We are all aware that institutions have a legal obligation to support members of our learning community with protected characteristics, and a moral duty to ensure we all have fair and equal opportunity to reach our full potential. However, inclusive academic practice can be a challenging to colleagues who may find the necessary re-assessment of academic knowledge and its production, and the re-thinking and re-shaping of academic practice on more democratic, less imperialist grounds deeply destabilising. I suggest we, as academic developers, recognise inclusive academic practice involves engaging our personal, political and professional selves but must be complimented with clear guiding principles and advice on practical action and, as Hull’s recently launched Inclusive Education Framework advises, involves the whole institution. The University of Hull has adopted this approach since the launch of the Teaching Excellence Academy in 2019 to positive effect: NSS returns have lifted year on year contributing to our 42 place uplift in the Guardian University Ranking over the last 2 years, we are now 53rd.
Framing inclusive academic practice as pedagogic competence facilitates this whilst mainstreaming inclusion. Good pedagogic practice in inherently inclusive after all. Based on a model for competence-based education used at the University of Hull (Lawrence 2020; Huxley-Binns, Lawrence and Scott, forthcoming) pedagogic competence is the synthesis of personal, professional and academic experience; disciplinary, pedagogic and institutional knowledge and self-awareness. I have presented competence-based pedagogic practice at two UK Universities: a teaching and a research focussed institution (Lawrence, 2021). Almost all that attended a series of workshops at the teaching focussed institution responding to evaluation found balancing practical steer with acknowledging the personal is pedagogical (if you can forgive this play on the feminist ‘personal is political’) extremely useful, for some revelatory, and almost all found the principles and activities outlined useful and will adopt them.
Building competence-based pedagogic practice
Drawing on my experience using this model in academic development, and the evaluation of and feedback on the workshops, academic developers might wish to bare the following in mind when supporting colleagues in growing their pedagogic competence.
Draw on, recognise and create opportunity for staff to critically reflect on the following as integral to and valuable in academic practice:
- Individual life experience
- Past, present and future teaching, scholarship and/or research
For many this is realised through application for Fellowship HEA and peer-observation and the wiley academic developer will embed this reflection and connection within developmental activity.
Ensure colleagues have access to the following information
- Students within their cohort
- Disciplinary specific practice and research
- Institutional process, curricula, assessment & VLE
- How to create inclusive resources
- Institutional study and pastoral support services and resources
At the University of Hull we have found staff appreciate and engage with carefully curated resources that offer guidance on interpreting, accessing and using this information as and when they need it, at a time that suites them. Our ‘Teaching Essentials’ VLE has over 650 active users (of approximately 800 academic staff).
Allow opportunity for staff to critically reflect on the following:
- Positionality (personal & professional identity)
- Personal strengths & limits (and where to go /how to develop specific practices).
- The classroom/online ‘climate’
- Personal/professional responsibilities (EDI policy and law)
In my experience staff appreciate the opportunity to ‘check their own privilege’ as much as acknowledge their own journey to where they are now and where they want to go. There is much to be said about mandatory EDI training, at the very least it reminds staff of their legal obligations while the meaningful and deeper, consciousness raising work goes on.
Principles for Inclusive Academic Practice
The following principle and examples of action are a starting point to building the ‘knowledge’ necessary for pedagogic competence:
Develop learning community & belonging (Thomas, 2012)
– Regular breaks & social chat in class time
– Team-based activity/assignments & ice breakers (Thomas, 2012)
– Inclusive language e.g. use of the pronoun ‘they’
– Decolonize curricula & diversify reading lists, visuals, examples, teaching team (Bhopal, 2018)
Build equitable learning relationships (Freire, 1997; hooks, 2010)
– Share our university experience (Lawrence et al, 2020), past present and future aspirations
– Module/session design in partnership (Cop, 2004; Healey et al, 2006)
– (Rolling) chair of respectful dialogue and discussion, call gaffes to account with good grace (Hooks, 2003)
Deploy active/flipped learning (and explain how it works)
– Explain the obvious: terms, protocols, process (Thomas, 2012)
Personalise learning activities (flexible, applied and relevant, Hocking, 2010)
– ‘Apply x to a situation of your choosing’
Nurture and inspire all students (Bhopal, 2018)
– Be flexible and accommodate different learning paces e.g. have ‘Reserve’ activities for groups that steam through a task
– Note that students are more receptive to feedback in positive learning relationship (Donovan et al, 2020)
Framing inclusive academic practice as integral to pedagogic competence helps us be vigilant and alive to our own unconscious bias, evolve our practices, remain alive to our own positionality and prioritise the educational needs of our diverse community. Further, it acknowledges we need practical steer to guide us through the destabilising process of re assessing and reshaping our practice. It is inherently political, but more than that, personal.
Dr Jenny Lawrence AFSEDA, PFHEA, NTF is Director of the Oxford Centre for Academic Enhancement and Development at Oxford Brookes University. Her research interests include programme and educational leadership and wellbeing in HE.
Bhopal, K. (2018) White Privilege: The myth of the post racial society Bristol: Policy Press
Berry M. O’Donovan, Birgit den Outer, Margaret Price & Andy Lloyd (2021) What makes good feedback good?, Studies in Higher Education, 46:2, 318-329, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2019.1630812
Educause (2012) 7 Things you should know about … Flipped Classrooms. Educause.
Healey, M., Bradley, A., Fuller, M. and Hall, T. (2006) Listening to students: the experiences of disabled students of learning at university. In: Adams, M. and Brown, S. (eds.) Towards Inclusive Learning in Higher Education: developing curricula for disabled students. Abingdon. Routledge
Hockings.C. (2010) Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education: a synthesis of research. EvidenceNet . HEA York
Hooks, b (2003) Teaching Community: A pedagogy of hope. London: Routledge.
Hubbard, K and Gawthorpe, P (2021) University of Hull Inclusive Education Framework. University of Hull.
Huxley-Binns, R. Lawrence, J and Scott, G. (forthcoming) Competence-based HE: Future Proofing Curricula in Blessinger, P and Sengupta, E (forthcoming) Integrative Curricula – A Multi-Dimensional Approach to Pedagogy. UK: Emerald Group Publishing
Lawrence, J (2020) Assessing competencies could equip graduates for an uncertain post-Covid future WonkHE
Lawrence, J (2021) Advancing Inclusive Education: Competence-based pedagogic practice. Inclusive Education Symposia, Teaching Excellence Academy, University of Hull. January 16th 2021
Lawrence, J. Wales, H. Hunt, L. and Synmoie, D. (2020) Teaching excellence: the students perspective. French, A. Thomas, K. (2020) Challenging the Teaching Excellence Framework: Diversity Deficits in Higher Education Evaluations. UK: Emerald Insights. pp. 129-150.