If your past HE experience has been only with traditional Bachelors or postgrad students, being tasked with teaching, leading on or developing an access course can be a challenge. It can also be an incredibly rewarding experience. This article will present some helpful guidelines to getting it right.
Know your students.
Access-course teaching will bring you into contact with perhaps the most diverse and interesting group of learners on any campus. They have one thing in common—the need to follow an alternative route into higher education—but a myriad of individual stories. Make sure you provide time and space for these to be shared with you and, where feasible, with the wider group. It can help students to build confidence and feel as if they belong on campus to know that they are not alone in their circumstances.
It can also help if you share stories of other successful access students—previous year’s students who have successfully moved on to BA courses are every access-course lecturer’s secret weapon. Whether it’s just a short description with a photo, a contribution to a lecture, or a formal mentoring programme, they can be very helpful.
Make sure they get the right support.
Assessment is also part of knowing your students. Some will have known or undiagnosed difficulties such as dyslexia. Make sure they receive all services that are available to them on campus to find out about these and that adequate support is provided. Many older students are unaware of the help now available to students with specific learning disabilities, mental health issues, or physical health challenges; others will struggle to sort out how such support is accessed.
Find out who your campus allies are and be available to walk some students through—it will reduce the burden on you later, and increase their chances of success.
Tailor course content.
Knowledge of your students can also enrich your course offerings. It can help you come up with relevant examples, materials and activities that will engage diverse learners. Many of your students will have life experiences as parents, workers, immigrants, and patients that can enrich your own knowledge. Make use of these as wisely as you can, they are priceless.
Study skills are the linchpin of any good access course. Liaise regularly with lecturers working with first-year BA students to identify problems that are cropping up with both access and traditional incomers, and to find out what work will be expected of your students. Some popular curriculum materials—and perhaps some that you have inherited from a predecessor—are mired in the past, and will have you concentrating entirely on essay-writing and referencing skills.
While these remain absolutely crucial, today’s access students need help with using and evaluating electronic and multimedia sources, handling the demands of group work, and catching up with their younger peers on course-specific knowledge. Some will also need guidance regarding applications and interviews for university. So while “generic” skills are invaluable, make sure they are truly ready for what awaits them at the next step.