Diversity and difference at Middlesex



The closing remarks at a recent Erasmus conference held for Middlesex International Week  (10 February) by the Vice Chancellor praised our diversity and reflected on the issue of how we make ‘difference’ integral to learning.  He proposed that ‘we need students who are both prepared and diverse if we are to be an exciting, vibrant university where everyone learns to work with one another across differences; to share knowledge, understandings and perspectives; to criticise one another’s models freely and find optimal solutions together’ (Professor Tim Blackman, 2016).  This is not (I suspect) an approach to homogenisation but celebrating diversity and starts with the ability to recognise and build upon it.  This is also a core tenet in European education approaches and is advocated with policy and the updated meeting by European Education ministers (Paris Declaration: http://ec.europa.eu/education/news/2015/documents/citizenship-education-declaration_en.pdf) not to mention the plethora of equality and disability legislation and associated responsibilities for reasonable adjustments. 

However this is an apparent reductionist approach and what is currently espoused academically is a more holistic approach. The Higher Education Academy advises us to revisit our teaching and engage with the learning needs of ALL students by adopting inclusive pedagogies to benefit all further asserting that inclusive learning and teaching benefits more groups by drawing on the strengths of students from varied and different backgrounds. It is not however about providing ‘remedial’ or ‘special’ measures for certain groups of students rather maximising potential for all. This is a serious issue and appears to affect many if not all areas of student engagement at higher education evident recently in exploration of academic literacy. The question remains: what does this looks like within curriculum design and day to day teaching. Inclusive pedagogies are topical but how this translates into practice is also diverse and emergent (still) in literature. Day to day practice for example has usefully been espoused in a series of support materials and advice for example Universal Design for Learning (UDL) or Monash University’s resources for Inclusive Teaching.  This is a critical issue. Undergraduate retention and attainment across the disciplines, published by the HEA, 2014   ‘Recent research indicates that students from diverse backgrounds participate, persist and attain in HE at different rates.’  The area of diversity is replete with approaches to types of students strategies to engage, widen access, support, transition and progression plus final achievements including employability. The key questions are what works best and what strategies need to be disseminated widely.  The HEA devised a framework to engage and support a key areas of focus for fulfilling the aspiration for student success including access, retention, attainment and progression.   The remains a key responsibility of all staff. Instead of providing something different or additional for those who experience difficulties in their learning, inclusive pedagogy seeks to extend what is ordinarily available to everybody (Florian and Black-Hawkins, 2011).  The challenge is how you approach it for your area. Any advice and ideas or reflections are most welcome.
 

Blackman, T (2016) Diversity Narrative: Intranet summary.   https://www.intra.mdx.ac.uk/news-views/news/2016/february/diversity-narrative
Florian, L. and Black-Hawkins, K., 2011. Exploring Inclusive Pedagogy. British Educational Research Journal, 37(5), pp. 813-828.

Sheila Cunningham (Associate Professor)


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