Activities for inclusion

Beth Hammond, Learning Technologist, University of the West of England

Butterflies” flickr photo by neiljs shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Inclusive learning and teaching is a hot topic in Higher Education at the moment, and as members of staff we have no doubt been encouraged to develop our practice, complete training and attend awareness-raising sessions. But what about our students? For a classroom to be truly inclusive, it requires the work of everyone. So how can we help our students learn to be inclusive?

The Active Learning Network recently ran some CPD workshops based on the ‘Inclusive Communities’ section of its online book 100 Ideas for Active Learning. I attended these and, having just started a new satellite group at the University of the West of England, shared two of the activities at our local meet up. Here are some reflections, and some further suggestions based on a workshop I ran last year on creating communities of learning.

Activity 1 – first person perspectives and empathy

This was based on the activity ‘Put yourself in my shoes’ by Dr George Kyparissiadis.

The original session involved looking at advertisements showing positive representations of minority groups. Learners had to write from a first-person perspective of a representative of that group, how it made them feel.

To me, the powerful thing about this exercise was writing responses in the first person. Our group agreed that it could help build empathy in students to have to imagine they were someone disabled or from an ethnic minority group and think about how that person would feel.

It was interesting that quite a few people questioned the positivity of the representations. What were the motives of the company producing the advertisement? Was the portrayal stereotypical? Could someone responding to these depictions feel exploited or misunderstood? This is all useful discussion for a student group trying to deepen their awareness of others’ experiences.

As a cohort-building or induction activity, use of advertisements or similar media worked well to stimulate discussion. But the activity could also be made subject-relevant. Architecture or Product Design students could explore both good and bad examples of products or spaces from the viewpoint of different minority groups. Early Childhood students might consider the effect of diverse representation in toys, games or picture books. The key is to get students writing in the first person, and then discussing their experience with others. As with discussion of any sensitive topic, there needs to be appropriate guidelines and support.

Activity 2 – mind maps for cohort building and student support

This exercise was based on ‘Interactive mind map – creating bonds among new learners’ by Dr Malgorzata Trela and Dr Sophie Rutschmann.

The purpose of the original exercise was to get students working together early in their course by doing a group task that would give them a co-created revision resource on the topic. In our group demonstration, I tried another angle. I set up a mind map that would encourage the group to explore different options for student support, with categories such as Health and Wellbeing, Money and Finance, IT Support and Careers. I created a node for each on the mind map with a link to a good starting point on the university website.

For students doing a task like this, it has the advantage that they would become familiar with how to find support without having to ask specifically and potentially disclose a problem to others.

As I was running this task with members of staff, some of them could add in what they already knew about support at the university. This made us consider if it would be useful for the exercise to include students in higher years – reps or peer learning leads – who could contribute and comment on what they had found helpful in their first year of study.

Further suggestions

Here are a few ideas for designing activities to promote inclusion.

Emphasise collaboration, not competition

Students may be used to the idea of competing with each other to be top of the class. They may not realise the value of a supportive community where everyone can help everyone else succeed. Introduce collaborative activities, being explicit about their benefits, and if you want to add some competition keep it low-stakes and at a team rather than individual level.

Teach constructive feedback

Feedback is a skill, and if everyone does it well it can help form a strong, respectful, mutually supportive community. Model good feedback and create opportunities for students to practice it for themselves.

Give students ownership

Get students thinking about how to build an inclusive community with an activity on co-creating ground rules, or exploring shared identity, goals or values of the group. The act of co-creating will give students ownership, which may motivate them to participate, as well as helping them see different perspectives.

Give time to community building in class

Get the ball rolling. If you give students a space for social interaction outside class and just leave them to it, they may forget, or not prioritise it, or just be scared of going first. If you set a task in class for them to use the space to share their favourite film, song, picture of their pet etc., they are more likely to return to that space later.

Do you have examples of any of these, or further ideas of your own? You might like to share them at the  ALN Global Festival of Active Learning (see the ALN Events page for details).

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