Equality or Quality? Developing an inclusive pedagogy in Higher Education

The expansion of higher education, together with the introduction of key disability legislation, has made it incumbent upon universities to ensure that their curricula, the teaching methods they employ and the expectations they have of student learning, do not unfairly discriminate against any particular student or group of students.  In the UK, a common terminology to describe non-discriminatory educational practice is inclusive design or inclusive pedagogy; a similar focus in other countries such as the US and Australia might be termed universal design[1].

The paper chosen for this SoTL seminar details a survey-based research study undertaken to investigate student experiences of learning and assessment at one UK post-1992 university.  The study deliberately includes both disabled and non-disabled students in order to identify whether there are specific issues that the former group may face in their studies, but also to investigate the extent to which there are issues common to both disabled and non-disabled students.  Underpinning this approach is the belief that if higher education is genuinely inclusive it should not treat particular groups of students differently. Rather it should provide an educational experience that all students are able to constructively and fairly engage with irrespective of whether they are considered disabled or not

Set Reading

Madriaga, M., Hanson, K., Heaton, C., Kay, H., Newitt, S. and Walker, A. (2010) Confronting similar challenges?  Disabled and non-disabled students’ learning and assessment experiences, Studies in Higher Education 35 (6), 647-658.

  1. The paper asserts that many previous studies related to inclusive learning and teaching ‘took the non-disabled student voice for granted, placing them in the background as a control group’. The authors suggest that inclusive education should not be so much about ‘equality and diversity’ but rather just ‘quality’ and they therefore include non-disabled students in their study.  Do you agree with this stance?  Are there drawbacks to it?
  2. How robust a piece of research is described in this paper? What are the strengths of the methods used and what are the weaknesses?  Do you find the results, and the conclusions drawn, credible?
  3. How aware are you of what constitutes good inclusive practice? How inclusive do you believe your practice is?

A copy of the paper is available in Paperpile. Please email acdemic-practice@york.ac.uk for access.

[1] The term ‘universal design’ was coined by the architect Ronald Mace.  Mace and his colleagues developed key principles by which they argued products and environments should be designed.  These principles have subsequently been adapted for education as follows:

  1. Equitable use: teaching and materials are accessible by all
  2. Flexible use: a variety of teaching methods and approaches are employed
  3. Simple and intuitive: teaching is straightforward and stripped of unnecessary complexity
  4. Perceptible information: course material is accessible and communicated accessibly, irrespective of a student’s ‘sensory ability’
  5. Tolerance for error: teaching anticipates that different students will learn at different paces and will have different levels of pre-requisite skill
  6. Low physical effort: teaching minimises physical effort so that the learner can focus upon key learning
  7. Size and space: Teaching space is used in such a way that students are not disadvantaged because of their ‘body size, posture, mobility and communication needs’
  8. Community of learners: interaction between students and between students and teachers is encouraged
  9. Instructional climate: students are made to feel welcome, included and high expectations are set for their learning



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