Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Teaching Teachers to Support Diverse Students

The University of Newcastle is providing a free 20 hour course for teachers "Aspirations: Supporting Students’ Futures" to teach students "... from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds". This is intended for school teachers, but may also be of value to those teaching in VET and universities. As well as the content, it would be useful for university academics with limited teacher training to see what a well designed online course looks like. In particular the ways the course directly references professional skills standards provides an example of what universities should aspire to. 

The course is implemented using Newcastle's Canvas LMS, in a conventional online course format. There is also a 41 page learning journal, in the form of a Microsoft Word document, with versions to print, or fill in online. This contains the same course content as online, with places for the student to fill in answers. That may seem a little old fashioned, but makes the course backward compatible for students who do not have Internet access, or prefer a printable workbook.

The course has six units:

  1. Introduction (10 minutes)

  2. Introduction to aspirations (2 hours)

  3. Aspirations matter (2 hours)

  4. Factors that matter (2 hours)

  5. Relationships and connections that matter (2 hours)

  6. Schooling and teachers matter (2 hours)

I was able to quickly register with UoN's system and enroll in the course. Canvas provides a text rich usable interface. 

There is a glossary included in the workbook, but buried in Unit 2 (it would be better if separate). Some of the definitions are a bit difficult to understand, for example, "Cultural capital: Symbolic assets such as cultural awareness and knowledge, skills, mannerisms, and credentials". I am not really sure what a "Symbolic asset" is or what makes a mannerism an asset. The author's biases might be showing also, for example with "Cultural capital" being measured, in part, by the student's interest in classical music. Apparently only formal Western music has culture. ;-)

The course invites teachers to think about how their background shapes their aspirations, as well as those of their students. For example:

"What are some of the reasons why you chose teaching as a career? What other careers might have brought a similar sense of fulfilment?

How might you use the reasons given by your students for their occupational aspirations to broaden their sense of possible selves?"

Some of the questions are very relevant to the future of higher education in Australia, such as:

"Thinking about the students you teach, what might be some of the reasons behind misalignment in university and VET aspirations?

What role can teachers play in ensuring that students understand differences between university and VET and the educational pathways required to reach a particular occupation?"

This is a question which might be asked of the leadership of universities which seem to be trying to be everything to any possible student, trying to provide everything from vocational training to graduate research. 

The course is not peppered with long reading lists and quotes from research papers, which makes many university courses so annoying. However, a few embedded references and readings would be useful. The course apparently draws on a study from  draws on a study from Newcastle, however only a title "the Aspirations Longitudinal Study" is provided, with a broken hypertext link. As an experienced online learner I am used to hunting down web pages in the Internet Archive, but this link appears to have broken two years ago. It would have been useful to have a full formal citation of the research report, which took me a couple of minutes to track down (Gore, Holmes, Smith, et al, 2015).

As it is there is a reading list section at the end of the course, but I was unable to get this to display, instead getting an error message (which I have reported):

Integration Failure

Reading List Display Failure

Unable to display the reading list due to the error below. Please review the error and if the error persists then contact support

Error code user_is_missing
eReserve Plus was unable to create the necessary records when processing the launch from the platform ( Please contact support.

There is also a discussion forum called "Community". I was able to read the postings there, but could not register to participate. It is not clear why this forum is not using the same ID I was provided with for the rest of the course (which I was able to get access to).


Gore, J., Holmes, K., Smith, M. et al. Socioeconomic status and the career aspirations of Australian school students: Testing enduring assumptions. Aust. Educ. Res. 42, 155–177 (2015).

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