Inclusive Learning and Teaching in Art and Design

(1) In what ways are students shaping institutional policies and practices around Inclusivity?

 

In the modern age, students have greater control over shaping the policies and practices due to the growth of the diverse student population, competition and associated legal frameworks. For example, the Unit Evaluations at the end of a unit are taken seriously by course teams, and students are also encouraged to express their opinions mid way into a unit to inform of the changes they wish to see being implemented almost immediately. This is very evident, especially as during my time at University between 2008-2015 I noticed how there was very little weighting given to the student's opinions - at a Russel Group University. However, much has changed over the last two years in this regard. For example, consumer law now considers students as consumers giving them more power and control over their courses. This does make one wonder whether we might be giving too much power to the students? What sort of impact will this have on the quality of the courses and the graduates we produce? Perhaps a good example is the NSS which when coupled with the new consumer law is seen influencing the marking and evaluation of the true quality of work submitted by students as Lecturers are advised to pass students through a holistic marking approach to meet targets rather than the students meeting course requirements.

Nevertheless, student feedback should be taken seriously - especially where majority of the views appear to be aligned. This would ensure a more lucrative shaping of institutional policies and procedures whilst improving the much needed inclusivity aspect. As May and Bridger (2010) assert, students can act as pivotal agents of change and drawing from their experiences and input can motivate and show staff the need for change!

References:

Finnigan, T., and Richards, A. (2016). Retention and attainment in the disciplines: Art and Design [Online]. Higher Education Academy. Available via: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/ug_retention_and_attainment_in_art_and_design2.pdf [Accessed: 10 June 2017].

May, H., and Bridger, K. (2010). Developing and Embedding Inclusive Policy and Practice in Higher Education [Online]. The Higher Education Academy. Available via: http://bsvassociates.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/DevelopingEmbeddingInclusivePP_Report.pdf [Accessed: 10 June 2017]. 

 

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What progress has been made in terms of inclusivity and ‘liberating the curriculum’ since the NUS report was published in 2011?

The NUS report on liberating the curriculum was published in 2011 (Ali et al., 2011). The following takes a look at some changes which have come into effect since the publication of this report.

Universities are actively seeking to ensure that inclusivity is embedded into their courses now. For example, there is a major improvement in the staff training and development opportunities whereby I have personally experienced a change over the last 12 months as I was asked to undertake unconscious bias training and mental health awareness training as part of my Performance Review Appraisal (PRA) last year. Staff are also advised to ensure that Lecture material is uploaded on Moodle 24 hours in advance of sessions so as to promote inclusivity and help students facing learning difficulties. Moreover, staff are made conscious with regard to lecture slide designs and its impact on students from different backgrounds. A sound example would be the request to keep away from printing white letters on black coloured backgrounds on slides as dyslexic students find it difficult to read same. The turnaround time for responding to student emails have also been updated with staff now expected to respond within 48 hours during term time. Some courses also welcome having lectures filmed and published for students to review if they found the session hard to follow. I have done this personally for a unit called Research Methods which is taught across the MA courses at LCF. However, this can get students to keep away from sessions as they know it will be uploaded as a video later on, and also not every lecturer would be comfortable with being filmed. This in addition to issues surrounding image referencing and copyright laws which may be infringed. There is also more emphasis on the processes underlying Individual Student Agreements and Extenuating Circumstances which enables students with true problems to have access to the required support to fulfil their university obligations and have a more enriching learning experience. Furthermore, in terms of liberating the curriculum, Lecturers are now seen continuously seeking to link theory and frameworks in class directly to the industry and thereby give students a much clearer indication of the link between the two - a process which places teaching and learning into personal context and perspectives of student cohorts. 

References:

Ali, U., Hart, E., Baars, V., Kaur, R., Bailey, A., and Sesay, K. (2011). Liberation, Equality, and Diversity in the Curriculum [Online]. Available via: https://www.staffs.ac.uk/assets/NUS%20Liberation%20Equality%20and%20Diversity%20in%20the%20Curriculum%202011_tcm44-65179.pdf [Accessed: 14 June 2017]. 

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How might a diversity audit enhance inclusivity on the course(s) you are involved with?

I believe that Unit Evaluations should be tailored to the units instead of being kept general as they are now. This results in students being forced to answer questions which have no relation to the unit at all and in turn can end up lowering the unit's overall rating. For example, I teach statistics and students are asked to rate Writing Skills and English Language and Study skills as part of their evaluations!!

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Figure 1. An example of a unit evaluation criteria which has no direct relevance to the topic I teach.

Also, whilst Universities appear to be focusing heavily on how material and individual teaching styles are fostering inclusivity, they seem to be overlooking the location and rooms used for teaching. For example, some teaching rooms are always found to be either too cold or too warm for the students with no viable solution with centrally controlled heating for the entire building. On some instances, sessions are timetabled into rooms with insufficient space to hold the entire class (owing to a lack of space overall). Such issues result negatively on the pursuit for improving inclusivity and a diversity audit has the capability of identifying these problems and finding plausible solutions.

Another point which could be helped by a diversity audit is the learning outcomes/ marking criteria on UHB's. This also happens to be a key point noted in Ali et al. (2011). These are primarily worded to meet Quality standards as per the regulatory and quality assurance requirements. However, most students find it difficult to get their heads around the wording of these points and thereby fail to understand the true requirements, which in turn can result in poor submissions. A diversity audit could find possible ways of enabling both professionally worded and more student centred learning outcomes/marking criteria which can undoubtedly enhance inclusivity further. 

There is also the possibility that a diversity audit might show the need for a more diversified faculty in terms of employing more international (non-EU) lecturers to work in unison with the EU and British lecturers at LCF. Authors such as Bhagat and O’Neill (2011) discuss the importance of such faculty and the positive impact it can have on BME students. Furthermore, when conducting a diversity audit, LCF can benefit by referring to the HEA's comprehensive self-evaluation framework (Ali et al., 2011).  In addition, a good starting point would be the checklist provided by Gore and Viney (2006) based on their own audit experience. 

References:

Ali, U., Hart, E., Baars, V., Kaur, R., Bailey, A., and Sesay, K. (2011). Liberation, Equality, and Diversity in the Curriculum[Online]. Available via: https://www.staffs.ac.uk/assets/NUS%20Liberation%20Equality%20and%20Diversity%20in%20the%20Curriculum%202011_tcm44-65179.pdf [Accessed: 14 June 2017]. 

Bhagat, D. and O’Neill, P. (2011) Inclusive Practices, Inclusive Pedagogies: Learning from Widening Participation Research in Art and Design Higher Education [Internet]. Croydon: CHEAD. Available from: http://www.ukadia.ac.uk/en/projects/index.cfm [Accessed 12 June 2017].

Gore, C., and Viney, D. (2006). Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination. Curriculum Innovation for Diversty. pp. 2. 

 

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