for librarians, researchers and educators interested in information management

Supporting students from low socio-economic status backgrounds



Last week I attended a workshop which disseminated the findings from a study on supporting the needs of low SES students.  Entitled “Effective teaching and support of students from low socio-economic status backgrounds: Resources for Australian Higher Education”, the study was funded by the Office for Learning and Teaching within the Australian Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education and was presented by the researchers, Karen Nelson (QUT), Sally Kift (JCU) and Liz Smith (CSU).

The study, which was based on structured interviews of students from low SES backgrounds as well as teaching staff, produced some advice for institutional leaders:

  1. Enable inclusive curriculum and assessment design
  2. Promote engagement with and support from others
  3. Encourage ‘help-seeking’ by students
  4. Actively minimise financial challenges for students
  5. Resource and support teachers of LSES students

There were also six pieces of practical advice for teaching staff:

1. Know and respect your students

It’s important to know your students, understand their contexts and embrace what they bring and contribute to higher education. Students are often finance and time poor. We can use data to ‘know’ our students, understand risk triggers, and design curriculum accordingly. It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of our students. Communication is critical, so it’s important to include student contributions and presence in curricula and classes.

2. Offer your students flexibility, variety and choice

We can do this by harnessing technology and learning and teaching tools, and employ a range of teaching strategies, pedagogies (such as experiential learning, peer learning, problem based learning) and resources (such as video, images or people) to engage students. We need to be clear about expectations, monitor student engagement and be flexible in how we support students – in where and how students study, in providing flexible access to learning materials and variety in assessments.

3. Make expectations clear, using accessible language

“Speak and write in plain language to ensure students understand the concepts being taught, the expectations of them and what is required to be a successful student.” We can do this by reviewing the language we use, to eliminate jargon, acronyms, complex vocabulary, overly long sentences. An online glossary, labelled illustrations, clear explanations, stories and anecdotes and clear marking rubrics can help.

4. Scaffold your students’ learning

Develop an approach that is planned and structured so that students build on what they bring to their study, and that they are taught what they need to know in order to be successful.   Strategies include providing early and constructive feedback through formative assessment, using immediate response technology, chunking information, working with professional educators, learning designers, librarians; and facilitating peer learning in and out of the classroom.

5. Be available and approachable to guide student learning

This is so students can make use of your expertise and guidance to improve learning and performance.   Make the times and places you are available clear, review your communications, adopt time-efficient methods of giving feedback.   A great idea is to write a weekly email with timely information about resources, workshops or services available to students, requirements, tips for successful study, and reassurances.

6. Practice reflectively

We need to continuously improve our teaching practice and student learning by reflecting ourselves as well as seeking informal feedback from peers and students and then acting on those reflections.   Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and ask yourself: “What went well and what could be improved?   How will my students know/ understand what I am asking them to learn or do?”

With the role of the academic library in mind, some of the key things that I came away with from the session were:

  • The library featured quite a lot in the discussion as a key source of support for low SES students
  • It is important that the library design its teaching / learning activities in line with the advice provided
  • The strategies and advice around supporting LSES students applies equally well to all students – ie it is good teaching practice which reflects current pedagogical thinking

For a copy of the report and other resources and information, visit the website:

The afternoon workshop “Safeguarding student learning engagement” was also very interesting.  The project upon which this workshop was based has produced a suite of resources to guide good practice, consistent with the notions of equity and social justice, for monitoring student learning engagement.


Image from Microsoft






2 comments on “Supporting students from low socio-economic status backgrounds

  1. Cath Sheard
    June 2, 2014

    I love the idea of knowing and respecting students – I’m in a small town and know a lot of our teens really well, and find it makes such a difference.

    • karen
      June 6, 2014

      Hi Cath

      Thanks for your comments – yes, makes a difference for both parties!

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This entry was posted on April 1, 2014 by in information literacy.
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