What is Inclusive Teaching and Learning?

Ulster University is committed to widening access and ensuring that all students in our increasingly diverse student community achieve their full potential.

Ulster University is committed to widening access and ensuring that, in our increasingly diverse community, all students  achieve their full potential.

Students are entitled to a learning experience that respects diversity and enables their full participation, within an inclusive and supportive learning environment.

When we refer to inclusion, we often consider barriers as physical factors relating to the learning environment, such as access to a room or building or printing resources with a particular font.

However, it is important to consider the various elements of teaching and learning more holistically, to explore how to best enable our students to assimilate, process, recall and synthesise knowledge, in ways that are meaningful and effective.

Rather than focusing on specific target groups or dimensions of diversity such as disabled students or cultural groups, an inclusive approach aims to make HE accessible, relevant and engaging for all (Thomas and May, 2010).

Underpinning this concept are values of equity and fairness, where HE considers and values students’ differences within the mainstream curriculum, including teaching, learning and assessment approaches. (Hockings, 2010).

This concept is informed by the simple but challenging maxim that “students don’t want to stand out as different yet want to be recognised as individuals” (ibid).

  • UDL – A Framework for Designing Inclusive Curriculum

    Universal Design for Learning (UDL) aims to provide an equal and inclusive learning experience for every student.

    It requires us to proactively anticipate and consider which elements of our curriculum  could potentially cause stress or present difficulties or barriers to a student accessing, fully participating or succeeding in learning.

    Inclusive Design involves examining and reducing, or designing out, any potential barriers to learning that might occur, for example,  in;

    • Digital content
    • Learning and teaching materials
    • Assessments

    The terms flexibility and relevancy are useful lenses through which we can consider inclusion in teaching.

    If we design and implement ways of working which enable all students to work more flexibly and to their strengths, then these key principles of design will enable us to be more inclusive. Inclusive curriculum design involves tailoring teaching and learning, using inclusive strategies and approaches which will benefit all our students, including those with disabilities.

    By proactively re-structuring module design, delivery, content and assessment, to minimise the occurrence of potential difficulties, we ‘design out’ or remove possible barriers to student access and participation, and maximise their success.

    By implementing a Universal Design for Learning Framework we are embedding student wellbeing in our curriculum.

  • Embeds student wellbeing in our practices & resources

    Universal or Inclusive design of curriculum will have positive wellbeing benefits for all students, promoting their full engagement, participation, motivation and confidence.

    Universities UK/Guild HE Committee for the Promotion of Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education has produced Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion in Higher Education.

    These emphasise that promoting wellbeing involves “not only attending to the needs of those with mental health difficulties, but also promoting the general wellbeing of all staff and students”( Crouch et. al., 2007:2)

    Inclusive design and delivery of curriculum contributes to and promotes both staff and student wellbeing.

  •  Promotes equality in education

    Inclusive Teaching and Learning recognises the wider value of diversity to society, where graduate employers increasingly recognise and value having a more diverse and inclusive future workforce, which celebrates unique, individual contributions and the advantages that inclusion brings.

    Aside from the legal requirements to not discriminate, we are also ethically and morally required to take positive steps to promote equality in education.

    Inclusive Teaching and Learning recognises the importance of developing learning communities which value and respond to member diversity, and avoids excluding certain student identities.

    This inclusive approach to Teaching and Learning recognises the importance of meeting the needs of individual students and all students.

    It enhances students' sense of acceptance, belonging, community, student engagement, motivation and positive achievement, and contributes to student mental health and wellbeing.

  • Embraces diversity within the curriculum experience

    Within an increasingly diverse university community, greater numbers of students report that they are experiencing wellbeing challenges, including stress, anxiety and a range of diagnosed disabilities.

    On entry to university, some  choose to disclose their additional needs and pre-existing disabilities.

    Others may experience pressures or a recurrence of an undisclosed challenge while studying with us, and only disclose this at this juncture. Many  develop new or emergent health conditions or are newly diagnosed with disabilities while studying at university.

    When we tailor our teaching, learning and assessment to anticipate and meet the needs of a wider, more diverse, student cohort, then all our students, including those with disabilities will benefit.

    If we move beyond the labels of many specific disabilities, we can identify patterns in difficulty.

    It is important to note that students with disabilities often do not experience distinctly different challenges from those of the wider student cohort. Rather, they often experience a more exaggerated version of the same difficulties that all students face.

Our commitment to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) indicates we are moving towards providing a more inclusive learning environment in which organisational, structural and cultural barriers to all students will be removed.

By designing and delivering our curriculum inclusively the need for “individual interventions” and Reasonable Adjustment Reports (RARs) will be significantly reduced.

Supporting CPD Events

View Ulster's Inclusive Pedagogic Practice Series 2020/21 for a collection of CPD Events to guide your inclusive curricula.