Inclusivity in the delivery of teaching: from agendas to actions #TFConf17

Teaching-Fellows

The theme of Edinburgh Napier University’s 2017 Teaching Fellows Conference, (#TFConf17) is innovations in teaching and supporting student learning. I am participating in the event today as the opening keynote speaker.  My presentation slides entitled Inclusivity in the delivery of teaching: from agendas to actions are available on SlideShare and below.

I was inititally approached to deliver the keynote on the basis of my recent University roles related to equality, and in particular the work that I have completed with Equate Scotland (formerly the Scottish Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology), my support of the Connect network for female students of Computing and Engineering subjects at Edinburgh Napier since 2012, and my leadership of Athena SWAN activities across the University between 2013-2016.

I can also relate to the theme of the talk from the perspective of a professional minority: just 18.5% of professors in science, technology and engineering subjects are female (see p. 243 of the Equality in higher education statistical report 2015 part 1: staff). In addition I have personal experience of feeling ‘different’, and being treated differently, on account of my rare combination of red hair and blue eyes. This combination of characteristics is shared by just 1% of the world population. When I recently completed a Google search to identify another female professor with red hair and blue eyes I had to trawl through 600 other images – including cartoon characters – before I hit a picture of anyone who looks vaguely like me. (The person that I found happens to be Professor Melanie Davies of the University of Leicester.)

Throughout my presentation reference is made to three key terms: (1) inclusion, which refers to valuing, respecting and supporting people; (2) diversity, which refers to the mix of people included, and (3) equality, which we hope to achieve in our communities through paying attention to (1) and (2).

I start by considering how my own undergraduate experience was shared with a set of students who were all very similar to me. This non-diverse year group of around 100 was predominantly middle class, I remember just one mature student in the group, we had only one (out) gay classmate, there was nobody from a black or minority ethnic group in any of my classes, nor was anyone disabled. Other academics of a similar vintage (1980s) who graduated from  a institution like my own alma mater (University of Birmingham) are also likely not to have any personal experience of learning in an inclusive environment.

The next part of my presentation turns to the agendas that are driving efforts towards making our universities more inclusive in respect of teaching and learning. The foreword of the Scottish Funding Council’s guidance for the development of university outcome agreements 2017-18 and 2019-20 makes an explicit connection between ‘promoting inclusivity’ and ‘a smarter, fairer, wealthier and greener Scotland’ (p.3). Scottish universities are expected to contribute to this by publishing equality outcomes that explain the focus and aims of their equality work. Bodies such as the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) publish briefings with advice on how to meet such requirements: see, for example the ECU Equality outcomes web page. The 2010 Equality Act, and list of the nine protected characteristics, is particularly important. In Section 149 the Public sector equality duty is noted: to eliminate discrimination, harrassment and victimisation; enhance equality of opportunity; and foster good relations between different groups. Again, the ECU provides advice on this in The public sector equality duty: specific duties for Scotland. At a more local level, one of Edinburgh Napier University’s four core values states that the institution is inclusive.

The inclusivity agenda at Edinburgh Napier in respect of students is implemented in a number of ways. We monitor inclusion through the collection of  data on their personal characteristics (for example, age, ethnicity, gender)  and report the data from the monitoring exercises, both internally and externally. We support inclusion at institutional level through participation in national schemes (for example, Athena SWAN for gender equality, which requires consideration of student data in the submission of departmental awards), sponsoring external activities (such as GirlGeek Scotland, which has been hosted by the University since the launch event 2016 attended by First Mininster Nicola Sturgeon), and sharing good practice (for example, at events such as today’s 2017 Teaching Fellows Conference and Inclusivity Week 2016).

The last main section of my presentation is concerned with three ways in which we make it possible for our students to (1) learn in inclusive environments; (2) consider issues related to inclusion as part of the curriculum; and (3) enter the workforce with knowledge of equality and diversity issues and the skills required to address these. The examples that I present here are simply a selection from across the University that can be used as illustrations of the three types of provision. There are many more that could be showcased if my presentation timeslot were longer.

Creating the right mix in the classroom contributes to inclusive participation. When sorting students into tutorial groups at the start of each academic year, a programme leader in the School of Applied Sciences checks individual profiles on the student record system to ensure that the allocations are balanced in terms of gender, age, and nationality. In my own teaching at module level I use a coloured card system to ensure that the teams for group exercises in the tutorials are mixed differently every week. In the example cited in the presentation there are five different coloured cards for student allocations according to gender and nationality. While neither of these techniques would – in the words of the programme leader who supplied the first one – ‘set the heather alight’, they can address issues such as uneven gender balances and the isolation in the classroom of students of particular nationalities.

We have a duty to ensure that we provide an infrastructure that allows for all our students to participate in teaching and learning activities. A lecturer who teaches modules in biology drew my attention to how three protected characteristics (disability, pregnancy and religion) are accommodated in lab work. Practical classes which might be physically challenging (for disabled students) or risky (for example, due to exposure to chemicals during pregnancy) or unacceptable (for example due to the use of pig organs in dissection) are adapted for individual students or redesigned. The same module also runs a buddy system in the lab to help students if required. A similar strategy is used for module content when the topic of intimate relationships is covered in a third year Social Psychology module. Here the module leader reports that ‘plenty of mention is made to relationships lying outwith dyadic heterosexual ones (e.g. homosexual relationships, polygyny, polygamy, polyfidelity, polyandry).  [This accommodates] protected characteristics 4 and 9.’

Some of our modules go further in addressing equality and diversity as module themes. For example, as part of an undergraduate module on sport event tourism taught in the Business School marital status and its effect on sport-related choices and tastes is explored; in the School of Computing gender imbalances in professional roles is considered in module content on professionalism and ethics, and gender inequality is offered as a topic that students may write about in assessed work.

A new initiative called Confident diversity, which has been piloted in the School of Engineering and the Built Environment with Equate Scotland, takes this activity a step further still. Here module content designed to enhance the students’ knowledge of equality and diversity issues is combined with workshop activities and discussions. The ultimate goal of this work is to strengthen the knowledge of equality and diversity issues in the labour market, and to ensure that our graduates have the skills required to address them. Such work thus has an impact both within the university setting and beyond (and should mitigate against some of the everyday exclusion and sexism that the University of Glasgow has recently addressed in its Full stop campaign).

Amongst the many presentations and posters at today’s conference there are ten of relevance to the themes of my keynote paper, including one on the Confident diversity pilot. These are all noted in slides 32-34 of my presentation.

I draw my keynote to a close with a reminder that inclusion refers to valuing, respecting and supporting those around us. I illustrate this with a photograph of a clay model that was created by one of my PhD students at an external training event last year. The students were asked to depict their relationship with their supervisior. I like to think that this depiction shows that I (the larger figure) support my student (the smaller one) in a relationship that values and respects her, and I hope that we all do the same in our relationships with students at all levels of our teaching delivery at Edinburgh Napier University.

If you are interested in this and other papers today, please follow the Twitter hashtag #TFConf17.

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