Inclusive tertiary learning environments

Introduction: Why care about the learners’ personalities, styles and backgrounds? 

A teacher needs always to consider new methods to improve his/her teaching.  Being inclusive and flexible is very important,  because even if we were teaching one classroom, there will be many different learning styles, personalities and backgrounds within it. Every teacher or instructor needs to consider the ages, genders, ethnicities, cultures, disabilities, socioeconomic factors, and the past experiences of his/her students before attempting to build the educational environment, which needs to be inclusive and flexible to fit all. Thus, cultural competencies are needed to ensure the required educational outcomes are achieved to the desired standards. This requires the building of a relationship between the teacher (facilitator) and the learner, which is a concept that was introduced in adult education for many years (1, 2). A good relationship requires robust dialogue between the facilitator and his/her learners and their communities. That is, the more the facilitator know about his/her learners and their needs, learning styles, and interests, the better the educational system can be tailored to the individual (3). Moreover, actively engaging the learners in a respectful working association, or alliance, aiming to make the learner feel in control of his/her learning is important to make the learner adopt characteristics of a teacher, or “become the teacher” (4), which is supportive of not only having a flexible and inclusive educational system, but also one that is learner-centered.  I always keep my doors open to my students and try my best to communicate with them and their families via different means. This allowed for trust and respect to positively feed into the educational environment. Moreover, I came to understand that being sincere may not be enough unless the students feel the sincerity.  This led me to talk openly with my students about  what I can provide them, which can allow for this positive relationship and sincerity to manifest. This is required to allow the students to engage and take responsibility for their own learning without fear. All this must be enforced with an educational environment that can affirm the language, identity and culture of the learners. To this end, I will attempt to introduce new strategies that could be used in my lesson planning and classroom in order to be more inclusive and flexible.

What strategies could I introduce into my lesson planning and classroom to be a more inclusive and flexible? 

In addition to the essential strategies, or requirements, that are required for any good educational system, such as establishing the prior knowledge of the leaners, followed by planning the lessons with constructive objectives, that are clear and available to all students, and ensuring reinforcement of abstract concepts with real-life experiences or simulations while always incorporating different delivery methods and elements (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.), the following strategies can be used:

1) Online platforms to involve learners in interactive online discussions complemented with assessment tools that aim to provide the students with learning style inventories and critical thinking exercises followed with reflections about the lesson itself and their own learning. This can allow for several good outcomes, which include:

  1. enabling students easy access to my youtube lectures and blog posts related to the subject, which can include the handouts for their past and future lectures, so they can easily find the resources they need for the course, while engaging in the interactive online discussions. Adding online access to the handouts is something I can start doing more often in the future.
  2. Increasing the number of settings where I can interact with the learners individually or in small groups of 2-3 learners. This can be made possible by using an assessment tool that aims to provide the students with learning style inventories integrated with critical thinking exercises and reflections.

I chose this strategy because it allows the students to interact online on their own time, and while they are online they can access the required material for their course, ask questions and interact with me and with each other. Moreover, this strategy can help build a community spirit between the students as they are involved in discussing the topics. Complementing the interactive discussions with assessment tools that provide opportunities for the students to reflect on their own learning and learning styles will also enhance their learning. In a nutshell, the outcomes from this strategy can cover many of the goals introduced in the Signposts: a professional development resource for new teaching staff in the tertiary sector. 

2)  Allow the students to use what they learned in their communities. In order words, allow each student to act as the teacher, or the specialist in his/her field of study.  This can be achieved by introducing an issue related to the topic from the local community and ask the students to work in teams to address it. This can help build a stronger relationship between the educational system, the instructor and the learners’  themselves and their families and community, while enabling the learners to become self-directed and independent, or the teacher (4).

References

  1. Knowles, M. S. The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy. (Rev. and updated ed.) River Grove, Ill.: Follett, 1980.
  2. Smith, R. M. Learning How to Learn: Applied Theory for Adults. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
  3. Zachary, L. J. The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
  4. Vella, J. Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.

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