University of Sheffield Workshop – Inclusivity: The Fundamentals (24/10/19)

Today (24th October – starting to write up on same day as attendance, remains to be seen if I will finish same day as well!), I was able to attend a workshop run by the university which focused on inclusivity. (Previously I have also attended workshops about mental health and supporting Chinese Students – there’s lots of good stuff available, it’s a question of whether or not it clashes with your timetabled classes! Today I was lucky again!)

Inclusivity: The Fundamentals

The Elevate team started by saying that inclusivity is a broad topic and that today’s session would provide an overview of current inclusivity best practice and tips on how to develop an inclusive curriculum/learning environment.

Inclusivity is an umbrella term and definitions with regards to what is included within it have changed and developed over the years. 10 years ago it was limited to specific support for students with specific disabilities: it was limited and focused. Now, it includes all of the following:

  • support for specific disabilities e.g. dyslexia
  • support for international students
  • accessible measures that benefit all students
  • sense of belonging
  • retention/success
  • decolonising the curriculum

One aspect of the university’s current teaching and learning strategy is as follows:

“Developing inclusive curricula, to close attainment gaps for students from under-represented groups and to foster a sense of belonging for all students, with equal opportunities for all to succeed.”

Good inclusive practice and good teaching/learning practice have a lot of overlap. Our first task was to think about and discuss what we already do that is inclusive. People from various different university faculties/departments were in attendance, including two others and myself attached to the ELTC (one from the main ELTC, one who mainly does DLP, while I of course hail from the USIC arm), so it was interesting to hear from a range of subject areas.

My brainstorming points were:

  • scaffolding in terms of assessment (KIP 4)
  • formative assessment that teaches students how to approach summative assessments (KIP 4)
  • clear instructions (KIP 1)
  • variety of task types (KIP 2)
  • using models (KIP 4)

(Interestingly, a colleague from the journalism department, upon hearing that I work at USIC, told me that the students they get from us are often reticent to speak up, and one way of overcoming that which she has used is to incorporate mobile phones into activities, for example by using Padlet for brainstorming.)

What is a KIP, I hear you asking?

KIP = my shorthand for Key Areas of Inclusive Practice, of which there are 6:

  1. Academic Community
  2. Classroom and Accessibility
  3. Technology
  4. Assessment
  5. Feedback
  6. Evaluation and Review

We looked at each area in turn.

1. Academic Community

Why is this important? The more somebody feels part of and represented in a community, the more they will achieve. They need to feel they have a place. As teachers, we need to bolster that feeling. We need to remember that this is an unfamiliar, intimidating environment for students who come to us and to help them feel at ease. We need to respect their identity e.g. call them by the name they wished to be called by (I always ask students what they want me to call them!) and use the pronouns they want us to use for them. In this way, they will feel more accepted.

Language use also comes within this area. Basically, use plain English! Of course, this is an issue more for university departments, as ELTC folk are used to grading language for obvious reasons! It’s nice to see that the importance of not being jargontastic and of explaining specific terminology clearly is being highlighted at university level.

It’s also important to involve students by letting them have opportunities to feed back (in a variety of ways) so that their experience of your classes is communicated clearly to you and can help inform what you do.

2. Classroom/Accessibility

Accessibility is not only about the physical space (e.g. the classroom), but also about how materials are presented and how lessons are delivered. For example, classroom materials should be representative of the students you are teaching. It is also important to get to know your students and what they are bringing to the room, as their prior learning experiences may be very different from what you are expecting of them in your classes. Using a variety of activities means that you don’t repeatedly advantage or disadvantage particular groups of students. Neurodivergent students may be excellent lateral thinkers, in activities which require this their peers can learn a lot from them.

The university has a lot of support available. It would be helpful to signpost different aspects of it to students at point of need e.g. highlighting the existence of WAS to students about to embark on their first essay assignment. Try to look for opportunities in the curriculum where different things could be highlighted/referred to.

3. Technology

There are lots of different ways that students can use technology to access learning in a more suitable way for them, for example screen readers for partially sighted or blind students. Keeping this in mind, it is important that we optimise our materials for use by these students. One way of making sure that course materials are accessible is to use Blackboard Ally, which is a tool that measures the accessibility of materials for staff and allows students to download materials in whichever format is best for them (including audio). An example of making materials more accessible is including image tags so that screen readers can interpret the image for the students using them. Also, using the headings function in word to format headings means that the screen reader can differentiate between headings and normal text and incorporate that information into how the information is transferred to the student. When you put your materials through Blackboard Ally, it will give you a score (Red, Yellow or Green) depending on how accessible they are.

Another way we can help students is to use consistent online methods for assessment and try to work towards having VLE navigation consistent across modules so that students don’t have to learn how to access the VLE for their various modules in completely different ways from module to module. To make this easier, there are templates in Blackboard that can be used.

Here is a week by week task breakdown template and an example of how a completed one might look:

Using colour coding is helpful for students who are aided by the visual. There is recent legislation in the UK regarding accessibility online in the public domain, and university VLEs come under this. However, it is also just good practice. In terms of font, it is best to use a sans serif font such as calibri or arial as these are easiest to read.

Technology can also enable us to get feedback from our students in a range of ways. Even with very large groups, using feedback opportunities can help you get a better feel for your students’ needs/worries etc. For example, you could use Google forms or a similar tool such as SurveyMonkey, you could use Smartboard “Shoutitout” or any other brainstorming tool such as Bitpaper too.

4. Assessment

Assessment is very important in terms of inclusivity, as it is how we recognise and reward progress, and how we build up students’ skills. It is important not to assume that everyone will know/have experience of the assessment task type you are asking them to do. In order to help students understand what they are doing and how it fits into the bigger picture, refer to learning outcomes and go through assessment criteria with them. This way, they will understand what they need to do in order to be successful.

As teachers, it is also important for us to become more familiar with the effects that certain disabilities have. In the Know is a set of brief introductions to a range of disabilities that you can use as a starting point to broaden your knowledge. Below you can see which ones they have so far:

Where possible, use a range of assessment types so that students have opportunities to play to their strengths. For example, if a course is 100% assessed by exams, or 100% assessed by coursework, certain students will be disadvantaged in either case and therefore a mixture is preferred. Ideally, give students a choice of assessment types to meet their learning outcomes.

5. Feedback

There are a variety of ways to do feedback and it is important that we make use of this to avoid doing feedback in the same way every time. As with materials, tasks and assessment, doing things in the same way every time disadvantages and advantages the same students every time. It is important to ensure that students understand the role and function of feedback, and that you teach them how to use it most effectively to improve their performance.

6. Evaluation and Review

  • It is important that you make your expectations clear to students from the outset.
  • Collaboration with students will support more effective evaluation and review.

(I will come clean – this is the only thing I have written down in my notes here. Towards the end of the session so areas 5 and 6, the session deliverers noticed time was getting away and accelerated accordingly!)

The final task we did in this workshop was reflect on and discuss what three things we would like to take away and build on in our own departments. Here are the notes I made:

  • Week by week task breakdown template: we have a weekly syllabus at the front of our workbooks – could it be more effective? Could there be another document with more information/colour available on Blackboard?
  • Signposting support: could it be better integrated? e.g. signposting mental health services in conjunction with topic on social media and mental health? Need more familiarity with various services available in order to signpost them where relevant.
  • Student feedback opportunities: how shall I get feedback from my students for mid-term? (Midterm is upon us already!) – Discussion on Google+ community page? Use a Google Form? (Having talked to a colleague of mine, and got some inspiration, I have now decided to go with a Google Form!)
  • Consistency across modules: Do all the modules the students do within a given pathway at the college + AES use Blackboard in the same way with regards to navigation? Do we use those templates? (I have no idea, this was one to bend the ear of our tech folk about!)

All in all it was an interesting workshop. Here is the handout we were given, which has a lot of information in it:

Hope this session write-up is of interest/use to some of you out there! 🙂