What is it?

I have a confession. When I applied for my post as a Lecturer at the University of Essex I didn’t really know what pedagogy meant. Luckily thanks to Google, enthusiasm for learning, and good colleagues and resources, I now know a lot more.

Inclusive pedagogy simply means making learning accessible and welcoming for all students. In this blog I’m primarily thinking about students with a disability, specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia or attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder (ADHD), or those who describe themselves as “neurodivergent”, but inclusive pedagogy is much wider than this and the principles are transferrable.

Why does it matter?

We want students from all backgrounds to have an equal opportunity to access education and be successful. I work on the Clinical Psychology Doctorate Programme which is already a very demanding course. If education is not accessible it can mean an even higher workload, stress, and can impact on learning. Most likely students with a disability have already experienced exclusion and discrimination throughout their lives, including in education.

I previously worked as a Clinical Psychologist in NHS services for children and young people with mental health difficulties, and very often unmet educational needs due to a disability or difference were a key contributor to mental health difficulties. We want the experience of our students to be different, so they feel welcomed and valued. In Clinical Psychology we have been talking a lot about the need for increased diversity in our workforce, and this requires us to keep looking at how we can remove barriers within training. There are also legal requirements to ensure higher education is accessible (e.g. the Equality Act, 2010).

What are the challenges?

Firstly a real challenge for all of us is lack of time. As you may have picked up, I’m very much sold on the importance of inclusivity and accessibility, and yet I still struggle to find the time to implement this and learn more. The same applies for our external contributors who are delivering teaching alongside busy and challenging NHS jobs.

Also when it comes to disability, we can’t ignore issues around unhelpful attitudes, stigma and discrimination. This can vary greatly, but often can be associated with a lack of awareness, experience, and understanding. Our own attitudes and prejudices will naturally transfer to the way in which we teach and our interactions with students and colleagues.

Another interesting challenge which I have observed is the impact of our own differences and needs as lecturers. For example, working online has been a challenge for many of us, needing to rapidly learn new skills at a time when we may be experiencing all kinds of personal challenges due to the pandemic. One of the key recommendations is to send Powerpoint slides at least one week before the lecture – this relies on good organisational skills and processes, and is even harder when we factor in external lecturers, joint teaching sessions, and part-time working.

How can we improve?

  • Accessing resources and training – there is lots of brilliant training available through the University and external resources. I’m currently working on how this can be extended to external contributors to our Programme.
  • Using a template for creating accessible slides so it cuts the time and thinking needed – I was very pleased to see the University have developed an accessible Powerpoint template with guidance attached, I’m now figuring out how to transfer all of my slides to this format for the upcoming academic year.
  • To ensure I send slides ahead of time I set myself a fake deadline and add a reminder in my calendar. I keep my perfectionism in check and aim for “good enough” to avoid procrastinating.
  • When I notice thoughts such as “this is too hard” or “I don’t have time,” I remember my values and why it matters, and get on with doing what I can and making small, manageable changes.
  • Working together with colleagues and students always helps with change – if you have any tips or experiences relating to inclusive pedagogy I would love to hear from you.