The way that learning materials are presented can directly affect students’ acquisition of information. There are a number of adjustments that can be made to the structure of a course to make it more inclusive, such as:
- Use Moodle to make notes and overheads available online, ideally in advance of the lecture.
- Provide course material in accessible formats, keeping writing style clear and concise.
- Provide reading lists in advance to facilitate early reading and planning. Help students to make choices about essential reading.
- Avoid using out-of-print books as it is much more difficult and expensive to reproduce these sources in alternative formats.
- Use a multisensory approach to cater for different learning styles. Convey information orally about what you have written on the board or shown on overheads.
- Provide an overview when introducing a new topic so students know what to expect – highlight the main argument and key points.
- Provide a summary at the end of a lecture or topic.
- Provide a list of new terms and vocabulary, giving explanations where necessary.
- Assignment topics should be provided early. Additional follow-up may be required to reinforce the deadline and to clarify what is expected.
- Discuss the instructions for examination papers and their structure with students well in advance of the exam.
- Ensure that students receive advance warning of any changes to their normal routine.
- Allow students to use assistive technology devices during lectures.
- Facilitate the use of educational support workers e.g. note-takers or personal assistants during lectures.
- Provide examination supports for in-course assessments when requested.
- Some students may be absent from college for prolonged periods and may need direction from the lecturer on areas for revision. Clear guidelines on important lectures in the module, such as essential texts to read etc., would be extremely beneficial.
- Flexibility on attendance may be required, as it may not be possible for some students to be present at all lectures/ tutorials.
- Some students may require extra time to complete assignments. This should be pre-agreed with the student and a new deadline should be set for the assignment.
- Some students with particular disabilities (e.g. fatigue difficulties) may tire easily and may require rest breaks during lectures or class tests.
- Some students may find it difficult to work in a group. Alternative ways of completing group assignments may need to be considered.
Do not assume your students understand what is being assessed. Students enter higher education from a very different second level assessment system. Clearly inform students of what is being assessed. For example, if students are asked to write an essay, let them know whether they being assessed only on their knowledge and understanding of the topic or if the mark also includes their ability to write an essay.
- Clear assessment aims (e.g. are you testing memory, knowledge, cognitive skills, analysis or technique).
- Understandable learning outcomes, and indicate how they relate to the assessment of work.
- Annotated reading lists to allow more focused, effective reading.
- Clear, timely and accurate information regarding assessment deadlines. This allows for advanced preparation. Remember that you are not the only lecturer setting deadlines. Discuss deadlines with colleagues to ensure an even and manageable workload for students. Be aware that some students may require flexibility due to personal reasons (e.g. disability, temporary illness, or death in the family).
- Accurate information regarding assessment requirements, e.g. referencing style used, expected essay length and grading criteria. This allows for clear expectations.
- A range of assessment methods. This will reduce the writing requirement and allow students to display their understanding and knowledge by alternative means. Consider using presentations, posters, practicals, debate, viva voces etc. Provide good practice examples for any assessment method they may be unfamiliar with (e.g. if students are to create posters for the first time, show examples from previous years that have obtained good grades and explain why they achieved these grades).
- The possibility of electronic submission of assignments where possible. These are helpful to students who have trouble accessing a working printer and those with mobility difficulties. If using ‘Turnitin’ or another computer application, make sure students know how to use it, and know where to go for help if stuck.
- Constructive, clear and timely feedback on performance in assessments.
Inform Students of the Following Study and Research Skills:
- The purpose of essay writing on your course.
- Strategies for essay production, including the creation of essay plans and drafts.
- How and why to reference and the importance of recording citations as they go along.
- What style of writing to use on the assignment. For example, bullet points may be acceptable in lab report writing but not in essay writing.
- How to structure and present an essay.
- The importance of proof-reading essays before submission
- Study skills tutorials may be useful and you may consider referring students to Student+.
- Consider what you want to assess. Is it memory, knowledge, cognitive skills, analysis, technique? Your learning outcomes will be useful in this task.
- Consider what exam style is best fitted for achieving this assessment (e.g. essay based, MCQ, practical demonstration, oral exam).
- Communicate your assessment goals clearly to students.
- Follow accessible information guidelines when setting exams.
- Arrange timetables so that students have a break between exams. Preferably there should be no more than one exam per day. Students will not work at their best if they are fatigued (exams are rarely meant to test stamina).
- Avoid having the annual exam count for 100% of the mark. This causes stress and results are easily distorted by ill health and bad (or good) luck. A blended approach, incorporating continuous assessment will give a better picture of the student's overall ability in a module.
- Consider the amount of writing expected when setting exams to ensure you do not unnecessarily disadvantage those who are slower writers or who tire easily. Essay based exams can be tiring, particularly for older students and those with disabilities.
- Remember that structuring an essay under stressful exam conditions can prove difficult for students, particularly those with specific learning difficulties, anxiety, or who speak English as a second language.
- Please refer to the Guidelines for Examiners when marking scripts from students with a Specific Learning Difficulty or students who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
Adopting the general inclusive teaching, assessment and examination practices outlined above benefits the entire student body, not just students with disabilities. In some instances, there may be additional requirements that are specific to the nature of a student's disability.
Here are some additional guidelines for each category of disability that may mitigate the impact on learning:
Most teaching staff in Maynooth will have mature students in their class. Generally mature students, having gone through the specific mature student application and selection procedures to get here, do as well as (or in many cases, better than) their school-leaving classmates. Before mature students arrive, we spend time helping them to make the transition, providing them with insight into the specific requirements of third level study. We stress the importance of being academically and practically prepared so that they can make the commitment to a three or four year course.
However in some cases staff might come across mature students who are struggling with their studies particularly due to ‘mature student issues'.
Some typical problems that mature students face include:
- Juggling the demands of college and home: for many, the general demands from home are still very real and can impact at times on students' course requirements;
- illnesses of students' children, partners and elderly parents - sometimes the student is still considered the main carer;
- Financial issues: a huge problem for mature students;
- Adjusting to life as a student - taking notes, reading academic books, academic writing, meeting deadlines, using computers. Obviously can be a problem for all students but for those out of formal education for some time it can be exaggerated;
- Computers - The increase in the adoption of technology in teaching, e.g. web-based learning environments (Moodle) and plagiarism prevention software (Turnitin), are having an impact on the way that students learn, communicate with teaching staff, access materials and information, and submit assignments. While such developments open the doors for more flexible systems, it can be quite daunting for those students who are used to more traditional ways of learning;
- Feelings of being not ‘up to the job' academically;
- Some mature students may not have come through the mature student entry route, ie they were offered a place based on Leaving Cert results from previous years. Therefore they may not have had the opportunity (through interview, for example) to find out about supports, etc.
Whatever the problem it is important that students know that there is someone they can talk to. If you identify a mature student who may benefit from advice or guidance, they can be referred to Emer Sheerin, Mature Student Officer. If there is anything that you feel your department can do to help, or would like advice in setting up a specific support for this particular group of students, please feel free to contact Emer Sheerin at 01 708 3307.
Other sources of support for mature students include the MAP Academic Advisors and the Mature Students Society.
The Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is a supplementary admissions route specifically for disadvantaged school leavers (see www.accesscollege.ie). Students typically come from areas of socio-economic disadvantage. Once these students begin at Maynooth University, they tend to refer to themselves as "Access students".
Some typical problems that access students face include:
- Financial issues
- Juggling the demands of college and home/ family commitments
- Low familial awareness about third level and making the transition to higher education
- Academic support requirements including study skills, independent learning, technology
- Personal support and advocacy to ensure specific access and support needs are treated in an equitable way.
Access students receive academic, financial and personal supports via the Maynooth Access Programme. Access students have a designated Access Advisor who works within the Maynooth Access Programme and is a point of contact to support their transition, retention and progression at Maynooth University. Another valuable source of support for access students is the MAP Academic Advisors.