“Rather than focus on what people lack, better understanding is gained from focusing on strengths in order to develop ways of understanding first-in-family students that seek to challenge notions of access and participation.”
In November 2015, I was invited to the QUT Caboolture Campus to run a workshop on first-in-family learners. During the day, the highly engaged audience came up with some additional principles and strategies for engaging first-in-family learners – these I have summarised below:
- Focus on student-led programs which draw on the experiences of later year first-in-family students to support commencing students. The focus of these student-led programs would include goal setting and sharing success strategies.
- Design events that bring family and community to the campus for example free health screening sessions for family members or reaching out to parents via social media networks.
- Draw upon the concept of first-in-family learners as being social change agents by changing language, recognising the challenges and opportunities of HE. In addition, to actively legitimise family capital.
- Embed ‘just-in-time support’ that normalises help-seeking behaviour.
- Use the first lecture or tutorial to encourage students to reflect upon the cultural / family / networks strengths they have which will support their learning.
- Always keep the family in the mind (front and centre) – avoid focussing only on the individual student.
- Consider different ways to measure ‘success’ not only based on assessment. Perhaps break the concept of success down into smaller more achievable parts.
- Normalise feelings of ‘discomfort’ for students – feeling uncomfortable can actually be regarded as a type of student success.