Chapter 2

Steady? Needs analysis and orientation

To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can mostly deeply and intimately begin
bell hooks


This chapter is about two related pedagogical actions teachers should take at the start of a course: needs analysis and orientation. Needs analysis is about the crucial steps to get to know and understand who the students are; what their academic, social, cultural and emotional capital is; and what their needs are in each area. The needs analysis is part of a wider process of contextual analysis and orientation to the course. Orientation here refers to something besides and beyond the overall, generic ‘induction’ students usually experience when they join a university. It refers to a course orientation phase which supports the various transitions students experience while at university.

About the case studies

How should we carry out the needs analysis for it to be as inclusive as we can? How can it be culturally responsive, so as to inform our inclusive learning design at course implementation stage? These questions are addressed in three international case studies: (1) undertaking a needs analysis before the course starts; (2) doing a needs analysis right at the start of a course; and (3) doing a needs analysis before placements using a tool co-created with students.

1. Here below you will find a case study by Maida Ali (Pakistan) about ‘E-persona cards to get to know your students before the course starts’. The narrative demonstrates the value of designing a ‘getting to know you’ questionnaire in order to create a group profile. Besides a basic skills audit, the questionnaire provides a more holistic picture about students’ backgrounds and social contexts. Maida was able to do this before her course started, in spite of having a very large cohort.

2. In the printed/ebook version, read about a case in practice from Eswatini, about ‘Challenging the ‘single story’’ through a students’ cultural awareness survey done in lesson 1. It discusses the cultural wealth approach taken by the author to become a more culturally responsive teacher.

3. In the printed/ebook version, read a third case study by Belinda Judd and Jennie Brentnall (Australia) entitled ‘Co-creating an assessment tool for ‘readiness for learning’’’ which discusses a collaborative activity where students co-created a readiness for learning tool for placements.

E-persona cards to get to know your students before the course starts

By Maida Ali (Pakistan)

I teach 350 students on average in one academic year at my university. These students come from all walks of life. As a teacher, I have always found it difficult to support all of my students mostly because I do not find it easy to get to know each one of them enough at a personal level to understand their context. I wanted to foster a relationship of trust and inclusion inside and outside my classroom which I found challenging to achieve until…I introduced e-persona cards.

E-persona cards were a set of five questions which I sent to my students via Google Forms before our courses started. These five questions were designed to find out who they are, where they come from, where they are headed and how I can assist them to achieve their learning goals for the courses. The last question is completely open ended: ‘Anything you want your instructor to know…’

The important feature of these cards was their timing. E-persona cards were sent before the course started and I met my students face-to-face. 

A puzzle-style composite image where various coloured shapes form an overall student image in the middle.

Image: The e-persona cards create a composite picture of each student

The image above is an original piece of work by María (Mavi) Victoria Parody Merino originally from Spain but settled in Finland. Mavi created the image on my request for this case study to illustrate the main idea of this chapter: e-persona cards help us put together the bigger picture of who our students are.

The two most important elements of a classroom for me are trust and inclusion. When students register for my courses, they do not know who I am. They likely experience a mix of emotions before they even meet me the first time. I wanted to tap into these emotions and create a bridge of trust. A bridge where they can walk forward and backwards without having the fear of falling. This bridge not only helped us to be a more inclusive classroom but more empathetic as well. It helped me to be flexible and launch parallel curriculums for the students who informed me of any personal challenge they may experience in their learning.

The responses I received via these e-persona cards were something I had never read before. Most of the students wrote their heart out even though they didn’t know me. They shared their worries, fears, successes and failures with me. E-persona cards were a simple practice which I implemented and enabled me to build a relationship of trust and inclusion with my students. They allowed me to: get to know the students before even meeting them; personalise their learning experience (i.e. tailored assessments, different pace of progressing with their learning paths, providing students with disability with accessible materials, choice of resubmissions etc.) and create a class profile which allowed me to have the big picture of who my learners are.

I will end this chapter by quoting a response from one of my students and leave you to wonder, how many of our students would learn better and feel included only if the teacher took the first step to foster a deeper relationship with them?

“I just want you to support me whether I am succeeding or failing and not judge.”


Fink, L. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gannon, K. (2020). A Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto (Teaching and Learning in Higher Education). Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.  Treviranus, J. (2018). The Three Dimensions Of Inclusive Design: Part One **. [online] Medium. Available at:

Inclusivity note

With needs analysis, we rely on students’ willingness to provide as much or as little information about themselves as they wish. We need to explain the reasons we are asking those questions and assure students of confidentiality. Realistically, some students may still ‘hide’ important aspects of their lives which impact on their learning. Perhaps they will share more once they settle in the course and are more familiar with us.

The questions need to be thought out carefully to provide enough information but not take too long to analyse. Depending on the cohort size, to avoid creating unsustainable volumes of reading, you may have to ask questions which require very short answers, and perhaps only one open ended question. Some students may prefer to record a video where they introduce themselves to you and provide the same information you would ask in the questionnaire. This could be more inclusive for some and could end up saving you time. If you set a time limit of four minutes, it will take you two hours to get to know 30 students. It is definitely worth making time for such introductions as you will gain much insight into who your students are.