Creating an equitable and inclusive learning environment is more than just including students with specific learning preferences and needs in the same course. Rather, it’s thinking strategically to anticipate and remove learning barriers for learners. This does not require redesigning a curriculum or restructuring a course. Instead, it involves implementing simple practices aimed at making academic institutions places where all students can actively learn.
This blog highlights the importance of inclusive education and provides strategies to help create a successful learning environment for students.
What Is Inclusive Education?
Inclusive education values diversity and the unique contributions each student brings to the classroom. It supports highly accessible learning for all students regardless of their background, learning preferences, accommodations, or education. In higher education, this is achieved by incorporating the necessary training, support, flexibility, and resources to respond to a variety of student needs.
Effective Practices in Inclusive Education
Inclusive education requires strategic planning by educators, administrators, and technology vendors to create a learning environment that allows students to participate equitably. Here are five ways to make education more inclusive.
1. Designing Courses with Accessibility in Mind
This means recognizing the diversity learners and providing them with multiple ways to engage with course materials and express what they have learned. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in collaboration with Harvard University) provides an intensive framework to accommodate individual learning differences through multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement. Creating courses with accessibility in mind helps make sure that students have more equitable access and participation in an educational environment without barriers.
2. Cultivating an Inclusive Course Climate
Educators can create an inclusive classroom where students feel valued because of their differences. Including a diversity statement on your syllabus can set the tone for your classroom environment. It communicates your commitment to accessibility and inclusion, the commitments you expect from students, and how you respond to related issues. Additionally, having conversations about the teaching philosophy with regard to inclusive teaching methods makes students aware of the different practices adopted in your course to make learning easier regardless of their abilities.
3. Supporting Compatibility with Assistive Technologies
Assistive technology (AT) can support educators in providing teaching and learning that is more accessible to students. AT is an umbrella term covering any hardware, software, or tool that helps students engage more effectively with the curriculum and their learning environment regardless of their abilities. It includes screen readers, screen magnifiers, alternative keyboards, literacy support software, and alternative and augmentative communication that can remove barriers to curriculum access. Courses centered on inclusive education make sure that class material is compatible with AT. This consists of working with technology providers, such as your learning management system (LMS), to empower students to access and participate in the course easily.
4. Providing Learning Support
The goal of an inclusive education system is to create the most appropriate learning environments and opportunities for students to best achieve their potential. This includes providing students with support at a course and institution level. Educators can add elements to their course such as open office hours, additional learning and grading opportunities, formative assessments, and reliable email habits to extend the instructor’s commitment to student learning. At an institutional level, this consists of providing academic and learning support through additional resources, accommodation programs, and further accessibility options.
5. Selecting Diverse Content and Perspectives in Course Material
Inclusive education combines practical tools, perspectives, and pedagogy to make each student feel respected, confident, and safe. Inclusive pedagogy aims to make learning as accessible and welcoming to all students as possible. This is done by incorporating locally relevant themes and contributions by marginalized and minority groups. It includes the representation of a variety of experiences in readings, guest presentations, or case studies to reflect a diversity of individuals.
Learn How to Design for Equity First
The driving principle of inclusive education is to make all students feel welcomed, appropriately challenged, and supported in their efforts. This happens primarily through accepting, understanding, and attending to student differences and diversity, which can include physical, cognitive, academic, social, and emotional. Inclusive education not only benefits students with specific learning needs but also creates an environment in which every student can flourish.