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Belonging and the hidden curriculum

According to Hubbard et al (2020), hidden curriculum is:

generally understood as referring to the ‘untaught’ component of the educational experience, and includes the implicit knowledge, norms and behaviours that are required for success […] We see the hidden curriculum residing in the space between the norms of university education and the life experiences of students. We separate the hidden curriculum into two domains; 'Sense of Belonging’ and ‘Rules of the Game’.’ (p. 59-60)

Why is this important for belonging?

We need to be mindful that students come to university having had different educational experiences, and some immediately feel more comfortable in the higher education space, while others do not. It is important therefore to think about what assumptions we might be making about what students already know. These might include:

  • assumptions around students all having the same starting point when they begin their university programme (assuming everyone is beginning from the same academic place)
  • assumptions around shared understanding of university processes
  • assumptions around shared understanding of expected interactions (staff-student/student-student)
  • assumptions around shared understanding of ways of teaching and learning
  • assumptions around shared understanding of terminology and language common to academia or a specific discipline
  • assumptions around shared understanding of discourse rules (how to speak, how to write, how to express knowledge)
  • assumptions around shared understanding of assessment (language of tasks, task types, genre and language expectations)

What can we do?

  • Reinforce with students that mistakes are how we learn – they are here to learn and are not expected to know everything already
  • Create an environment where the linguistic and cultural diversity of students is recognised as a rich resource so that they feel they can participate without fear of being judged negatively for what they do/don’t know, how they sound, the language that they use
  • Explain key terminology, especially at the beginning of a programme of study
  • Scaffold students’ participation in seminars – this may include seminar ‘training’ sessions during induction during which students can discuss previous experiences in seminars (or lack thereof),….
  • Create opportunities in teaching spaces for students to interact and support each other
  • Make lecture slides available in advance so students can prepare
  • Include opportunities for interaction during lectures. If well considered, this will allow students to check their understanding of content covered, identify gaps in their knowledge and improve their understanding of what is being taught
  • Recognise that not all students naturally participate in ways we expect of them – reasons for this might include personality type, cultural expectations, perceived power dynamics etc. Consider ways in which different pedagogic approaches or task designs might allow all students to participate to the best of their abilities
  • Support students’ transition to academic discourse via formative feedback from peers and tutors
  • Provide opportunities for formative assessment
  • Provide students examples of specific genres of writing required of them and create opportunities for them to work with these alongside marking criteria
  • Reconsider assessment tasks: Is the task clear? Is the language used clear? Would everyone who reads the task instructions come to the same conclusions on what is expected of them?
  • Find out more on the UoL hidden curriculum Sharepoint page