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An Inclusive curriculum and learning environment

27 May 2021

An Inclusive curriculum and learning environment

In this project, lecturers, programme leaders, and students from three faculties (Social Sciences, Medicine, Law, Economics and Governance) work closely together to carry out a course and curriculum scan for three bachelor and master programmes. Furthermore, interventions and best practices to make the curriculum more inclusive will be identified, collected and implemented. Based on an action research approach, a toolbox will be developed during the project. This toolbox can be used for other UU curricula and courses.

Background

A priority of Utrecht University (UU) is to promote diversity and inclusiveness among students in order to create a safe and inspiring learning environment. To realise this ambition, an analysis of the curricula of UU bachelor and master programmes with respect to diversity and inclusion issues is necessary. By analysing the curriculum with regard to learning objectives, content, and pedagogical strategies, a critical reflection of the curriculum with respect to issues regarding diversity and inclusion is stimulated. This analysis should then be followed by activities that help resolve any issues identified, which in turn will lead to improvements in the curricula and will improve students’ and lecturers’ experiences.

The issue of diversity is experienced by different actors in our university, like students, lecturers, and programme leaders.

Student sometimes report feelings of discomfort during education. An example of experienced discomfort is when stereotyped examples are used in class or when a student is seen as a representative of a certain group because they share an individual characteristic with that group. These examples mirror students’ feelings of discomfort described in published case studies conducted at other universities in The Netherlands and abroad (Lowe, 2015) and (Tjira, Leyerzapf & Abma, 2011).

Lecturers may likewise struggle with diversity- and inclusion issues. Sometimes lecturers feel that it is difficult to discuss sensitive issues related to diversity in an open, respectful and yet critical manner. Subjects such as segregation in education, the black Pete discussion, or historical aspects of law that could perpetuate inequality, are experienced by students as threatening and/or not to be discussed. Lecturers may lack the necessary experience or skills to lead such difficult discussions in their classroom, and thus they may benefit from additional professional development in that area.

Programme leaders may find it difficult to realise a coherent and inclusive curriculum at the programme level. Does the curriculum for example target intercultural competences alongside more traditional objectives? Are the topics addressed in the curriculum representative of multiple perspectives and visions? Does the program have policies for students with disabilities?

Thus, students, lecturers, and programme leaders require support to deal with these issues. But they also trigger questions about the content and structure of the curriculum. Problems are identified at at least two different levels:

  1. the level of the classroom (students and lecturers) and the course (i.e., the micro-level of the curriculum) and;
  2. the level of the program (i.e., meso-level).

Goals and expected results

This project aims to develop and deliver a toolbox that can be used by programmes in order to start a discussion on the inclusiveness of the curriculum in a structured but open manner. This toolbox consists of activities on different levels of a programme:

A scan of the micro-level curriculum on the learning objectives, content, pedagogical strategies of a course. This involves taking stock of teaching and learning situations. Especially at the micro-level, idiosyncratic decisions made by teachers affect the learning environment.

NA scan of the curriculum as a whole. Taking stock of the vision and learning objectives of the programme, the coherence between the various courses and the way learning objectives and instructional strategies promote or hinder inclusiveness and diversity.

The toolbox will offer interventions that help increase inclusiveness by giving examples of best practice instructional strategies and guidelines for the development of course and curriculum materials that help create an inclusive curriculum. These can range from specific formats, to tools to discuss the issues in teacher teams, to a guide with examples that help discuss sensitive topics during classes. These may be utilized to develop or adjust assignments and tutorial meetings.

The toolbox will describe how a team of teachers may develop a more inclusive curriculum. We will make use of the already developed toolbox Diversity in Education (developed by the Cultural Anthropology department), materials developed by the USO-project ICUU and insights and materials from colleagues from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Erasmus University Rotterdam, and materials developed by the ASCB (Dewsburg & Brame, 2019). Because some of the problems lecturers face may stem from a lack of experience or training, we will also address the professional development of lecturers.

At the end of the project six programmes (three bachelor, and three master) will have scanned the core of their curriculum (i.e., non-elective courses) on the micro- and meso-level. They will have adjusted and improved the programme when necessary. Moreover, the toolbox that will be developed will be made available to other programmes.

Lees verder

References

  • Lowe, P. (2015). Lessening sensitivity: student experiences of teaching and learning sensitive issues. Teaching in Higher Education, 20, 119-129.
  • Tjitra, J. J., Leyerzapf, H., & Abma, T. A. (2011). “Dan blijf ik gewoon stil”: Ervaringen van allochtone studenten met interculturalisatie tijdens de opleiding Geneeskunde. Tijdschrift voor Medisch Onderwijs, 30, 292-301.
  • Dewsburg, B., & Brame, C. J. (2019). Inclusive teaching. CBE Life Sciences Education, 18(fe2), 1-5.
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