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HEA Scotland Spotlights: Winter 2016/17: Designing interaction for diverse cohorts

The HEA Scotland Spotlights series focuses on specific learning and teaching themes bringing together select key HEA and non-HEA resources and research and guiding practitioners to relevant material to support them in developing their teaching practice.

Visit the HEA Scotland page for further information on the activities available to you

The theme for Winter 2016/17 is designing interaction for diverse cohorts. It includes:



To accompany the spotlight review HEA Scotland hosted two webinars showcasing case studies of good practice.

Webinar one: Designing interaction for diverse cohorts in staff development practice

In this first webinar Catriona Cunningham from the University of Stirling and Cath Camps from the University of Cardiff explore their work on embedding interculturalism and internationalisation into their respective PGCerts in learning and teaching so as to encourage interaction and engagement from their diverse cohorts enriching the learning experience.

Webinar two: Designing interaction for learning and teaching practice

The second webinar drew on global research and international practice for the designing of interaction in learning and teaching contexts with a specific focus on internationalism and interculturalism. Its speakers comprised:

  • Sophie Arkoudis Associate Director Centre for the Study of Higher Education / Associate Professor University of Melbourne: lead author of the Interaction for Learning Framework;
  • Rachel Scudamore Dean of Students and Learning Birmingham City University: author of Engaging home and international students: a guide for new lecturers.;
  • Nancy E. Young Consultant Intercultural Interactions: lead author of Seeking best practices for integrating international and domestic students.;



Student cohorts are becoming increasingly diverse: in their backgrounds their experiences their characteristics their modes of study etc. Such diversity can create fertile ground for richer educational experiences: with greater exposure to and interaction with difference – in thought in experience in understanding – students can develop improved critical thinking better collaboration skills an enhanced sense of belonging and engagement within their institution greater resilience and a richer more nuanced understanding of their subject matter [see Caruana’s Promoting students’ resilient thinking in diverse higher education learning environments Gurin et al’s Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes and Trowler’s Student engagement literature review].

Such enrichment is not an automatic output of the presence of diversity: it is generated from interaction with difference. However too often our students do not interact with those outwith their in groups. To capitalise on the presence of diversity and to ensure all of our students can feel like they belong we need to design interaction into our learning and teaching practices.



Culturally diverse cohorts

Often the resources and guidance on designing interaction stem from working with culturally diverse cohorts that is so-called international and home students. So Scudamore in her Engaging home and international students: A guide for new lecturers offers theoretical considerations on and practical strategies for engaging diverse students in their learning which includes descriptions of and tips for the successful implementation of interactive activities generally in large group and in small group teaching.

Similarly Dolan and Macias in chapter twelve of their Motivating international students: A practical guide to aspects of learning and teaching discuss how to achieve integration through interaction. They explore the use of space for interaction give step-by-step guidance on how to promote and monitor interaction in the lecture and tutorial discuss interaction issues relevant to games and case studies consider group work and share their views on e-interaction.

Sedghi too offer reflections in Developing strategies and activities to improve interactions between home and international students and to enhance learning and teaching on her project implementing interaction strategies such as peer mentoring and peer assisted learning induction activities personal tutoring and mixed group activities.



Non-HEA explorations

Outwith the HEA Leask’s key work Using formal and informal curricula to improve interactions between home and international students presents strategies principles and guidelines for designing meaningful interactions amongst a culturally diverse cohort.

Concentrating on current practice Young’s Seeking best practices for integrating international and domestic students collects sixteen case studies of good practice from across America. It includes curricula co-curricula extra-curricula practice and offers information on outcomes lessons learned and strategies for developing similar activities within other organisations.

Meanwhile Arkoudis et al’s Finding common ground: Enhancing interaction between domestic and international students in higher education  provides findings from a cross-institutional study in Australia from which practical guidance strategies on overcoming obstacles and top tips were developed culminating in an Interaction for Learning Framework (ILF). This framework orientates around the six categories of planning interaction creating environments for interaction supporting interaction engaging with subject knowledge developing reflexive process and fostering communities of learners.



Applicability and transferability

The strategies these resources offer are useful not only for culturally diverse cohorts. For example the question and role of silence on interaction and engagement discussed in Scudamore in relation to international students is equally applicable to cohorts of diverse protected characteristics as explored in Burke et al’s Formations of gender and higher education pedagogies: the strategies and guidance suggested will be of use for any diverse cohort.



Technology enhanced learning

A key concern in the increasingly virtual and technological world of education is the use of technology for interaction. So Guiller and Bell tell of their experience utilising personal response systems to design interactivity (Who-wants-an-interactive-lecture: Embedding use of personal response systems to enhance the student learning experience) again looking at enablers and barriers and suggesting strategies for implementation.

Similar studies can be found in Yanez-Bouza’s case study on Enhancing interactive learning in the classroom with Turning Point and Frame and Hayler’s report on Interactive engagement of students in large class settings using an electronic classroom communication response system.

Looking at virtual learning more generally Collinson and Halliwell report on their project Understanding and promoting student engagement via online interactive tutorials: Development of an internationally relevant environmental chemistry and health context based learning activity. These explore the impact of embedding interactive tutorials in distance learning and offer further advice on how to manage interaction in virtual learning environments.

Meanwhile Sackville et al offer reflections in their case study Designing for interaction in an online CPD programme considering how to maximise pedagogic learning environment and visual design for student engagement and interaction.



Practicing through staff development

Finally staying with staff development and re-orientating around diverse cohorts Camps reports in Valuing harnessing and using the unique asset of working in a bilingual institution: Introducing the Welsh language into a postgraduate certificate in higher education  how purposely designing interactions with one type of difference (Welsh) supported the integration and development of a culturally diverse cohort. Camps also illustrates to us the value of modelling good interaction in staff development in the influencing of teaching practice.