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This is a response to 'Belonging Focus Group. Report for UCL', a report for UCL Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, March 2017. Colleagues in Digital Education discussed the report and suggested interventions where technologies could support specific recommendations.

This response is addressed to tutors, lecturers and professional services staff.

2.1 Names 

  • Encourage students to complete their Moodle Profile, including a photo of their face and ideally a short biography. Explain the value of doing this - it not only helps tutors and lecturers match names to faces and get to know students, it also helps other students do this. Wherever students contribute (unless anonymous), Moodle will display their photo and a link to their name. The availability of Moodle as a reference can help to avoid awkwardness and creation of distance when you know you should already know somebody's name but are now too embarrassed to ask.
  • Sometimes students names are registered incorrectly (or unclearly e.g. which name does the student want to be known by?) from the start, which percolates throughout our IT systems. Ideally the Registry takes steps to avoid this, but for the unavoidable problems, we should let students know how to get their names updated in the registry.
  • Tutors (as well as students) can register attendance in the Moodle Attendance activity, so if a group is small enough, consider taking an attendance register (rather than asking students to silently complete one). That way the entire group gets to know the name, the face and the voice. 

2.2 Encouraging wider participation

Also relates to 2.3.

  • Increase the channels through which students can contribute and exchange can help with this. For example using Hot Questions, Forums, Choice or Questionnaire in Moodle can draw out students who may be diffident in person at first, and help to make them more comfortable.
  • Has the ice been broken? Setting up a discussion thread in a forum on a topic which brings the personal and academic / professional together often works well. Creating groups if the cohort is large can help to make the volume of messages manageable.
  • Anonymity (i.e. not displaying names with posts) is possible across Moodle (e.g. Hot Question, Forums, Questionnaires, Choice), and is often requested by students. Discuss the possibility with students. It may be particularly useful early in the course, as students find their voices, or for certain situations where you judge it will make it easier for students to participate.
  • Polling, voting with phones.
  • Groups which are diverse / random / well-selected.
  • Glossaries - make sure the fundamental terms are understood.

When designing these forms of participation, setting expectations (including instructions) is very important.

  • Be explicit about what is expected for each activity - especially if the activity is new to the participants.
  • Consider negotiating a 'comments policy' or 'code of conduct in discussions' with students to sensitise them to the possibility of inadvertant negative 'micro messages' (see 2.27) and promote civil engagement. 

E Images

  • It is straightforward to find royalty-free images which reflect UCL's global outlook. Examples include Flickr (set the search to Creative Commons) or Pixabay.
  • Global inequality makes it likely creative commons images are from the global north, but search terms with include a country or region can help to hone in on what you need.
  • You can also take your own photos (seek consent if you want to use an identifiable image of students or colleagues).

2.31 Teaching staff being open

Positive environment - finding out what it means to students
  • Anonymous feedback via e.g. an Opinio questionnaire (Opinio is more stringently anonymous, with no attributable log files) for each session could help here. Questions could be, for example, "How did you find the last session?" "What could staff and students do to create a more positive environment in the next session i.e. an environment where everyone feels able to contribute"?
  • And then if there is a split in the responses, it might be a good idea to include a demographic question to investigate correlations and intersections, such as "Which describes you: "I am a woman", "My mental health is poor at the moment", "I have ESOL...", "I am a BAME UK student", "I am from outside the UK" or other (better) questions.
  • Use electronic response systems to elicit anonymous feedback from students, and show them the responses.

2.5 Guest lecturers

  • Integrated with Moodle, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is a web meeting platform with voice, video, shared whiteboard and participation. It could help to connect with invited speakers from further afield.

2.15 Encourage students to get involved with reading lists

  • The Moodle Database activity can provide students with a way of proposing texts, including comments on where they might work within the module.
  • After the necessary discussions etc, these could then be included within a ReadingList@UCL list, which again allows for the inclusion of notes. ReadingLists shows stats, giving staff feedback on the uptake of the different items, which can help staff to decide where to direct students' attention.
  • ReadingLists is not limited to the traditional monologue or peer reviewed article, but can include different kinds of text such as video, audio, Box Of Broadcast recordings, websites, and a much wider range. This can help with including marginalised voices and viewpoints.

Contributors: Mira Vogel, Karen Shackleford-Cesare, Annora Eyt-Dessus.

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