What is Inclusive Learning and Teaching?

Posted by Josh Young on 21 March 2017 |

inclusive learning teachingWhile census predictions anticipate that there will be no clear racial majority in the United States by 2050, this reality is already materializing in the education system. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), as of 2014, white students represent less than 50 percent of the population in elementary and secondary public schools. In fact, the total number of white students is anticipated to drop between 2013 and 2025 by roughly 3 million.

With these changes are occurring in the lower levels of education, it is only a matter of time before these shifting demographics become a reality in higher education as well.

While the most recent NCES data available is a few years old, it highlights the ongoing trend to a more diverse college campus. As it stands, college enrollment is:

  • 44 percent male
  • 56 percent female
  • 17 percent Hispanic
  • 7 percent Asian/Pacific Islander
  • 14 percent black
  • >1 percent American Indian/Alaskan Native
  • 58 percent white
  • 5 percent non-resident alien
  • 11 percent disabled

A New Approach to Teaching

To respond to the varied student population, colleges and universities have made inclusive teaching a priority for their classrooms. So what is inclusive teaching?

The Center for Teaching Excellence at Cornell University defines inclusive teaching as "any number of teaching approaches that address the needs of students with a variety of backgrounds, learning styles, and abilities. These strategies contribute to an overall inclusive learning environment, in which students feel equally valued."

This educational approach can manifest in a variety of ways. For example, in pursuit of more inclusive teaching, Plymouth University distributed iPads to all of its undergraduate students. The accessibility features of the devices were able to address the varied needs of students with disabilities who needed access to course materials.

Similarly, after the school recognized higher percentages of disabled, non-traditional and foreign students in its marine biology program, it instituted a number of course changes including an extra orientation day, a peer-driven tutoring program and more available lab resources.

How Can Your Campus Promote Inclusive Learning?

Encourage open discussions

One of the critical elements of creating an inclusive learning environment is providing every student with an opportunity for their voice to be heard. Of course, with an increasing diversity of opinions and backgrounds, these discussions also open the door to increased disagreement and tension.

To promote honest, open conversations, establish clear ground rules for any classroom discussions, outlining expectations for civility and student behavior. Identify who is allowed to speak and when they can do it. Also, clearly communicate to students that the classroom is a safe space to ask questions and make mistakes.

Reevaluate your curricula

Encourage your faculty to regularly review the resources and materials they use in their classrooms. Do the texts and topics they cover adequately reflect the diverse nature of your campus? Are classroom examples or illustrations varied, or do they always reflect the "default" student experience?

Accommodate disabled students

Per federal guidelines, your campus is more than likely required to provide a number of services to students with disabilities. However, campuses can create a more inclusive environment by proactively considering the needs of these students before they request assistance.

For example, a number of students' disabilities are related to sensory impairments, so you can encourage staff to offer alternative examples and illustrations that aren't exclusively dependent on sight or hearing.

Offer diversity training

Provide seminars and education sessions to student and faculty to help create a culture of inclusion on campus. Ideally, this training will provide attendees with real-world tools and strategies to foster respectful communication across culture, race, gender, age, and ability. At the same time, effective diversity training will also help learners identify and mitigate their own unconscious biases.

Conclusion

There is no such thing as a fully inclusive classroom. It is impossible for your campus to meet all of the unique needs of every student every time. However, in treating your students as individuals and providing flexibility to your faculty, you can foster a culture of diversity and inclusivity on your campus and encourage a healthier, more well-rounded education for all of your students.

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