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Exploring Differences


1. Understand how students may differ and/or feel different from their peers.

2. Explore the issues or barriers students may face as a result of their differences.

3. Investigate ways in which students can support their peers and/or help to overcome barriers experienced by their peers.

  • This activity would work well as a general community-building activity.
  • The activity can lend itself, if desired, to the creation of a ‘group charter’ or pledge relating to proactive inclusive behaviours and community values.
  • Suggested time: One hour (or shorter if the discussions are shortened slightly).
  • This activity works best when participants are divided into small to medium groups (4-8 people).
  • For face-to-face sessions, this activity is best conducted using large flipchart paper and marker pens.
  • For online, use Padlet. This is a sample padlet set-up for this activity. Use the ‘remake’ option to duplicate it as many times as necessary to set up Padlets for your small/medium groups.
  • For larger online groups, you may need to make use of breakout rooms on Teams.
How to carry out the activity

The activity begins by posing the question ‘What might make someone feel different from their peers?’.

After perhaps 10 minutes (or when the facilitator notes that groups are beginning to struggle for ideas), the groups should be invited to share their suggestions with the whole group. The facilitator should composite the individual group responses onto a whole-group diagram since subsequent questions will build on this layer.

The activity will build up a three-tiered ‘spider diagram’. Here is an example screenshot of students building up the first-tier using Padlet:

Foreshadowing the next question, the facilitator may want to ask participants why they included specific suggestions. (‘And what made you choose that?’ ‘How do you see that contributing to a feeling of difference?’)

The next section of the activity asks ‘What issues or barriers might they face as a result?’ (of each difference). Groups should be invited to add any differences contributed by other groups that they would like to explore to their diagram also. The facilitator may choose to pick one or two differences to model or explore with the whole group. For example, someone who speaks English as an additional language may have difficulty understanding others (particularly when they speak fast, or use idioms/slang), find themselves misunderstood by others, and face the additional barrier of being academically assessed in a second or third language.

Here is an example screenshot of students building up the second-tier using Padlet:

The small/medium groups should then spend 10-15 minutes exploring the associated issues relating to the differences on their diagram, adding them as the second tier of their diagram. This is followed by an invitation to share with the whole group, during which the facilitator may choose to further explore particular issues or barriers with the group which are felt to require a focus in their specific departmental or group context.

The final question, for which the responses form the third and final tier of the diagram is ‘How can we support them, or help to overcome those barriers?’. You may wish to limit or expand who ‘we’ refers to – does it refer solely to students as their peers, or also to the university as an institution? Again, modelling or exploring an example as a whole group may be beneficial.

This third question can be explored initially in small/medium groups in the same way as the prior questions, but facilitators should allow enough time for whole group discussion of arising suggestions. As part of the final discussion, share the Warwick Values page so students can see the five values. Encourage students to reflect on their understanding of the values and of the Warwick community having just participated in this activity.

Here is an example screenshot of students building up the final-tier using Padlet:

Reflection on the experience of planning and/or delivering the activity

This activity has previously been used to train mentors taking part in peer mentor projects, as it supports students to better understand and empathise with the experiences of others, particularly relating to the struggles new students may face. However, it is expected that the activity would benefit students as peers more generally, by providing space to consider how our differences affect our experiences, and how we can support one another within the university community.

It also provides an opportunity to discuss inclusion more broadly than activities based upon the 9 protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010, including differences specific to the student context e.g. first in the family to attend university. Experiences facilitating this activity suggest that it provides a more ‘organic’ and intuitive introduction to the topic of ‘inclusivity’ than other more direct approaches. By first building a better understanding of the concept of difference, rather than pre-supposing an arbitrary or narrow set of differences (e.g. the “9 protected characteristics”), participants find the discussions better rooted within and more broadly encompassing of their own experiences.

Should you wish to include a focus on particular differences, based upon pre-identified priorities or concerns, ensure they are included in everyone’s first-tier diagram (e.g. by including them in the initial facilitator examples of differences) and they will naturally form part of each group’s subsequent discussions. The facilitator may then linger on discussion related to these differences in each feedback round.

Thank you to Sam Parr for sharing this activity.

"This activity supports students to better understand and empathise with the experiences of others, particularly relating to the struggles new students may face."

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