Working towards an inclusive learning environment

Small steps can be taken towards creating a more inclusive style of teaching, suggests Diana Thompson.

With the Monash student cohort growing in size and diversity are we doing all that we can to grow with our students?

The University's new strategic plan identifies “inclusive” as a key goal.  Being inclusive is a proactive approach involving planning with a wide range of learning styles, abilities and backgrounds in mind and being responsive rather than reactive, that is, only modifying your classes out of necessity. Inclusive teaching is not intended to dilute the standards of a course.  But a “one size fits all” approach actually does not fit most.  Just because a student may have different needs or learn in a different way does not make them any less academically capable than another student.

The first steps towards an inclusive approach do not need to create an abundance of additional work. Being conscious of practices during the planning phase, determining what you include and the design of your lecture slides can begin to foster an inclusive environment and an easy first step.  If this has already been a focus of your planning in the past, then perhaps the next stage could be looking at assessments and marking rubrics to determine if all students have opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge.  Or maybe activities that take into account the rich experiences that student already have and using this as a learning opportunity.

Some guidelines that outline good practices, developed by Monash, are on the Better Teaching Better Learning page for both inclusive teaching for disabilities and inclusive education guidelines for diverse genders and sexualities.  These can help to challenge the thought process of your planning and are a great start for building an inclusive environment.  What they both have in common is that they identify that an inclusive approach will benefit all students in your class regardless of background or educational experience. It also acknowledges that inclusive teaching is more than just making lecture notes accessible for download.  It can be through multiple means of representation and delivery and by focusing on the context of the material rather than just the content.

Small steps in this area are better than no change at all. Remember the Library has Learning Skills Advisers and Subject Librarians who can work with you towards creating an inclusive environment. Alternatively you can contact the Office of the Vice Provost (Learning and Teaching) or Disability Support Services about how to implement their guidelines in more detail or look at the CEED modules that are being run.

Diana Thompson is a subject librarian based in the Berwick Library. She works with other Library staff academics and other teams in the University for social inclusion-related programs being implemented across the campuses. Contact Diana to find out more.

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