Placing inclusivity at the heart of teaching and learning

Posted on Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Students talking and studying in class

According to Canadian statistics and an increasing body of academic research, diversity should be the norm, not the exception. In Canadian higher education, there has been a dawning realization that teaching and learning must adapt to become more inclusive. Yet what does “inclusion” mean when it comes to pedagogy? More importantly, how can instructors actively integrate it into their courses? 

Inclusive Pedagogies, a new uOttawa website, has quickly become a leading national inclusivity resource by addressing these questions in a novel, practical format that instructors can easily access. 

Developed by uOttawa’s Teaching and Learning Support Service (TLSS), Inclusive Pedagogies brings together a wealth of guidance, scholarship, and practical tools to help instructors centre their teaching around inclusive practices. 

Inclusive teaching at the core of the classroom 

“Inclusion is the practice of embracing student diversity and designing courses in ways that reach all students,” says Jean-Pascal Beaudoin, the project’s co-creator and an educational development specialist at TLSS. Inclusive pedagogy boasts many benefits, including lowering barriers to learning, enriching classroom communication, and finding new pathways to competence, autonomy and academic success.  

Rather than posing inclusion as a supplement or add-on, the new website places it squarely at the centre of the pedagogical process. “In essence, good teaching is inclusive teaching,” adds Maryse Sullivan, the project’s co-creator and an educational development and digital learning specialist at TLSS. “Best practices in inclusive pedagogies are inseparable from best practices in pedagogy.”  

Users can expect a blend of exploration, self-guided learning, and practical tips. The first section introduces the purpose, definitions and benefits of inclusive pedagogy. The next section, Context and Considerations, proposes tangible entry points for instructors, allowing them reflect on the why of inclusive pedagogy, and to locate themselves on the continuum of inclusive teaching. A comprehensive conceptual framework section situates inclusion on the arc of academic research on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The most sought-after section, Strategies and Tools, is loaded with practical tips, tools, and techniques for instructors to deploy à la carte. In the words of Sullivan, “this section is about tangible, actionable quick wins, such as a list of Top 25 strategies, or an inventory of over 150 inclusion tools, focused on instructors’ specific teaching needs.”  

The strategies are mapped onto the teaching process—course design, course delivery, assessment activities, feedback and adjustment.  

A beacon of inclusive university teaching in Canada 

Because it weaves together a number of elements into one space, the resource has become a trailblazing initiative for higher education in Canada. In a few short months, the website has been widely adopted by other Canadian institutions: Laval University, University of Calgary, Western, UQAM, St. Mary’s and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology have all cited or recommended the website as part of their inclusion resources. 

“Inclusivity is here to stay,” says Sullivan, noting that the site will continue to evolve by incorporating  community input as the years go by, thanks in part to a feedback section where members of the uOttawa community can propose ideas. 

In the short term, instructors can dive into the topic by visiting the website and attending an introductory webinar on January 30 (in French) or January 31  (in English). In March, instructors will be able to participate in a hands-on collaborative workshop to integrate inclusion strategies into their courses. 

A history of collaboration in finding inclusive teaching solutions 

“The project grew out of a 2013 training program to meet Ontario accessibility requirements for universities, then morphed into the Diversity and Learning Project in 2017, which led to a series of resources and workshops, which then grew from there, especially after the pandemic,” notes Beaudoin. Working with Sullivan, the project team drew on their experiences teaching in higher education, as well as the literature and discussions with experts in the academic community, to develop the website, resources and webinars. Before launching the project, they sought out a wide range of voices and perspectives at uOttawa, including those of faculty experts, the Human Rights Office, Student Accommodation Services, the Indigenous Resource Centre, the Committee on Anti-Racism and students on campus. 

Beaudoin and Sullivan have every intention of including everyone in the discussion.  

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