Setting our students up for success: The Vice-Chancellor’s Challenge  

Chalk-drawn style image of a blackboard with steps to success
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

At the University of Sydney we’re committed to providing an exceptional educational experience that prepares our students for success. As you may already know, Sydney has consistently scored quite low on the annual Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) Student Experience Survey (SES). There are some key areas of our students’ academic journey that we can enhance in order to improve their overall experience and outcomes in response to this. As part of the Vice-Chancellor’s Challenge we’ve created a set of resources that all teachers are encouraged to utilise.

At the beginning of semester

This is the perfect time to support students in building a sense of belonging at Sydney. A strong sense of belonging is closely associated with positive student ratings on the overall quality of their educational experience.

Around week four or five

Gathering feedback from students on their perceptions of their progress in the unit can help to identify areas for quick and easy adjustments. Formal mechanisms like the FFT-M are available to gain feedback at the mid-semester point, but we know some easy and quick ways to find out how your class is doing whenever you feel the need.

  • A minute paper will gather quick feedback from your students about their learning experience and can take a couple of different forms. Questions could seek to uncover content-related misconceptions or misunderstandings held by students, identify further areas of interest, or ask for feedback on tweaks that could improve class experiences.

Before assessments/exam periods

Across Sydney our students are asking for clearer guidelines and more detailed feedback on assessment tasks. Larger changes to assessment structure and feedback can be made for the future, but there are also a number of small and easily-made adjustments or additions that will support this goal.

  • Creating multiple choice quizzes (MCQs) with immediately-delivered feedback on common misconceptions or important concepts will allow students to both practise the skill of quiz-taking and receive immediate feedback. Generative AI tools such as Cogniti can be used to create banks of MCQs with helpful feedback – this can save you significant time and energy!
  • Revision sessions serve as an opportunity to reinforce key concepts, clarify doubts, enhance understanding, and build a sense of safety for upcoming assessments.
  • Spending time in tutorials (or even dedicating an entire tutorial) answering questions about the assessment and discussing what ‘good’ looks like with the use of rubrics and exemplars will support confidence-building and a clear path to successEasily-implemented framing interventions support our students in facing their assessment challenges positively. Practice questions (there can never be too many!), sample assessments, and additional resources for difficult topics are always welcomed. 
  • Good navigation and organisation in Canvas sites along with consistently-presented instructions given in plain English will support students in finding information quickly and easily, something that is particularly important during periods of time that can be quite stressful.

Other ideas to consider

  • Improve clarity. The simple act of providing clear instructions and being well prepared can have a huge impact on learning. Ensure that you and your tutors provide clear explanations about content and are well-prepared for classes. If you are teaching a concept for the first time, test it out on your colleagues first and ask them for feedback if anything is unclear (remembering that your students don’t have your peers’ disciplinary expertise). You can also prompt Chat GPT with your explanation as if it were someone with no disciplinary knowledge and then adjust accordingly.
  • Enhance your teaching team’s responsiveness. At the beginning of each semester set expectations around your teaching teams’ availability to answer questions. Make sure you and your team are all on the same page with regards to how you interact with students. Are you using a thoughtfully-designed discussion board? Do you have physical or virtual office hours? No matter how many FAQs you provide there will always be students who for a whole range of reasons may have missed something, have an additional question, or need unique support. 
  • Enhance course content and delivery. Regularly review the volume and pacing of your course content to ensure it is manageable for students.You could consider using polling tools to provide more interactivity and quick feedback in class. Find out how colleagues across Sydney have hacked their lectures to make them more interactive.
  • Promote a supportive and inclusive course environment. Review the principles of Universal Design for Learning to increase accessibility and create a more supportive and equitable learning experience. Designing for diversity will help you to create bridges and lower barriers for all students.
  • Encourage interactive learning and collaboration. Implement more interactive lecture activities, discussions, and live lectures and classes to increase engagement. Discussion boards can be used to build collaboration and community engagement. 
  • Support students’ mental health. With a high rate of students reporting mental health concerns and the national cost of living challenges affecting us all, do your best to create a supportive and understanding environment and consider implementing suggestions from a pedagogy of care in your class.

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