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Using peer dialogue to promote inclusive teaching practice

Educators in UCL Italian work together to share experience and explore new approaches

11 June 2019

Educators in UCL Italian took part in UCL Arena Peer Dialogue to develop their inclusive teaching.

The team, based in the School of European Languages, Culture and Society, worked together to reflect on and share their experiences of inclusive teaching practices, looking at existing approaches and identifying ways of enhancing their current and future module provisions. 

The aim of UCL Arena Peer Dialogue

UCL Arena Peer Dialogue is a method of focusing on different dimensions of education practice, including classroom teaching, assessment and feedback, resource development. Open to all UCL staff who teach and support students’ learning, its aim is to inspire staff to develop their practice, by working closely with colleagues.

There are three options for peer dialogue:

  • Option A - Collaborative enhancement of a specific area of practice
  • Option B - Pair-based Teaching Observation
  • Option C - Reflection and dialogue with student reviewers

How the team used Peer Dialogue?

Following successful previous group work through peer dialogue (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/case-studies/2017/mar/using-peer-dialogue-improve-teaching-practice-ucl-department-italian), the team decided to work together again through Option A, this time to respond to UCL’s Inclusive Curriculum Health Check.

In advance of the peer dialogue meeting, team member Beatrice Sica:

Beatrice says: 

Attending the session at the ARENA Centre in advance was great, because it helped me focus on a set of issues that later we could all address at the peer dialogue meeting using the ARENA slides.’ 

Another group member, Lisa Sampson, thinks that having the Inclusive Curriculum leaflets in advance also helped shape their discussion.

The group discussed a variety of topics, such as protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010, duties of HE institutions, and UCL inclusion rates of BME as reported by available statistics. Group members also explored stereotype threats and confirmation biases as well as ways to liberate the curriculum through curriculum content, events for students, and teaching practice.

Developing an inclusive curriculum

The last part of the meeting focused on curriculum content. There are a number of ways in which the group members are tackling the issue of inclusivity and plan to enhance their existing module provision.

Disability awareness

In his ITAL0004 module “Introduction to linguistics and syntactic theory”, Vieri Samek-Lodovici considers the acquisition of Sign Languages, and the equal complexity and expression power across signed and spoken languages.

Liberating the curriculum from a Eurocentric perspective

In his ELCS0043 “The Structure of Human Language – Topics in Linguistics 2”, Vieri Samek-Lodovici combines examples from European languages (English, German, Italian, Spanish, French, Swedish) with examples from Asian and African languages (Mandarin Chinese, Thai, Korean, East Papuan [New Guinea], Xhosa, Zulu, !Xóo), and again Sign Languages (Israeli Sign Language).

Representing gender, sexuality, race and disability

Carlotta Ferrara degli Uberti works on the concepts of minority, emancipation, integration, anti-black racism, and anti-Jewish/anti-semitic representations in her ITAL0018 Module on Fascist antisemitism, in which she also touches briefly on eugenics and views of people with disabilities and people with mental health issues.

Carlotta also deals with gender representations and the relationship between law, culture and society in her ITAL0031 “Marriage and Divorce Italian Style, 1861-1975” module, and contributes to ELCS0032 module on “Nationalism and Ethnicity” with lectures on representations of migrants in Italy.

Beatrice Sica and Catherine Keen have re-designed an ELCS0048 module on “Reading European Poetry” making sure that the readings reflect a gender balance. Beatrice is also planning to make changes accordingly to her ELCS0031 module on European Avant-Gardes.

Catherine Keen commented on the benefits of collaboration in module design as a stimulus to reflection on inclusivity. This bore fruit in co-convening both ELCS0048 on Poetry, and also core module LITC0011 “Imitation, Invention, Authorship”, where re-designing the set readings with Jennifer Rushworth (French/Comp Lit) aimed at facilitating dialogue with students about literary representations of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and colonial and postcolonial experiences.

Lisa Sampson explores questions of gender construction and early pro-feminist thought in her ITAL0019 Module on “Writing Women in Renaissance Italy”, and social and personal identity formation with a focus also on gender in ITAL0036 “Identity and Performance in Renaissance Italy”. These modules encourage students to think critically about how sexual difference has historically been configured and expressed, and linked with anxieties over power.

In her co-taught modules ELCS0036 “Topics in Film Studies: Stories and Genres”, CMII0069 “Genre in Italian Cinema”, and in her literature module on crime fiction ELCS0040 “Watching the Detectives”, Lucia Rinaldi explores constructions of gender identities, representation of women and issues of racism. 

Finally, the Italian language modules for second and final year students already include discussion topics such as feminism, multiculturalism, and LGTBQ rights in contemporary Italy, but at the end of the meeting, all members agreed to revamp the existing teaching material on inclusivity for Italian language courses with new readings and exercises for all students of Italian.

The impact of enaging with Peer Dialogue

Vieri Samek-Lodovici, the current Head of Department, said: “Having several people address the Inclusive Curriculum together allowed us to tackle important issues that are currently being discussed at Teaching Committee meetings and ensure that the teaching provision of our department modules is planned in a way that enables all students taking modules in Italian language and culture to develop critical thinking and awareness of different perspectives on issues relating to diversity in ethnicity, nationality, culture, and disability. The Peer Dialogue was a great opportunity and we are looking forward to doing this again next year.” 

Dr Ros Duhs, who set up the UCL Arena Peer Dialogue scheme in 2015, said:

The Italian Department's initiative is a really good example of exploiting the full potential of Peer Dialogue. Their work demonstrates that this is not about 'inspecting' each other's teaching: rather, it’s a much more constructive and enjoyable process of developing teaching - and therefore student learning - with colleagues.’

Highlights of the UCL Italian team’s approach:

  1. working together collaboratively for maximum impact for minimum effort, for instance with Beatrice going to the session on Inclusive Teaching and sharing resources so they're well-informed.
  2. selecting a topic which they need to focus on and which is central to UCL's current strategic aims.
  3. directly addressing difficult topics such as bias and 'stereotype threats.'
  4. including the student perspective
  5. enhancing the benefit of an activity which is part of the ASER cycle to enrich the learning experience of all students.
  6. providing stimulating examples. The modules seem topical and relevant to the real world.  

Top tips for people wanting to try Peer Dialogue:

  1. Decide what you want to work on and pinpoint the main aim of your Peer Dialogue

  2. Choose something central and relevant to your current educational goals

  3. Distribute the preparatory work (reading, going to UCL Arena sessions) so you're well-informed

  4. Think in terms of the current situation, your intervention, and the outcome

  5. Consider spreading the project over more than one year

  6. Keep track of what you're doing and disseminate it so it can benefit colleagues across UCL.

  7. Remember, you can include information on your peer dialogue in your appraisal and for promotion – it is great material for a UCL Arena Fellowship.