Inclusive curriculum and online learning
Dr. Alexandra Mihai, Maastricht University and Centre for Online and Distance Education, University of London
Inclusiveness has a variety of nuances, especially when we talk about creating learning experiences for cohorts of diverse students. Exploring these nuances with a focus on using technology to design a more inclusive learning space is important, as it allows us to better understand the practical steps we can take when designing a course or programme.
Building an inclusive curriculum means, first and foremost, designing around the student. This requires getting to know the students very well and taking a genuine interest in them. Getting to know our students can be difficult, but
The inclusive curriculum in an online education context (albeit equally applicable to other modalities) is built on five pillars, spanning the various aspects of teaching and learning:
- The learning space. While this is something often taken for granted in the physical classroom, online we need to be intentional about creating a space that is welcoming, accessible and conducive to learning. Some of the elements that can help in this respect are clear communication, a friendly tone, providing support in terms of time and workload management, as well as efforts to make all aspects of the course accessible.
- The content. Regularly taking a deep dive into the content of a course and trying to represent a diversity of voices in order to keep it relevant to students is very important. Especially in an online context, clear and meaningful structure and sequencing are key to an effective learning experience, and so is attention to detail in terms of size, style and presentation of the content. An interesting approach is creating a “buffet” setup that encourages learner agency, as they can mix and match according to their needs. Attention to language and cultural references also contributes to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment.
- The learning activities. The key both in an online and a physical classroom is to achieve a good balance between different types of activities (passive & active, individual, pair and group activities, independent, peer-reviewed, collaborative and tutor-engaged activities). The advantage online is the opportunity to use various ways of interaction as well as different media that allow students to express themselves. Don’t forget to ask them for their preferences and (re)design the course accordingly.
- The role of the educator. How do we welcome students? What kind of atmosphere and culture we aim to create? How do we encourage and facilitate interaction? These are all extremely important questions that can help us evaluate our role and build our teacher presence. Online, this has to be more intentional than in the traditional classroom and it requires finding the best ways to communicate with and support students. Working together with colleagues in a co-teaching or team teaching arrangement can be beneficial for both parties.
- The role of technology. While technology can enhance the feeling of presence and the ability to connect, the key is to use it purposefully, by choosing the tools and media that are most suited to the learning goals. Three main affordances of technology that can support the learning process are multimodality, flexibility and accessibility. They can provide students with multiple means of perceiving, comprehending and expressing their learning.
Building an inclusive curriculum may require more planning at the design stage and also more effort in delivery, but it is a very effective strategy to build a positive and productive atmosphere in the classroom and enable students to learn and develop in ways that suit them best.
Members of The Careers Group alongside the University of London’s Centre for Online and Distance Education were delighted to be awarded one of 16 funded projects from the QAA in December 2022. The scope of our project is the exploration of inclusive curriculum to make employability development intrinsic to good teaching and learning. We’ll be producing outputs to support colleagues across the sector as educators and careers professionals, and through these blogs we will share our research and practical findings along the way.