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Equity and Access in Open & Distributed Contexts – EDCI339 Blog 3

Creating a space where there is equitable access to authentic, meaningful and relevant learning environments for all students in varying contexts (online, within the classroom and beyond) is an integral component of supporting a positive and successful learning experience.

In education, equity means “offering individualized support to students that addresses possible barriers” and “provid[ing] people with resources that fit their circumstances” – essentially, it is adaptable, individual-based and fair (Waterford, 2019). By ensuring that all students have suitable access to course materials, choice and opportunity to engage in class activities and experiences, students will be better equipped to immerse themselves in their learning as they grow and develop.

Universal Design for Learning

One of the approaches discussed in this week’s reading is the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, which aims to “guide educational practice that provides flexibility in the ways that information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged” (Basham et al., 2018, p. 480). Consideration and integration of UDL guidelines into your teaching practice is an effective way to ensure equitable access to your students as they are given multiple avenues to think, learn and participate through.

What makes UDL so applicable to all learning contexts is that it advocates for the understanding of “variability being the norm rather than the exception” in working to address the “academic, social and cultural distinctions that exist in today’s schools” (Basham et al., 2018, p. 480). In light of COVID-19 and remote teaching, recognizing the importance of “having a heightened awareness of the inequalities implicit in online education” (Selwyn, 2020) such as differences in technology resourcing, parental support, personal responsibilities is key. Another important aspect in ensuring equity, in addition to utilizing UDL and adopting a digitally-flexible approach, is remembering to display “high levels of digital empathy, care and compassion towards students” (Selywn, 2020) as they attempt to navigate their learning environments alongside new expectations and social and emotional changes.

In designing an equitable learning space, it is also important to consider creating opportunities for students to test new responsibilities, have control, and express themselves and new ideas. Kral and Schwab (2020) suggest several design principles to provide students access to in their learning environment:

  1. A space young people control
  2. A space for hanging out and ‘mucking around’
  3. A space where learners learn
  4. A space to grow into new roles and responsibilities
  5. A space to practice oral and written language
  6. A space to express self and cultural identity through multimodal forms
  7. A space to develop and engage in enterprise
  8. A space to engage with the world

Moving forward

While I already had some previous experience exploring and working with the UDL framework from previous courses and assignments, I found it very interesting and insightful learning how these concepts would translate into an open and distributed context.  After completing this week’s readings, I hope to dive further into researching how to conduct assessment (formative and summative) in online spaces in an equitable and accessible way. I also enjoy sharing my learning through visual ways, so I am curious to discover how visual thinking strategies may play a role in assessment as well.

References 

Basham, J.D., Blackorby, J., Stahl, S. & Zhang, L. (2018) Universal Design for Learning Because Students are (the) Variable. In R. Ferdig & K. Kennedy (Eds.), Handbook of research on K-12 online and blended learning (pp. 477-507). Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University ETC Press.

Kral, I. & Schwab, R.G. (2012). Chapter 4: Design Principles for Indigenous Learning Spaces. Safe Learning Spaces. Youth, Literacy and New Media in Remote Indigenous Australia. ANU Press .​http://doi.org/10.22459/LS.08.2012​ Retrieved from: https://press.anu.edu.au/publications/learning-spaces %EF%BB%BF

Selwyn. N. (2020). Online learning: Rethinking teachers’ ‘digital competence’ in light of COVID-19.[Weblog]. Retrieved from: https://lens.monash.edu/@education/2020/04/30/1380217/online-learning-rethinking-teachers-digital-competence-in-light-of-covid-19

Waterford. (2019, May 2).Why understanding equity vs equality in schools can help you create an inclusive classroom. https://www.waterford.org/education/equity-vs-equality-in-education/

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