Guidance Paper 2: Inclusivity in Curriculum Design

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1 Guidance Paper 2: Inclusivity in Curriculum Design An inclusive curriculum seeks to ensure the best educational outcomes for all learners by reflecting the diversity of their backgrounds and experiences and by removing barriers to their success. The search for inclusivity in the curriculum encompasses its design, delivery and assessment of the intended learning outcomes. This guidance paper focuses on curriculum design; inclusive teaching and assessment are the topic of guidance paper 3 and 4 respectively. An inclusive curriculum framework builds on the principles set out in Guidance Paper 1 These principles have much in common with the concept of universal design, borrowed from the disability literature. Universal design is based on an anticipatory approach. Ultimately, the objective is to mainstream diversity rather more than adapt curricula to address the needs of specific groups or protect students against exclusion after the event. As explained in Guidance Paper 1, such an approach effectively treats those experiences and perspectives as anomalies, exceptions to the norm, or special topics of secondary importance. In the short- to medium-term, however, they may be necessary steps in a staged approach towards achieving greater inclusivity. Pointers to inclusive curriculum planning in this paper are based on good practice guidance in higher education, both in the UK and internationally. Where possible, they are supported by evidence from current practice within the University, student feedback or consultation with Bedfordshire staff. 1. An anticipatory approach 1.1 An anticipatory approach is supported by an understanding of the sociodemographic profile of course cohorts coupled with a flexible response to shifting need. Planning data can be supplemented by gathering and sharing information about course cohorts such as prior learning, languages spoken, preferred learning styles. 1.2 The gender and age profile of your student body will identify the likelihood of learners having parental/caring responsibilities which could lead to difficulties in attending classes before 10 am or after 4 pm. These issues will be exacerbated for lone parents on low incomes who have difficulty in accessing affordable childcare. 1.3 Mature students and disabled students, who may be combining studies with family life and/or the consequences of living with long-term impairment or illness, are more likely to require the option of a part-time pathway, or provision to take a break from their studies. Students in full-time employment are likely to prefer block delivery and blended learning. 1

2 1.4 The student profile of courses should also alert course and unit leads to any religious holidays or practices which may affect student attendance, participation in class or ability to complete an assignment. 1.5 As a widening participation institution, the impact of socio-economic disadvantage and educational background on literacy and study skills is well understood. Less well appreciated perhaps is research which suggests that a heavy reliance on virtual learning environments may confound the expectations of working class students for face-to-face contact with students. 1.6 The age profile of courses may have implications for another aspect of the implementation of technology-enhanced learning, that is, varying levels of familiarity with information technology amongst mature compared to younger students. 1.7 Gender and ethnicity may affect participation in placements or field trips, amongst young women from South Asian backgrounds for example. Practice or work-integrated learning involving disabled students may require careful planning. 1.8 As discussed in more detail below, known demographic realities, such as race, gender, class, age, need to be built into course design and content to ensure that teaching, learning and assessment is meaningful. Other aspects of diversity, such as sexuality or disability, may be less visible but should nevertheless be assumed within curriculum planning, such as a requirement to provide an outline of teaching sessions in advance. 1.9 Universal design means ensuring that the curriculum framework set at approval is sufficiently responsive to the changing needs, interests and aspirations of successive cohorts over a period of up to five years. The potential for learners to follow individual pathways by offering a choice of topics, classroom activities and readings is an important consideration in inclusive curriculum design Within the constraints of approval regulations, this approach requires an ability to negotiate curriculum content with students. This means eliciting learners views about the curriculum and building them into curriculum design and the development of learning objectives. The rather poignant comment given in Example 1 highlights the importance of ensuring that curriculum development is responsive to the range of student views. EXAMPLE 1 As an international student, I do not think I have enough right to make any comments. Because at the end of the day, it s we who are struggling hard to survive. [2010 USP survey] 1.11 The needs of international students, as well as home students from disadvantaged educational backgrounds, can be anticipated in handbooks and follow up guidance by making unfamiliar conventions explicit, such as the norms of academic reading and writing, debate, group work, and communicating the process by which students can seek advice, support or guidance for any 2

3 language or other difficulties arising through the course of their studies. Example 2 suggests that there may be some support for this approach from overseas students. EXAMPLE 2 From my personal perception, it would be better to conduct some preliminary research orientation classes in the initiation of the session for the international students who have different knowledge of doing research works or no idea at all [2010 USP survey]. All of these issues can be planned for and their impact informally and formally monitored through the personal tutoring system and staff-student forums. Some can be addressed through existing bridging support which is already geared towards providing a period of acculturation to higher education and the development of core skills. Institutional constraints may limit action on others, such as timetabling or taking breaks in study, but a commitment to inclusivity is a necessary first step in identifying solutions. It is important to re-emphasise that inclusivity means moving away from the widely held deficit model that leads to a narrow focus on compensatory approaches designed to bring certain groups of students up to the standard of others. The focus is on inclusive forms of teaching, learning and assessment which benefit all students rather than singling out particular groups. Measures to accommodate social diversity and difference within the curriculum are discussed at greater length in the next sections of this paper. 2. Curriculum content 2.1 The realistic learning focus of the CRe8 framework requires course curricula to be responsive to the diversity of student backgrounds. Ideally, diversity is integral to the curriculum as a whole rather than treating issues as special topics or problems. Reflect this in bibliographies and resource lists. 2.2 Recognise the limits of any one tutor s expertise by drawing different voices into the classroom. Case studies, sessions delivered by guest speakers, audiovisual materials, texts and readings can be used to reflect the diversity of learners knowledge, interests and experience as well as enriching the curriculum for all students. 2.3 Course content should allow learners to recognise the validity of their own experience. Rather than structuring the curriculum in such a way as to represent a particular worldview as wrong, place the emphasis on demonstrating why particular groups of people develop particular ways of thinking and behaving. 2.4 Design the curriculum to highlight the universality of human experience, demonstrating how people with diverse identities share many common issues and responses. Eating, art, child rearing can be used to exemplify that humans are all the same in different ways. 2.5 Inclusivity means challenging barriers which prevent full access to course content by scrutinising the hidden curriculum for knowledge that privileges some groups 3

4 whilst claiming neutrality. A view expressed by the student in Example 3 below highlights the impact of unchallenged assumptions on learners. EXAMPLE 3 A student commented about a sports sociology unit that there was too much emphasis on male and not enough on female issues. [2010 USP survey] 2.6 It is not sufficient simply to reflect diversity within curriculum design. Course materials should provide positive images of women, different ethnic minority groups, disabled people and so on. Course content should expose and challenge prejudice and stereotypes rather than reinforce them. Resources require regular review to check for gender, racial and other forms of bias. 2.7 The curriculum needs to be structured in such a way that students learn from their interaction with course material rather than expecting students from minority groups to help their peers understand issues such as social exclusion, prejudicial stereotyping and discrimination. Example 4, provided by a Social Work tutor, illustrates the use of a video to identify and challenge discriminatory assumptions. EXAMPLE 4 To engender discussion of personal attitudes towards sexuality, Social Work students watch a video of older lesbians and gay men talking about their experiences. The tutor describes this as twisting the lens and understanding the world from the perspective of people with different life experiences. Students are then encouraged to relate these personal attitudes to professional values. 2.8 Inclusive curriculum design is not limited to the diverse needs and experiences of specific course cohorts. Inclusivity means reflecting the wider diversity of UK society and its place within a globalised world by including contributions from other countries, including non-western nations, to film, literature, business practice and so on. Comments from two students in Examples 5 and 6 highlight the potential gains for learners from this approach. EXAMPLE 5 A Performing Arts student commented of a unit on contemporary European theatre: I have thoroughly enjoyed this unit, it has opened my mind up to a whole new way as to how theatre can be approached. [2010 USP survey] 4

5 EXAMPLE 6 A Journalism and Communication student had thoroughly enjoyed a world cinema unit. S/he commented that I am now a lot more open minded when it comes to other types of cinema and will be more open to explore other types of filmmaking. [2010 USP survey] 2.8 The way in which course materials are made available is also an important consideration in inclusive curriculum design. As noted earlier, this includes making materials available before the start of classes where possible and using a variety of media to communicate subject content, such as text, audio, web resources and video/dvd. 3. Ways of knowing 3.1 Responding to diversity through special units or the inclusion of specialist course materials alone can deliver a tokenistic, or trivialising, response unless differing ways of knowing, or alternative disciplinary perspectives on subject areas, are also incorporated into course curricula. 3.2 Rather than holding the experience of one group up as the norm against which others are measured and evaluated, differing ways of knowing pervade the curriculum. Such an approach is consistent with the aim of the CRe8 curriculum framework of developing higher order creative and critical thinking skills by fostering learners appreciation of multiple perspectives on complex issues. 3.3 Critical perspectives sit more comfortably within the social sciences or humanities within which concepts such as culture, identity, power, privilege, stereotypes, prejudice are embedded. Indeed what are perceived to be discriminatory assumptions within one disciplinary tradition are unproblematic within another. For example, from a critical perspective, the notions of normality and pathology which are integral to the biological and biomedical sciences are at the root of heterosexism and disablism. 3.4 The perspectives of non dominant groups, whose voice has historically been excluded from mainstream curricula, can help expose evidence of bias in subject areas. Encouraging learners to draw on critical perspectives, such as anti-racism or feminism, can illuminate homophobia in sport, racism in education or in media representations of asylum seekers and refugees, ageism in the performing arts and so on. It can also reveal exclusionary norms at the centre of disciplinary perspectives. 3.5 The requirement for courses to meet external standards of academic and intellectual currency clearly places limits on the inclusion of minority voices in some disciplines. As a colleague from the biomedical sciences pointed out, students holding particular religious beliefs may challenge Darwinism but that is not a reason to introduce creationism or intelligent design into the formal curriculum. It is, however, a reason for respecting the authenticity of these views and acknowledging the conflict they may create for some learners. 5

6 3.6 Whilst the standards set by subject benchmarks and professional, statutory and regulatory bodies may limit inclusive curriculum design for some courses others, such as Social Work, are required by their professional bodies to mainstream alternative ways of knowing and viewpoints. Similarly, the perspectives of service users are a required element of nursing courses, for example, and Social Work courses, are required to involve service users into curriculum design and delivery, including assessment. 3.7 Even within disciplinary traditions which are seemingly antithetical to critical perspectives, however, the vocational nature of curricula at Bedfordshire arguably creates the space for inclusionary initiatives, such as exploring scientific issues that affect society at local, national and global levels or considering the social implications of historical and contemporary applications of scientific knowledge, both nationally and globally. 3.8 Teaching on research methodologies, which is integral to all disciplines, is a further means of exploring differing ways of knowing in the applied, natural or computer sciences. Whilst quantitative methodology may dominate scientific tradition in such disciplines, students can be helped to understand that this is not an absolute. The politics and ethics of scientific research can also help to promote inclusionary thinking by considering the kind of research questions that are typically posed in contemporary society, the type of research that is funded and the interests that research serves. 3.9 A further way to encourage learners to understand UK society in a different, more inclusionary way is to decentre Eurocentric or western ways of knowing. This can be achieved by incorporating internationalist and intercultural perspectives on subjects, such as the impact of tourism on indigenous cultures, global crosscultural communication in management, colonialism in literature. Examples 7 and 8, provided during a consultation meeting with Applied Social Studies staff, illustrate this approach whilst Example 9 provides evidence that students can notice its absence. EXAMPLE 7 A Level 5 unit on welfare and the state is divided into two parts. The first part explores the development of the UK welfare system and the second introduces learners to a comparative study of welfare systems. This fits the principle of inclusivity in that the international systems studied include those with which overseas and EU students on the course are familiar, such as African and Eastern European, as well as introducing students from all backgrounds to the idea that differing political and cultural values lead to different ways of organising welfare. 6

7 EXAMPLE 8 Following an overview of theoretical frameworks around globalisation, a Level 6 unit explores some of its social consequences in relation to health and disease, drugs, crime, asylum seekers and refugees, people trafficking. This assists learners in locating UK society and politics within a global context. Sessions on global social movements and human rights provide students with an insight into potential remedies for social injustice through activism and the legal system. EXAMPLE 9 A Business Systems student comments that it would be interesting and useful given the current business sphere to see how the concepts you learn are approached in different environments. The same student expressed a wish to study a foreign language as part of the course [2010 USP survey]. 7

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