‘The Hidden Curriculum – a student’s perspective’ by Clare Smyth

In this blog student Clare Smyth shares her experience of working as a participatory researcher on the  Incubator’s Hidden Curriculum project.

I am a final year BA Anthropology student and one of seven student research assistants on The Hidden Curriculum Education Incubator project. This is a joint project run by academic staff, undergraduate and graduate students. The Hidden Curriculum (HC) is a term that describes a tendency of school curricula to reproduce the inequalities of wider society, or, more broadly, any type of often unintentional learning that is not prescribed by formal curricula.

With students from diverse and ‘mainstream’ backgrounds, the project aims to make aspects of the HC explicit, using a range of scenarios as stimuli for discussion during focus group interviews.

The past couple of months have involved a lot of planning for the focus groups which are taking place this month. Currently we are paired up and have come up with 8 vignettes or scenarios that will be presented to undergraduate students at the university. These vignettes are split into four categories:

  • Assumed students- do tutors assume that students have specific characteristics, backgrounds and experiences?
  • Academic values- how implicit values in social science and humanities are presented in teaching and how students navigate this?
  • Being one of a kind- how do you work with minorities in the classroom without alienating them?
  • Structure of learning- How do you navigate student engagement with new methods of learning?

Anna Mountford- Zimdars and George Koutsouris, our project leads, have chosen to do this research through an inclusive and participatory research methodology. This is a collaborative approach that means myself, as well as other student researchers, are all actively involved in decision making, research questions, methods and using our own experiences to identify areas that could be developed.

As an anthropology student, this methodological insight in participatory research is invaluable.  It reflects a type of ethnographic approach that will inform my own engagement with research in the future as I continue my further education. I also never knew what ‘pedagogy’ meant until I applied for this job, so it’s definitely improved my academic knowledge.

I joined this team because as a diverse student myself, I have had a lot of barriers to overcome. My university experience has not been linear as I suffer from a chronic mental health disability. I’m also an ethnic minority and an immigrant, so I tick most of the ‘diversity’ boxes. I remember walking into my first lecture and not being able to locate an ‘ethnic minority’ in the room. Having lived in London and growing up in Nairobi, this increased my sense of being an outsider.

Rather than retreat, I used my position of marginality as a form of resistance: through poetry, performance and activism. I was part of the team that organised the anti-racism rally against the Bracton Law Society scandal last year. However, Audre Lorde advocates that self-care is an act of political warfare. And stepping back from the frontline has been the best method of self-care for my well-being. I still want the work I do to reflect some form of political warfare and this internship allows me to do that.

Being a student researcher on this team has been a great way to realise that our work will go on to shape and inform learning and teaching at the university, so that students, such as myself, can feel included and appreciated in spaces that have traditionally not been welcoming of diversity.

Hidden Curriculum Success for All

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The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.

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