Excellence in Teaching for Equity in Higher Education

Purpose of the ETEHE projects

Teaching is a core practice in higher education that takes place across all disciplines often with little critical investigation. Whilst the scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education has become an internationally recognised field of research there is much work to be done, especially in relation to the experiences of students from under-represented backgrounds. Teaching for equity in higher education is an area that is under-researched and under-theorised, making it a compelling and urgent concern for all higher education practitioners, leaders and managers.

The aim of Excellence in Teaching for Equity in Higher Education (ETEHE) is to support, commission and produce high quality research on teaching for equity in higher education which contributes to the international field and identifies implications for teaching at UON and across the sector.

ETEHE research is underpinned by a praxis-oriented framework, with a strong focus on methodologies that bring research, theory and practice together in ongoing, continual dialogue.

The research undertaken as part of ETEHE has a focus on the intersections between teaching, equity and excellence and works at multiple layers of influence: local, national and international.

Each Project leader/team will be allocated a research mentor who is an international leader in the field of teaching for equity in higher education, and associated with CEEHE through its visiting scholar program.

2018 Projects

The following projects have commenced this year, and will be completed by 2019

The underrepresentation of women in physics is well known and has been remarkably resistant to change over the past decades. In order to make progress towards gender balance in physics, the question being asked must change from “What is wrong with women so that they are not attracted to physics?” to “What is wrong with physics that makes it so unappealing to women?” This project aims to explore the extent to which masculinity is embedded in nature and practice of physics and how this may differ from the way that physics is perceived by the general public.

Project Team

Associate Professor Vicki Keast

The aim of this project is to uncover the enablers and barriers to an equitable Higher Degrees by Research (HDR) learning environment. Increasingly, universities are offering researcher development activities, such as workshops, online courses, industry-based internships and work-integrated learning opportunities, as part of the HDR degree that aim to enhance the employability of research students and help them to become full participants in a rich research community. However, there is concern that these activities are designed around a ‘mythical’ young, full-time PhD student with minimal external responsibilities. Research suggests that those from equity backgrounds are less likely to enrol in HDR study and once enrolled are more likely to drop-out before completing their program. In addition, students often have more than one compounding disadvantage affecting their studies. Completing studies online, by distance or through part-time study often signals that students have significant work and/or carer responsibilities which understandably affects retention and completions in research-based programs. Rather than focussing on retention and completion, we explore the experience of HDR students from recognised (and unrecognised) equity groups within the researcher development environment. Using Shaw’s (2010) journey plot tool, we will seek insights from HDR students of the enablers and barriers to their full participation during their candidature. This will illuminate the students’ personal external enablers and networks and identify which aspects of their learning environment are most helpful to them at different stages of their candidature. We will provide feedback to Australian universities to outline strategies and avenues to assist students from disadvantaged or atypical backgrounds who are experiencing challenges in their PhD journeys. For this small study we will focus on female students in two different contexts, a regional university with an established equity program and a research-intensive capital city G08 University comparing experiences in Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) disciplines with those in Humanities, Social Sciences, Business and Creative disciplines.

Project Team

Dr Kyie Shaw & Associate Professor Michelle Picard

This project arises from our grappling with experiences and discourse associated with videoconferencing as a tool intended to enable parity of participation for healthcare students living and learning in rural areas. Examples from our Department of Rural Health are provided below to illustrate our grappling:

  • A usually calm educator rushed past my desk; dashing between the tutorial room and IT support desk, muttering in exasperation to me and my nearby colleague: “I am doing another (mild expletive) videoconference tutorial”. After the whirlwind passed my colleague commented to me: “Interesting that it takes (educator’s name) so out of character, and how disturbing that we just accept this as reality. We can have a disempowering relationship with technology can’t we”.
  • My colleague continued his reflections: “Isn’t it always the way that when you eventually have connection, you begin the videoconference by saying ‘Sorry about that mix-up and delay. IT can be a bit out of our control. Can I apologise in advance for any further IT issues’. This sets the platform for negative interactions with technology and reinforces the divide between rural and metro.”
  • On another occasion, an educator laughingly told me: “I wish you could have seen me the other day, I tried so many videoconferencing formats, none of them worked. Rather than cancelling we continued by phone. It was so difficult not being able to see the students’ reactions.”

This grant will enable us to explore equity and pedagogical implications of videoconferencing for healthcare students' education in rural areas. We aim to transform practice and avoid inadvertently reinforcing deficit discourse associated with one aspect of living and learning in rural areas. Our team of researchers and educators within the Department of Rural Health will bring these implications of videoconferencing 'into sight and into mind' to dialogue with and about them.

Project Team

Dr Anne Croker, Dr Karin Fisher, Mr Simon Munrol &  Dr Leanne Brown

Possible Technology Selves: Investigating Factors Contributing to Women’s Absence from Technology Courses within Music and Communication Programs

This research project aims to enhance understanding of an area of inequity found in the underrepresentation of women in particular School of Creative Industries (SOCI) degree programs and courses, notably those involving technology. It seeks to identify factors contributing to female students’ reluctance to participate in these programs and their courses. Data will be gathered exploring perceptions of certain skills and ensuing career paths, framed within the concept of Possible Selves (Marcus and Nurius, 1986). The project will also investigate whether imagined futures alter during the Tertiary Education journey, including the period post-undergraduate, whether as a professional or in postgraduate study. Having identified these factors, the team will implement changes in pedagogy, assess their impact and draw up recommendations for future directions not only in inclusive pedagogies, but also in mentoring and work-integrated learning opportunities.

Project Team

Dr Helen English, Ass Professor Jon Drummond, Ass Professor Susan Kerrigan

The project will draw on three strands literature dealing with: (i) the use of rigorous forms of diagrammatic reasoning in representing mathematical operations, including props, string diagrams and ologs; (ii) concerns about equity in the teaching of mathematics; and, (iii) material on diagrammatic reasoning that is to be found in the literature on cognition and knowledge representation, concerned with the creation, processing, communication and transfer of knowledge cognitive science. The project will develop a suite of diagrams for the teaching of mathematical concepts and the solving of mathematical problems, including for the physics and quantitative business disciplines, run a joint workshop on DR with CARMA and CEEHE, co-author papers and a report on pedagogical and ethical aspects of DR, trial the use of DR in a pedagogical setting, and evaluate software that has been developed for this purpose. The project has been motivated by evidence that certain parts of the human brain process mathematical information in a non-linguistic manner, and that diagrams are more sensitive to the socio-political context in which mathematical reasoning can be applied. In particular, DR is seen as a way forward for students for whom normal academic language is a barrier, but who are more naturally pre-disposed towards visual or process-based understanding. Moreover, the chosen approach to pedagogy allows recognition of the position of students as members of a society refracted by relations of power and domination.

Project Team  

Dr James Juniper, Dr Heath Jones & Dr Bjorn Ruffer

Uni4You is a UON widening participation strategy supporting people with little access to lifelong learning and who never considered university as a possibility. Uni4You provides information sessions, preparatory workshops, learning support groups and scaffolded case management over 18–30 months to support participants as they make informed decisions about enrolling in enabling programs, journey through an enabling program and explore other lifelong learning opportunities or other options.

Drawing on the experiences of people who decided to undertake the Uni4You program and possibly a University enabling program or undergraduate degree, and those who decided not to continue at this time, the research will explore:

  1. What influences their decision and ability to participate (or not) in life-long learning activities in the context of tertiary education?
  2. What strengths and resources do they bring to their study and the University?
  3. What challenges do they face in undertaking University enabling programs and transitioning to undergraduate programs?
  4. How can they best be supported (at an individual, family and community level) to succeed in University enabling programs and other lifelong learning?
  5. How do community-based widening participation programs such as Uni4You impact on individuals, their families, neighbourhoods, communities, and institutions?

The research will interrogate the multiple and complex interactions between layers of the social ecology of students from under-represented backgrounds in higher education, and help identify specific pedagogies of engagement, recruitment and support, and the discourses of life-long learning, that build on the lived experience of participants from targeted equity groups. In the long-term, it will contribute to increasing participation and success in University programs, and other lifelong learning activities, of historically under-represented groups.

Project Team

Dr Graeme Stuart, Dr Michele Oshan, Dr Deorah Hartman and Mrs Kerrell Bourne

2017 Projects

The following projects have commenced and will be completed by Friday 29 June 2018.

The aim of the project is to identify the equity and opportunity issues that influence students’ decisions to engage/reengage in science based study and to use the findings to inform and develop innovative pedagogical strategies to improve outcomes for students who choose to science after completing school.

This study strives to challenge the perception that by allowing differently prepared students into university, standards are compromised (McKay & Devlin, 2016). It will also provide a "purposeful challenge to the equity/standards dichotomy to ensure that LSES students feel respected and empowered to achieve the high standards they want and expect" (McKay & Devlin, 2016, p. 161) by developing more targeted effective pedagogical approaches.

Project team:

Catherine Burgess (Co-lead), Dr Heath Jones (Co-lead), Professor Colin Waters, Dr Jennifer Irwin, Dr Murray Sciffer , Dr Mirella Atherton, Dr Jenny Vazquez

This research will critically examine how educators across different disciplines and contexts (three campuses of the University of Newcastle, each constituting a unique sociocultural and linguistic environment but with a shared equity agenda and commitment to teaching excellence) perceive their role in relation to students from non-dominant language and underrepresented backgrounds.

The study will critically examine educator understandings of the linguistic embeddedness of their discipline, their perceptions regarding the linguistic needs and strengths of learners, and their approaches to scaffolding learner engagement with specialist language and discursive practices.

A key focus within the study, will be the nature of collaboration (or lack thereof) between discipline specialists, English Language Teaching (ELT) experts, and enabling and bridging program educators.

Chief Investigator:

Dr Rachel Burke

The project aims to investigate how the National Exceptional Teaching for Disadvantaged Schools project can create safe pedagogical spaces for preservice teachers in the NETDS program, who themselves are from low Socio Economic Status backgrounds, to explore exceptionality and excellence. Results of the projects will:

  1. Identify features of safe pedagogical practices that enable tertiary students from low SES backgrounds to excel;
  2. Inform curriculum development to support the tertiary participation of students from low SES backgrounds; and,
  3. Inform policy for widening participation in tertiary education, particularly in relation to supporting the range of complex experiences of students from low SES backgrounds.

Project team:

Dr Margot Ford (Chief Investigator) and Dr Joanne Ailwood

The aim of this project is to establish a framework to enable rural health professional educators to “teach for equity”. At the core of the framework is the notion of “yarning” as a way of understanding and supporting Aboriginal knowing and learning.

To develop this framework the experiences of two groups engaged in the OUNDRH clinical placement initiative will be explored through yarning (i) Aboriginal medical and allied health students (past and present) who have or are undergoing their clinical placements and (ii) their clinical educators from the university and healthcare settings.

These insights will inform educators’ pedagogical strategies and perspectives when engaging with Aboriginal students studying in a range of health professions including medicine, nursing, nutrition and dietetics, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physiotherapy, radiation science, social work and speech pathology.

Project team:

Simon Munro, Dr Leanne Brown, Dr Anne Croker, Dr Julie Burrows, Dr Karin Fisher

The basic thesis of this project is that various aspects of culture can impede student’s access to study in academic disciplines. Our project‘s immediate aims are three-fold:

  • Reduce the gulf between practice and educational research; using a praxis-oriented approach giving pastoral care to the students we have right now in a BMath degree.
  • Deepen our understanding of how cultural factors known in the literature such as gender and class are affecting our students (in terms of. enrolment and attrition) in Mathematics.
  • Explore hints from our own unpublished previous research that there are additional factors beyond those currently known in the literature, that are cultural and impeding student access, and that these relate to an interaction between the wider culture and the culture of the Mathematical Sciences.  We also intend to publish our methodology and key findings of our research, since we expect that these may be useful to others in various ways.

Project team:

Dr Elizabeth Stojanovski (Project Lead), Associate Professor Mike Meylan (Co-lead), Dr Malcolm Roberts (Co-lead), Rebecca Smith (Research Assistant), Dr Mumtaz Hussain (Partner Investigator), Dr Judy-anne Osborn (Project Advisor) and Dr Andrew Kepert (Project Advisor)