A little less suspicion, a little more trust

I recently attended a disabled student-led panel session, organised by Warwick Enable and Autism at Warwick, where students shared their experiences and challenges studying at Warwick. I also attended an Echo360 Webinar in which Dr Emily Nordmann shared evidence from research around student attendance when lectures were recorded. In particular, disproving the myth that students don’t attend because lecture are being recorded.

What these two topics have in common is trust or, more accurately, a lack thereof.

What students said

I attended a student-led session in which a student panel shared their experiences. This is a poor attempt to replicate what they shared.

Students encounter comments and attitudes that stereotype them, constantly. They hear insensitive comments that are based on misconceptions and ignorance about disability and its impact, regularly. Not only are there explicit ways in which this ignorance manifests itself, there are also subtle and systemic ways which they described later.

A repeated theme of the session was the humiliation and discrimination of jumping through hoops and navigating University processes. From registration, having reasonable adjustments agreed and put in place, to submitting mitigating circumstances claims. The students lamented the time wasted and the stress of having to go through these process over and over again. The time, effort and monetary cost is never accounted for or considered. Students come to university to study, not to become experts in university process and policy. Is it not disadvantaging these students to spend their time doing this, while non-disabled students can focus that time on their studies? Genuine question.

We have the data on which students are registered and what their reasonable adjustments are. One student wanted academic staff, particularly member of staff who have been asked to cover teaching, to check and know, in advance, which students in their cohort have reasonable adjustments. Is it really too much to make sure the people who need to know, know? Should we really expect students to declare over and over again?

The panellists also reflected on the idea that people will ‘game the system’ to gain some material advantage. However, given how much ‘work’ it is to go through university processes, they doubt it is as widespread a problem as people might believe.

The students were asked what one thing they would like to see change to improve their experience at Warwick. They shared three powerful calls for change:

Prioritise people’s needs over profits and counting costs. Not just for people with disabilities.

Stop spending on new buildings. Invest in people and their experiences.

Believe us when we are suffering. Stop constantly asking us to prove how much our disability has impacted us.

I left the session with three conclusions:

  1. University processes, aim to help, but are needlessly convoluted and repetitive.
  2. There is a chronic lack of understanding and empathy of disability.
  3. A burden of proof is constantly laid upon the students.

Lecture Capture

Among many of the controversies around lecture capture, is the idea that students stop attending lectures. Dr Emily Nordmann has been doing research on the subject and presented ‘A socially progressive case for lecture capture’. Emily described the lack of evidence that lecture capture is the reason students don’t attend lectures. The reasons are numerous and far more nuanced. Emily also described the benefits provided by recording lectures. A very apt one, given the other presentations, being the benefits to disabled students. Links to two of Emily (and colleagues) publications:

Lecture rapture: The place and case for lectures in the new normal

The Cost of Asking: ‘Say that Again?’: A Social Capital Theory View Into How Lecture Recording Supports Widening Participation

We also briefly discussed how university policy impacts on the use of lecture capture. Many of the fears around lecture capture are about how they will be used by students and the institution. For example, fear that institutions will use lecture recordings to mitigate industrial action.

What have these two events got to do with one another?

Trust.

More accurately, the lack thereof.

The treatment of disabled students and the fear that lecture capture will reduce attendance are a symptom of a lack of trust.

Disabled students have to jump through hoops because they are not trusted.

Lecture capture is avoided because students and institutions are not trusted.

What we need is trustful practice

The issues described in this post are symptoms of a lack of trust in students. It goes beyond the two examples I have given. Assessment being another very obvious example where cheating must be prevented. Does it happen? Of course. However, cheating is just a symptom of many causes.

In Higher Education debate, it’s easier to ignore the cause and try to cure the symptom. I see it time and again especially in technology requests. “I would like this thing because it will solve X problem”. Technology can’t fix human problems.

We need to add trust to our conversations about teaching. Few of the ‘theories’ and ‘best’ practices talk about trust. That’s probably why teaching and assessment activities are designed with scepticism. We need to make students engage. We need to make students listen. We need to stop students cheating. And so on.

Process mapping and service design has no consideration of trust. That’s probably why our processes and services are designed without it.

Empathy is lacking in many debates today. You only need to look at the reaction to news articles to see that empathy is in short supply.

So, how do we switch from suspicion to trust as the default position?

I don’t know. The only way I have found that helps is for people to hear things first-hand. Perhaps, we start with empathy and understanding and that will grow in to trust.

Trustful: adjective

having or marked by a total belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone.

Oxford Languages

Trust should be the default.

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