Sunday, 13 May 2012

Universal Design and inclusiveness in learning.

Universal Design and inclusiveness in learning.

I have just worked through the slideshow Bronwyn referred us to: Universal Design for Learning: A framework for access and equity. The slide on page 16 was very intimidating at first but as I worked through it, I could see lots of links which made me feel slightly better! The main theme of providing multiple means of; Representation, Action and Expression, and Engagement made me think about how my current course meets some of these goals. I thought these goals also related well to the other key concepts of  Access and Equity and Diversity and Inclusivity.

Access and Equity:
For me it comes down to knowing who your learners are before you start. As I mentioned in previous posts I have a chance to gather information about my students as my paper is in Semester 2. As we know students come with a range of skills and needs and it’s how these are both catered for that I think can help students to better engage. One year I had a student who could not cope with a lot of information at once. We were able to meet her needs by audio recording all workshops, offering her links to all slideshow materials and by offering additional 1:1 time for her. Additionally I had other students who wanted to move through the course at a fast rate- which was catered for by opening all Moodle weeks (as previously the were only opended from one week to the next) and I posted a section on moodle  that I told the students was purely options and for the ‘keen’ ones. This seemed to work well, and it allowed the students to progress through at their own pace.

This however isn’t the current situation for the cohort of students in Wintec. Their access to the online component of the course is ‘equitable’ as they do have access to Moodle and discussion forums that occur across the entire class, but we do not have any means of 1:1 time or online classes (yet?). The Face to face sessions still offer the ‘glue’ between the different pathways to learning. There have been a lot of technological and staffing challenges (which we still face).   Last year we had a Sociologist teach this course which was great as she came with a breadth of subject knowledge- which allowed her to confidently offer options to students in terms of engaging them with the course. An example would be looking at ‘representation’ – by having alternatives for decoding ‘jargon’ both her and I were able to offer this as we were able to pull apart complex theories or concepts. (Some of these options were done face to face however, we could also look at developing an online activity…?)

Diversity and Inclusivity
Acknowledging the diversity students bring while remaining inclusive is such a great challenge. I think a key example here would be when we go on our noho marae (overnight fieldtrip). We get the full range of capabilities and needs expressed by students and it is a careful balance between supporting and challenging students at the same time. The main idea is respect for each other, but it also includes being clear on expectations and also providing students a range of staff that they can go to for support. The OT school has had over a decade in providing this learning, and every year our team reflects on the process and look at how the experience can be better. What I really like about noho marae is it fully allows us to provide multiple means of action and expression. This is in terms of preparing to go on marae where we have a detailed online component (online book with key links) and interactive face to face workshops, to seminars including the actual experience of staying at a marae.  Another example of inclusive teaching is if a student is struggling with learning their mihi for example, we can offer 1:1 sessions, and also alternative strategies to help them. We also say to students it’s about having a go that counts!

Issues for access and equity
The major issue has been technology between the Otago and Wintec campuses which has at times limited access and/or equity for all students. There have been positive moves for 2012 with the purchase of the departments own video conferencing unit- so it would be good to explore options (it’s not clear about staff access to this for seminars/lectures yet).  There also may be a new staff member in Wintec who can teach this paper, however from what I understand this lecturer’s background is not in Social Anth. How the staff member can access key information and 1:1 time with me as  course coordinator so she feels well supported would also need to be determined and planned for.

What do learners need?
I have found that the learners I have had in this course do enjoy choice in terms of offering different ways to interact with the course. They also liked to have multiple pathways for engagement at key times (such as assessment) which means planning ahead for extra tutorials or face to face time. Another strong message is clear expectations so students do not have to guess if they are achieving in an area, but there is information that allows them to help determine where they are. This year we are exploring the options of redeveloping our marking sheets to better cater for this need.


  1. I totally agree! It is about "knowing who your learners are before you start". How else could you recognise their diversity and be inclusive? However, as you say the breadth of diversity and capability emerges as you get to know your students during your interactions in class. The majority of students seem to prefer face-to-face interactions, and communicating together while they learn in a variety of situations.

    I believe that online classes can provide opportunities to interact and discuss, but they always have an element of hurriedness about them, and have to be scheduled. You could say that class time on-campus is the same but the students can meander and meet each other on-campus in a much more leisurely fashion.

    Sometimes it is the non-scheduled and casual conversations from which we learn the most. Would you agree with this? How can these be encouraged in an online environment?

  2. YES I agree! I do open a coupld of discussion forums where students can post any random thoughts and questions. Mainly these have been used to sort out questions about assessments- but what was interesting was that last year, students began to post replies to other student queries. Also occasionally when a question posted was something about course content we could bring this back to the class and adresss it face to face with discussion, as well as online. Is this what your were meaning? Thanks Gina