The first step towards making your teaching and assessment more inclusive is at the planning stage, within an inclusive curriculum. This article provides some key advice for meeting the needs of all students.
The word ‘curriculum’ is used to refer to the whole range of subjects taught in an institution (particularly in the UK) or to refer to what is taught in one subject (particularly in the US). Here, the word is used in the American sense to refer to the design of a module, within one subject or disciplinary area.
Best Practice Tips
When planning a curriculum, take into account the following:
- Curriculum design is best done with all stakeholders’ interests taken into account. When thinking about being inclusive – of course the students are a key stakeholder to take into account.
- Curriculum design can be undertaken by a group of colleagues working together. Approaching the design of a new module (or the redesign of a current one) in this way can ensure there is minimal overlap between modules on a degree programme, but also that a sufficiently wide range of topics is covered.
- If a single lecturer designs the curriculum for a module, it is helpful if he or she gets feedback on early drafts from colleagues, not necessarily only within the same department, but also across the University, since similar subjects may be taught in different departments. Consider for example bringing in colleagues from Careers or DCAD to a meeting to bring alternative ideas to the table.
- Whether an individual lecturer or a group of lecturers design a module, it is helpful to invite students to provide feedback on what is covered or not covered. Students may need support with topics or areas which seem ‘obvious’ to the lecturer, but not to the students (or substantial minorities of students within a group).
While teaching, take note of the following:
- Difficulties students have with any particular aspect of the curriculum. Be aware that different students may find different parts of the module difficult and also that there may be ‘troublesome concepts’ which are problematic for all students. These have been written about as ‘threshold concepts’ (see the reference below).
- Every learning activity you design will make some assumptions about students’ foreknowledge. Try to avoid making assumptions based on your own social and cultural norms, which may lead to students who don’t share these norms feeling excluded.
- Parts of the curriculum which are very easily taught/covered, which can perhaps be conflated in subsequent years. Doing so will give you more time to focus on specific students’ areas of difficulty.
- Parts of the curriculum which can be covered outside class time, e.g. via additional resources online, or through readings.
- Parts of the curriculum it would be helpful to zoom in on through projects, conferences, or even assessment exercises. Doing this might help some students who have difficulty with these areas to work on them in different, more collaborative or experimental ways.
- Gaps you perceive to be in the curriculum you have designed with a view to making improvements for the next year’s teaching.
- Comments made by students either on an ongoing basis or in MEQs can be extremely helpful for ensuring you make your curriculum in subsequent years as inclusive as possible.
Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practising within the disciplines (pp. 412-424). Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh.
Meyer, J. H., & Land, R. (2006). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: An introduction. In Overcoming barriers to student understanding (pp. 27-42). Routledge.