Many disadvantaged learners experienced additional problems during campus lockdown. Outcomes for under-represented groups continue to be an issue in the UK. As we redesign online delivery, we should try to meet the needs of all students. Taking into consideration at the outset the impact of post Covid delivery on those who face additional challenges.
As we adapt our Covid response for the longer term, we should consider an approach to teaching and learning that will give everyone an equal opportunity to succeed as well as giving them equivalent experiences in the classroom and online.
Traditionally it is the teacher who decides how subjects are taught. Their lesson plans have a ‘typical student’ in mind and the material is presented the same way for everyone – unless they are labelled ‘different’. At this time of adjustment it is worth stressing that we are all different. We learn in different ways; we experience different challenges and we develop different strengths.
Building in choice
Of course it will be challenging to adapt to asynchronous, multi-model, multiple venue teaching. A HyFlex approach provides students with autonomy, flexibility, and seamless engagement, no matter where, how, or when they engage in the course. If we use technology well it will actually afford some advantages. It will allow us to personalise and differentiate, to provide unparalleled choice in learning and assessment activities and more timely, direct responses to each individuals needs and progress. HyFlex online learning makes a virtue of difference.
Technology can enable better access and engagement for an increasingly diverse community with increasingly varied requirements. Learners are likely to be more successful when they are allowed choice in when and where they learn and in how they demonstrate their understanding. Choice also gives them valuable insight into their own strengths and learning strategies.
Designing for difference
Many adjustments provided for disabled learners could be useful to everyone. For example, closed captions on videos are useful to people with hearing impairments but they are also very handy for anyone trying to watch a video in a noisy room. Audio versions are critical for learners with visual impairments and literacy or language differences. They also work better wherever connectivity is poor.
Designing learning with difference in mind will make best use of online learning. Adopting Inclusive curriculum design principles from the start will ensure everyone gets a chance to shape their own experience and experiment with the potential options. Everyone will develop independent learning and digital skills – not just those labelled ‘different’. Afterall, why shouldn’t everyone benefit from technology that helps them organise, use their time efficiently or understand better?
Make it Flexible
That’s the thinking behind Universal Design for Learning (UDL).The three principles: Representation, Action and expression and Engagement translate into providing multiple pathways to access learning, to engage with it and to demonstrate what has been learned – in whatever way works best for the learner. The results can be significant.
Allowing multiple options for assignments will support a range of strengths and preferences. Learners can choose the one they think is more relevant and engaging. If deadlines and assessment arrangements are flexible they won’t accidentally disadvantage those with additional responsibilities and more limited opportunities to study.
A key concept of UDL is being flexible and responsive. Online it could be easier to build in constructive feedback and encourage discussion on how to move forward. Blended learning lends itself to mixed participation delivery. We just need to get the formula right.
So, you want me to read for my degree? Considering a Universal Design for learning approach to reading through the use of audiobooks and accessibility tools. Jisc blog post
What is universal design for learning? Understood blog post
Educause Library – HyFlex course model