Exploring academic staff’s self-perceptions regarding diverse university learners

Year: 2018

Author: Murphy, Carol, Beasy, Kim, Mainsbridge, Casey, Reaburn, Robyn, Sonya, Stanford

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The study is concerned with equitable education at university level, specifically in relation to increased access of learners from diverse social contexts into higher education. Our intention is to create a baseline of data collection instruments that can be used to explore the self-perceptions of academic staff and learners regarding diversity in a wider national study. Whilst people from diverse backgrounds are getting through the door of universities, completion rates and the indicators of achievement remain low for such learners.  We are concerned that dominant cultural practices in educational contexts may be complicit in disadvantaging diverse learners. Whilst structural reforms look to create equitable learning environments, there has been little, or no, examination of the interactions academic teaching staff have with diverse learners. Our study addresses this lack of knowledge.
We report on a pilot study that explores university academic staff’s self-perceptions about supporting diverse learners. We examine how academic staff in the College of Arts, Law, and Education at the University of Tasmania perceive their ability and capacity to support diverse learners. Data were collected through an online survey adapted from Taylor and Sobel’s (2001) instrument for examining pre-service teachers’ views of diversity. Initial analysis from the online survey then informed focus group interviews with academic staff.
In this presentation, we will share our use of an analytical framework, informed by intersectionality, to investigate both quantitative and qualitative data from the online survey. Such a framework enabled us to account for the multiplicities of circumstances of academics within and across different teaching and learning settings within the college. The analysis gave insight into how academics perceive relationships of power and inequality regarding the institution, themselves and their learners. We explored academics’ awareness of how materials, assessments, and teaching approaches may benefit some learners over others. From the findings, we consider to what extent academics hold institutional values and experiences as normative, and to what extent the knowledge and experiences of diverse learners are held as deficits. These findings indicate areas in need of greater research to determine national trends in teaching practices with diverse university learners.
Taylor, S. V., & Sobel, D. (2001). Addressing the discontinuity of students and teachers’ diversity: A preliminary study of preservice teachers’ beliefs and perceived skills. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17(4), 487-503.