Module 5: Student Engagement

Accessible Education: Mediating Social Barriers

There are many ways to support students with the social life of your classroom during course design and lesson planning, and in the way you facilitate learning and engagement week to week.

The Accessible Education suggestions below are intended to assist you in welcoming students into a variety of teaching and learning relationships.

Develop and Communicate Explicit Guidelines and Expectations
  • Facilitate a class conversation about classroom norms and guidelines to set up transparent expectations for respect and inclusion. Return to these guidelines periodically and as needed over the term to ensure they are upheld (Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, 2016).
  • Be explicit about any attendance requirements, why they exist, and the essential learning outcomes that can only be achieved through in-person attendance.
    • Consider and make clearly available to students any appropriate alternatives to in-person attendance (including varied access to course materials presented during class) for those who need to miss one or several classes, and how students can access these options. This information will help students prepare for your course and identify when to approach you with specific concerns.
  • Provide explicit instructions and expectations for participation and discussion in both your syllabus and first class, and offer students ongoing feedback on the quality and form of their participation as a group. This helps students know which behaviours are expected and encouraged, and demystifies academic conventions around communication in the classroom (Price, 2011).
Align Actions with Intentions in the Classroom
  • When you’ve expressed a commitment to equity and inclusion, it’s important to align your actions with these intentions. Pay attention to values and ideas expressed in the classroom and take real efforts to respond to prejudice and equity issues as they emerge. This will go a long way towards fostering a collegial and inclusive learning environment where all students feel welcome.

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  • Have you ever thought, “My courses have nothing to do with diversity?” Give Armstrong (2014) a chance to persuade you otherwise.
  • Listen to Dr. Ann Fudge Schormans discuss the importance of responding to ableist and hurtful language use in the classroom in this film clip.

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Facilitate Flexible and Varied Ways to Engage and Connect Build Relationships:

  • Classroom relationships that include and welcome disabled and marginalized students may not happen automatically, so don’t leave them to chance!
  • Demonstrate an interest in student learning by actively cultivating relationships with students, rather than waiting for them to approach you (Vancouver Island University, n.d.).

 

Value Diverse Knowledges:

  • Show appreciation for the life experiences and backgrounds that students bring with them to the classroom by:
    • Inviting and encouraging students to share experiential knowledge during class discussions (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2009); and
    • Encouraging opportunities for collaboration and cooperation, such as through the facilitation of active learning strategies. Engaging and non-competitive group activities can be particularly effective and motivating for non-traditional learners, and can help students develop classroom relationships (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2009; Paul, 2015).
    • Support students in being able to engage with the broader community beyond the classroom, as Dr. Vanessa Watt’s describes in this film clip.

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  • Listen to Dr. Ann Fudge Schormans discuss the importance of valuing diverse student knowledge and encouraging its expression through varied teaching and learning approaches.

 

  • Learn from Dr. Philippa Carter as she explains her flexible approach to group work.

 

  • Hear how Dr. Vanessa Watts develops relationships with students and works with them to meet their learning goals.

  • Browse the Multimodality In Motion project for further ideas on designing academic communities and social infrastructure where everyone is welcome and able to participate (Yergeau et al., 2013).

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Accessible Education: Mediating Social Barriers Copyright © 2017 by McMaster University. All Rights Reserved.

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