt marginalised during the practical lab elements of their engineering course. The project addressed a lack of research in this area and developed interventions that could be tested, primarily by collecting many hours of footage in engineering and bioscience labs and by sending a questionnaire to all first- and second-year students.

Early indications are that male and female students do experience STEM practical work differently, with male students more likely to take an active role and female students more likely to take a passive role. This is borne out in the statistically significant trends from the questionnaire data. Final data analysis will then inform what interventions can be tested to address issues which may include staff and student training, raising awareness and empowering students to ask to perform specific roles.

Ultimately, the project aims to shape policy based on best practice that can be used to address this issue in Higher Education across the UK.

Information from virtual interviews, 2019 Education Incubator Catalogue and Education Incubator Impact Report 2019/2020.