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Creating an inclusive curriculum for BAME students

Traditional curricula have often been white, male and European dominated which provides an alienating learning experience for many students. Find tips on how to make your curriculum more inclusive.

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27 April 2020

Morgan and Houghton (2011) define an inclusive curriculum as: 

“one where all students’ entitlement to access and participate in a course is anticipated and taken into account.” (p.7)

Other definitions refer to an inclusive curriculum as “the process of developing, designing and delivering programmes of study to minimise the barriers that students, regardless of educational dispositional, circumstantial or cultural background, may face in accessing and engaging with the curriculum” (adapted from Grace and Gravestock 2009, Thomas and May 2010, NUS 2011).

Why is it important to deliver an inclusive curriculum?

It has a positive effect on the experience and outcomes of all students

Research by Schneider and Preckel (2017) confirms that the effectiveness of courses is strongly related to what teachers do and that the choice of teaching methods has substantial effects on student achievement.

The research evidence includes a range of approaches which are also recommended in UCL’s Inclusive Curriculum Health Check.

Schneider & Preckel’s data derives from studies which disregard student ethnicity, demonstrating that inclusive curriculum initiatives benefit all students, whatever their background.

The curriculum reflects worldviews and implies value judgements

Nunan et al. (2000, p.66) propose that, where curricula reflects ‘a dominant Eurocentric world view, those who are not members of this culture or who resist Eurocentrism are effectively excluded from the educational process and social advantages that come with success (Barnett 1994; Bourdieu et al. 1994; Bowser et al. 1995; King 1995). 

Moreover, neglecting particular issues can imply a value judgement (hooks, 1994), which can alienate certain groups of students.

Our legal obligation

The Equality Act (2010) outlaws direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of protected characteristics.

Therefore, we have a legal obligation to provide education in a non-discriminatory way.

Tips to assess and improve the inclusivity of your curriculum

A selection of practical tips are provided to help you assess and improve the inclusivity of the curriculum.

Additional guidance, tips and resources are provided in the full PDF guide.

These include:

  1. Use a diverse range of resources
  2. Contextualise course materials
  3. Acknowledge any limitations in the demographic representation of course material
  4. Avoid stereotypes in course content and celebrate diversity
  5. Increase your own pedagogical knowledge

1. Use a diverse range of resources

Present a diverse range of voices and perspectives across course content, for example in reading lists, case studies, lecture content etc. 

Include the voices and perspectives of individuals from a range of ethnic backgrounds and draw on knowledge produced in the Global South. 

Zepke and Leach (2007) found that students respond well to real or practical examples, especially when these reflect their own backgrounds and identities positively.

In some disciplines, for example science, basic scientific concepts may be associated with White males.

However, to address this consider inviting seminar speakers from diverse backgrounds to deliver content.

2. Contextualise course materials

White, male and western might now dominate current academic discoveries and theories, however this might not always have been the case historically. 

Consider the cultural and historical context in which the content was developed i.e. when racial inequality was an accepted norm or colonialism was dominant. 

Explicitly explain to students the kinds of research programmes, assumptions and aspirations that generated your course material. 

Ambrose et al. (2010) assert that “neglecting these issues implies a value judgement, which can alienate certain groups of students, thus impeding there developing sense of identity’” (p.182)

Example from UCL’s Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Chemistry

“In Year 2 Physical Labs, we have introduced a writing exercise where students pick a scientist from a list and write about their research. 

The list of scientists was generated by asking colleagues to nominate three non-male, non- white or non-western scientists who they admire. 

This is to ensure that students see that not all science is carried out by White, western males and that they can identify role models that inspire them (and also see that their lecturers admire these people too)”. 

3. Acknowledge any limitations in the demographic representation of course material

Acknowledge and discuss the potential limitations of any course materials you are providing. This can help students see how and why you chose particular material. 

For example, if all core readings are produced by White male authors from the Global North, discuss this with your students, explaining the rationale behind your selection. 

Hockings et al (2008) found that student engagement increased when students were encouraged to question and challenge stereotypes and inequalities inherent in their subject and/or profession.

You can reflect on the inclusivity of your curriculum using UCL’s Inclusive Curriculum Health Check

Example from UCL’s Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Anthropology

“As well as using material that explores different approaches to ethnic diversity, students are encouraged at every stage to question what they are being taught and not to take research findings at face value”.

4. Avoid stereotypes in course content and celebrate diversity

Review course content to ensure material does not perpetuate stereotypes. Ensure the range of examples provided when preparing lectures, reading lists or problem-based scenarios present equality in a positive light and a non-stereotypical way. 

Try to deliver content which not only allows students to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, but also others in a positive way.

Steele and Aronson (1995) found that stereotype threat (the tension that arises in members of a stereotyped group when they fear they are being judged according to stereotypes (Ambrose et al. 2010)) has a profound negative impact on students’ learning and performance.

5. Increase your own pedagogical knowledge

Read articles about pedagogy in your field which speak to questions of diversity, multiculturalism, inclusion and coloniality. 

Also talk to colleagues in your discipline who specialise in different research areas to get recommendations for reading and resources. 

Hockings (2010) produced a synthesis of research which explores different aspects of inclusive curriculum design and pedagogy, including subject based examples. For example, this includes a study by Wolff et al. (2008) which outlines changes to the economics curriculum across six universities in the Netherlands to address the low attainment and dropout rates of international and ethnic minority students.

 

The Inclusive Curriculum Health Check

An inclusive curriculum aims to improve the experience, skills and attainment of all students, including those in protected characteristic groups, by ensuring that all students, regardless of background, are able to participate fully and achieve at equal rates.

This guide is designed to support UCL staff to reflect on how to embed the principles of inclusivity in all aspects of the academic cycle. 

All higher education institutions are reviewing their activity to support student success and fair outcomes for all students. 

This document will be reviewed for each programme through the UCL Annual Student Experience Review (ASER) process.

Access the UCL Inclusive Curriculum Health Check.

 

The student perspective

Views from UCL students

“All we do is talk about dead white men.” Challenge Consultancy, focus group

“The first lecture we had was, like, the academic was talking about all these photographers that have, like, pioneered in storytelling, but they were all white and men.” BAME Awarding Gap Project, 1-1 interview

“My programme excludes well known knowledge from the global south.” UCL’s Race Equality Charter (REC) Student Survey

“My course content does not present diverse perspectives.” REC Student Survey

“The course is too Eurocentric and Atlantic. Most of the materials and opinions are drawn from North American and Western European authors.” REC Student Survey

“In a lecture there are pictures of scientists on the board. Lecturer asks what is wrong with slide. A student answers ‘all of these scientists are male’. Lecturer says this is the correct answer. Lecturer moves on. Whilst I, the one student of colour was going to say ‘all of these scientists are white.” REC Student Survey

“A lot of the content on the courses is extremely Eurocentric which doesn’t make sense to me seeing as there are a wide variety of non-European ideologies and resources to learn from.” REC Student Survey

Views from other students in the sector

“[The] curriculum/white academics doesn’t value the contributions of black scholars enough.” Degrees of Freedom, SOAS

“[The] course emphasises white/Eurocentric perspectives on regions studied.” Degrees of Freedom, SOAS

“We have one particular subject on our course - critical race studies - which is just glanced over and barely touched upon.” BME Attainment Gap Report, Bristol SU

“The selection of reading material on the readings lists for module, particularly in history, is  alienating towards BME students.” Degrees of Freedom, SOAS

“[Speaking on their course content] …it’s extremely white, like most of the time it will be about, white European film the whole time and there was even like films with Black-face and, those were shown as examples?” Insider-Outsider, The Role of Race in Shaping the Experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic Students at Goldsmiths

“It’s an institution where you’re supposed to receive different ideas, challenge thoughts and not all your authors are supposed to be like White British men from the 1600s, you know.” Understanding the Attainment Gap, LSE

“It’s quite frustrating seeing and learning from a curriculum which doesn’t accommodate you.” BME Attainment Gap Report, Bristol SU

Case studies from UCL and the sector

Creating an inclusive curriculum in the Medical School at UCL
A podcast on a project to create a more inclusive curriculum in the Medical School funded by UCL’s Liberating the Curriculum.

Diversification of reading lists in Anthropology at UCL
Reading lists of compulsory Anthropology modules were made more inclusive and representative through a student-led project funded by UCL’s Liberating the Curriculum.

Internationalising the rural geography curriculum at Kingston University
A case study on how a geography module was reorganised and updated to enable students to more readily see themselves and their backgrounds reflected in the curriculum.

Black Germany course at UCL
A YouTube video featuring Dr Jeff Bowersox describing how he developed a course covering the experiences of Black people in Germany since the middle ages.

Diversification of reading lists in Philosophy at University of Edinburgh
An online resource for teaching Philosophy that aims to combat under-representation of particular groups and encourage an increase in the demographic diversity of the subject.

“Who are you?” at UCL
A YouTube video featuring Dr Showunmi describing the course she designed: “Who Are You?” The course looks at what it means to be white and the concept of privilege.

Resources

A full list of resources is available in the full PDF guide.

Resources to help close the awarding gap on the project website also has many more resources and further reading.


This guide has been produced by the BAME Awarding Gap Project for the UCL Arena Centre for Research-based Education toolkits. You are welcome to use this guide if you are from another educational facility, but you must credit the project.