As the concept and application of inclusive teaching and learning may be either new or unfamiliar to you, or there are particular aspects of which you are unsure, we have compiled a set of frequently asked questions to guide you in building your knowledge.
What is inclusivity and why is it my responsibility?
Inclusivity means treating all students and colleagues with respect. Deakin is committed to building an inclusive community of learners that enables all members of the University, including those with additional needs, to realise their full potential and participate in all aspects of university life. These values are enshrined in Deakin's strategic plan LIVE the Future Agenda 2020 (PDF 1.2MB), which aims to foster an inclusive and vibrant culture for students and staff that respects and values diversity. Certain legal requirements compel universities and their staff to embrace equity and diversity policies in their teaching practices. In addition, the university has a social and ethical responsibility to support both students and colleagues by acting inclusively and fostering an inclusive learning environment that does not tolerate discrimination, sexual harassment, and victimisation. See Why is inclusive education important? and Deakin’s Equity and Diversity Policy.
What makes the Deakin community diverse?
Deakin’s staff and student body includes individuals of many different nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, disabilities, and age and socio-economic groups. For example, Deakin has a very diverse community of students and staff from over 126 distinct countries. Deakin also has the highest number of students registered with a disability of any university in Australia and actively encourages the participation of different equity groups. See Teaching diverse learners.
What are some of the challenges that a diverse student cohort may face that I should be aware of?
Students may face challenges that can present barriers to learning. Such challenges may include: anxiety and fear of failure due to high expectations and pressure from family; social or emotional issues; culture shock; and language difficulties. In addition, some students may experience physical or cognitive disabilities such as vision or hearing impairment and mobility issues, dyslexia or autistic spectrum disorders. Not all students may be at the same level of academic competence and may need to be directed to support services. Inclusive teaching acknowledges the challenges students may face and the impact these may have on their learning.
How do I know which of my students belongs to a particular diverse group?
It is important to be aware of the nature of student diversity at Deakin. However, it is not effective practice to try to address the particular learning needs of every individual you will teach. Citing Deakin's Widening Participation Plan 2010, Devlin and O'Shea (2011, p.4) note:
While it is necessary to define students from low SES backgrounds at a policy level, for measuring performance and allocating funds, it is very difficult, and potentially undesirable, to target students from low SES backgrounds individually for support at the institutional level.
Students want to be treated equally. Be aware also that some students many not see themselves as having a disability. They may have faced previous discrimination from those around them and may not want to disclose their condition. It is best not to make assumptions about students’ circumstances and individual abilities. What is more important is that you are understanding of and sympathetic to students with hidden disabilities or medical conditions while, at the same time, keeping your speculations confidential. To give you an overview of the types of challenges some students face, here are some tertiary transition experiences of students from diverse equity groups. See Teaching diverse learners.
How can I adapt my teaching practices to be more responsive to the needs of diverse student groups?
A good strategy is to assume that many of your students may belong to a diverse group and design your learning activities to be inclusive of theses diversities. Adopting the Universal Design for Learning Principles will help to ensure that your teaching practice encompasses multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement that accommodates students' differing learning needs. By offering your students flexibility, variety and choice, you are teaching with the expectation that all your students are capable of achieving their potential. Another strategy is to get to know your students. Use icebreaker techniques to enable students to get to know their peers. Include the student voice and student opinion, knowledge and questions in your seminars to increase their contribution and presence. Students are more likely to open up to you if they feel valued. Opening up opportunities to students to provide them with feedback throughout the trimester rather than just feedback through assessment marking may help to unearth underlying issues, which can then be further explored or through referral to support services. Here are some more examples of good practice. See also Get to know and engage your students.
Some of my students contribute to class discussions, but some don't say anything at all. How do I encourage all my students to contribute?
Be aware that many students, in particular first-year students, often lack confidence in speaking up in front of their peers. For others, there may be cultural reasons as to why they do not actively participate in seminar discussions. In order to encourage students, it is important to be explicit in assuring students that your seminars are friendly, safe and supportive places where no question is ‘too silly’ to ask and it is okay to say ‘I don’t understand’. Students who feel valued and that their contribution will be respected are more likely to participate. Strategies such as pair/share and small discussion groups are useful as a precursor to addressing the whole seminar. Also be aware that, just as you are new to the students, the students may not know their peers either. Try to get to know them as individuals and for them to get to know each other. Ask for photos to be included in seminar lists and address students by their names. This will help not only you to get to know your students, but also their peers. Icebreaker activities are also a good start in encouraging students to get to know one another. Here are some ideas on connecting with your students.
What is scaffolded learning and how do I scaffold assessment tasks?
Scaffolded learning refers to a learning strategy that acknowledges the different academic levels in a cohort of students. Scaffolding assessment tasks takes into account the incremental nature of skills acquisition. A step-by-step approach enables students to gradually build their academic skills with the support they may need at each stage. As students gain confidence in their academic abilities, less support is needed. See Design step-by-step learning.
How do I ensure that assessment tasks are inclusive?
An inclusive approach to assessment offers a range of assessments to all students, each of which should align to the same learning outcome. Presenting a variety of assessment methods not only enhances student skills, but also caters for individual abilities and can improve student engagement with the task. Providing models of acceptable answers is also very helpful. These can include annotated examples of essays, reports, case studies, short answers, and exam answers. Giving students advice on how to 'unpack' a question is helpful in ascertaining that students understand the assessment task requirements. The use of self and peer assessment can assist students to understand and internalise assessment criteria and standards. Spending time during the first few weeks of the trimester clarifying assessment criteria will help to ensure that all students understand unit expectations. See Make assessment inclusive.
What is authentic assessment?
Authentic assessment provides the opportunity for students to contextualise their learning. This form of assessment asks students to utilise and apply their understanding of unit content, theory, knowledge and skills in real-life settings, which may not be black-and-white, but rather complex, multi-layered and ambiguous. This might include assignment activities and tasks such as:
- simulation or role play of a scenario
- completion of a real-world task
- critical analysis and evaluation in a professional workplace context.
Students generally don't respond well to group or team work. How can I manage the difficulties here and encourage positive student experiences?
Many students can have trouble when negotiating the requirements of team/group work. Therefore, it is important to provide support and structure when organising groups/teams in your classes. Students will need explicit instructions on how to form groups and continuing guidance on how to deal with the challenge of working with diverse group members and assessment tasks. See GLO7 Teamwork (PDF 379KB) for information and strategies about group formation, roles in groups, managing conflict, and ensuring inclusivity. Here are some tips on helping students develop group work skills and examples from Deakin academics.
What are the benefits of group and team assessments?
Working in groups can lead to positive learning experiences for both students and their teachers. Teachers gain new perspectives on study topics by observing the creative way teams tackle assessments. Students benefit from working with other students who may belong to a range of different cultural and social backgrounds. Through working in groups with peers, students acquire key employment skills such as team working, problem solving and conflict management. Mixing closely with their peers improves communication skills as well as giving students an opportunity to develop social capital and an opportunity for further collaboration. See GLO7 Teamwork (PDF 379KB) for information about the importance and benefits of team and group work.
I have a transgender student in my seminar. I'm worried that I may inadvertently use the wrong pronoun in regards to this student. Where can I get some more information?
Misgendering denotes referring to a person in a way that is not aligned with how the person identifies their gender. Sex refers to an individual’s biological characteristics. Sexual orientation refers to an individual’s sexual and/or romantic attraction. Gender identity is the gender an individual presents to the world whether by mannerisms, appearance or other gender-related characteristics. This may not necessarily relate to the designated sex to which an individual was assigned at birth. Individuals may identify themselves as female, male or neither. It is against the law for someone to discriminate against a person because of a characteristic that you have, or that someone assumes you have, including sexual orientation and gender identity. See the Sex Discrimination (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013. If you make a mistake in addressing a person’s gender identity, apologise, correct your mistake and move on. If you are unsure, ask someone privately what their preferred pronoun is in a respectful manner. For more helpful information and definitions see the Victorian Government’s Inclusive Language Guide.