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Inclusive teaching, learning and assessment

A guide on why it is important and tips on how to enhance inclusivity in your classroom.

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27 April 2020

Hockings (2010) defines inclusive teaching, learning and assessment as:

“the ways in which pedagogy, curricula and assessment are designed and delivered to engage students in learning that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to all. It embraces a view of the individual and individual difference as the course of diversity that can enrich the lives and learning of others.” (p.1)

Why is inclusive teaching, learning and assessment important?

It prepares students to succeed in diverse working environments

Evidence shows that organisations perform better if their workforce is more diverse (McKinsey & Company 2018). 

Through inclusive teaching and learning practices, for example, providing opportunities for students to work in diverse groups, we will equip our learners with the knowledge, skills and understanding to succeed in global working environments.

Students value an inclusive approach

Research by Hockings (2010) found “students value teaching that recognises their individual academic and social identities and that addresses their particular learning needs and interests” (p.6).

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.

An inclusive approach benefits all students

O’Neill (2011) argues that inclusive assessment benefits all students as offering a range of assessment takes into account students’ different learning styles, strengths, time constraints and personal or employment commitments.

 

Tips for inclusive teaching, learning and assessment

A selection of practical tips are provided to help you reflect on the inclusivity of your teaching, learning and assessment practice.

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

These include:

  1. Reflect on your assumptions about students
  2. Set explicit expectations for your students
  3. Avoid ignoring or singling out students to speak for an entire group
  4. Build staff-student and student-student rapport
  5. Conduct a prior knowledge assessment
  6. Design and facilitate effective groups
  7. Offer a diverse range of assessment methods

1. Reflect on your assumptions about students

Do not assume a students’ background, ability, point of view or preexisting knowledge of a subject, as these assumptions influence the way we interact with our students, which in turn impacts their learning (Ambrose et al. 2010).

Hockings et al (2008) found that when teachers based their lessons on their own interests or assumptions about students (in the absence of knowledge about students identities, prior education, experiences etc.), this left some students bored, under challenged or overwhelmed.

Therefore, create opportunities to get to know your students and reflect on any assumptions you may hold.

2. Set explicit expectations for your students

Clearly articulate and help all students understand course:

  • aims;
  • objectives;
  • expectations; and
  • assessment criteria. 

This will enable students to prioritise their work and ability to meet conflicting priorities. 

Ambrose et al (2010) asserts that it is important to “explicitly identify discipline specific conventions”, as in the absence of this guidance, “students may analogise from other experiences of fields that they feel most competent in, regardless of whether the experiences are appropriate to the current context” (p.36).

3. Avoid ignoring or singling out students to speak for an entire group

Students of underrepresented identities often report either feeling invisible in class, or sticking out like a sore thumb as the token member (Ambrose et al. 2010).

This experience is heightened when they are addressed as spokespeople for their whole group, and can have implications on performance (Lord & Saenz, 1985).

The Centre for Teaching and Learning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) in their PDF Teaching for Inclusion: Diversity in the College Classroom, suggest teachers avoid the extremes of ignoring and singling out students, and instead focus on ensuring that students feel recognized as individuals from the outset of the course.

In doing so, they may feel more comfortable voluntarily offering their opinions during class discussions or in lectures.

Ambrose et al. (2010) propose that ways to make students feel recognised as individuals include, learning names and encouraging all students to use office hours.

Example from UCL’s Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Electric and Electronic Engineering

“The Department carries out Strength Finder exercises and teamwork-based projects with the undergraduate students. 

The Strength Finder exercises allow the students to identify their top five strengths, which they are encouraged to share with their peers in their team-working activities in the first and second years. Then students are asked to reflect on the benefits of diversity within the team. 

To improve, the Strength Finder exercise leaders could ask the students to describe experiences and views, originating directly from their personal culture, ethnicity and background, which can contribute to the teamwork, and share it with their peers.”

4. Build staff-student and student-student rapport

Endeavour to build staff-student rapport, as well as student-student rapport in the classroom.

Get to know your students by learning their names, sharing your own interests and personal learning process. 

Also provide students with opportunities to get to know each other, for example, through group work. 

Ellis (2004) found that building rapport and creating a positive classroom climate leads to positive student outcomes, including increased student motivation and reduced student apprehension.

5. Conduct a prior knowledge assessment

Students come into university with a range of preexisting knowledge, skills and competencies.

It is important to understand students’ strengths and weaknesses in order to determine the appropriate level of challenge for each cohort. 

Ambrose et al. (2010, p.86) states that students will not be motivated to engage with an assignment, if they do not expect they will be successful with reasonable effort. However, if the assignment is too easy, students will not think it has value or is worth their time to engage with.

Therefore, Ambrose et al. (2010, p.145) suggest conducting an early performance based (formative) assessment. 

This will not only help you pitch your teaching and future assignments at the right level, but also enable students to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. 

Conducting this assessment early in term is important, as it will give students the opportunity to learn from your feedback, and address any knowledge and/or skill gaps ahead of summative (final) assessments.

6. Design and facilitate effective groups

Whilst it may be easier to allow students to self-select their group during group work, research indicates there are benefits to randomly allocating groups and enabling students from diverse backgrounds to work together. 

For example, McClelland (2012) found that randomly allocated groups enhance both an individual’s task capabilities and their team working capabilities.

Employ facilitation strategies to create a collaborative environment and ensure that group work improves all students learning. 

For example, clearly establish expectations for group work that promote inclusive and respectful interactions amongst students. 

Ambrose et al (2010) suggest involving students in the process of establishing expectations to maximise their buy-in. 

Also consider defining and allocating students roles, as this has been shown to promote greater learning gains (Bailey et al. 2012) and student satisfaction (Brown, 2010).

7. Offer a diverse range of assessment methods

Using a diverse range of assessment methods will ensure that students are not unfairly disadvantaged or advantaged by a specific form of assessment (University of Plymouth, 2014). 

For example, traditional exam conditions work well for students who have good recall under-pressure, but not for others.

Assessment methods could involve:

  • in-class tests
  • group/individual presentations
  • creation of audio-visual material
  • multiple choice tests
  • coursework etc.

Offering a range of assessment methods not only reflects the needs and prior experiences of a diverse student body, but also enables students to develop a broader range of personal and employability skills (Brown and Glasner, 2013).

 

The student perspective

Views from UCL students

“I feel some teachers are not comfortable approaching BAME students. They avoid eye contact and if a BAME student and a White student have a question at the same time, the teacher will address the White student first.” UCL’s Race Equality Charter (REC) Student Survey

“I feel teachers generally are not ready to accept BAME students and come with assumptions.” REC Student Survey

“As a BAME and non-UK/EU student, I often feel excluded from group discussions. Some people are polite on the surface, but do not give a genuine sense of friendliness or inclusion.” REC Student Survey

“I’ve received comments from professors about how my English is ‘very good’ apart from some things a ‘native speaker would not say…I am a native speaker! There are variations of English outside of British English. Comments like these reinforce my sense of being perceived as an inferior ‘Other’.” Challenge Consultancy, focus group

“I am comfortable contributing to group discussions but only if I know the answer. Being picked on when I don’t know the answer makes me feel stupid and makes me not want to go.” REC Student Survey

“As a BME student, I feel like my voice isn’t valued or respected.” REC Student Survey

Views from other students in the sector

“There was a class where the seminar became a space to share experiences. This was lovely at first but after a few lessons I was looked upon as the spokesperson for all black women.” Degrees of Freedom, SOAS

“I felt I didn’t have any friends in the class. Group work was a good way to make friends with people. I wish the teacher could have mixed us up.” Exploring the BME Student Attainment Gap, Leeds Beckett University

“Sometimes when my opinion was the same as another white student, my voice was tended to be ignored but the white student’s was heard.” Insider-Outsider, The Role of Race in Shaping the Experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic Students at Goldsmiths

“Often, I have said something in a seminar and a white peer will repeat my same point but will get praise and acknowledgement. Also, I have noticed that my white peers often speak over and speak more in seminars than me and my people of colour peers.” Insider-Outsider, The Role of Race in Shaping the Experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic Students at Goldsmiths

“It has always typically been white males that will talk dominating conversation and tutors actually allow that to happen…sometimes they kind of get intimidated themselves… rather than saying hey, this is a conversation that should be led by everyone.” Degrees of Racism, SOAS

Case studies

Using peer-assisted learning to support attainment in Pharmacy at Kingston
A case study discussing how the use of peer- assisted learning resulted in higher progression, retention and module pass rates at Kingston University

Making and using video for teaching at UCL
Professor Andrea Sella (UCL Chemistry) discusses the various ways in which creating his own teaching videos help him to ‘shake things up and make things different.’

Using research-based blogging to develop students’ skills at UCL
Dr Kerstin Sailer (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture) discusses how her students have benefited from hands-on teaching and learning by visiting specific buildings and writing a weekly blog.

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.