04 SES 12 B, Shaping a More Inclusive Educational Environment: Developing effective practices
The aim of the paper is to present a research about inclusive cultures (Booth & Ainscow, 2014) for a group of university students. This dimension is significant to contrast exclusion because it creates a secure, accepting, collaborating and stimulating community. Specifically, the construct of accessibility to knowledge has been explored and the dimensions that can serve as facilitators or barriers. Concerningknowledge, its accessibility implies to be understandable, available and usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible. Increasing accessibility to knowledge means increasing participation and promoting flexibility in the identification of multiple ways for knowledge access. These words – participation, flexibility, pluralism – are part of Universal Design (Center for Universal Design, 1997), based on the idea of access for all individuals (Embry et al., 2005). In UD there are two approaches: Universal design for learning (UDL) is a universal-oriented approach to curriculum design that emphasizes the need for flexibility and encourages to consider a framework for designing courses that provide multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement (CAST, 2013; Pliner & Johnson, 2004). Universal design for instruction (UDI) is an approach to instructional design that uses inclusive instructional strategies to benefit a broad range of learners through the application of UD principles to the instructional design process (McGuire et al., 2006; Black et al., 2015).
The research questions for this study were: (a) What perspectives do students have of access to knowledge, instructional methods and strategies for learning? (b) How do their perspectives align with the principles of UDL/UDI?
The study has been realized in two phases. 1. The first one has involved a group of students of three courses in Padova University. The specific aim was to explore perceptions about the role of teachers’ values and practices in promoting access to knowledge, trying to understand which elements serve as facilitators or barriers (beliefs and values, instructional practices and methods, assessment procedures). The purpose of this part of the study was to explore the students’ perspectives on teaching methods and strategies for learning, and to evaluate the “inclusivity” of these methods and strategies from their point of view in relation to UD principles. Participants: the attending students of 3 courses (in total 144 students, all belonging to the Humanities area). Instruments: A questionnaire with closed and open-ended questions has been used in order to collect data from students. The questionnaire has been developed at the University of Rosario (Argentina) by the group research coordinated by Prof. Norberto Boggino. The 10 questions are aimed at exploring the meanings of learning, difference and accessibility; the role of instructional strategies as facilitators vs. barriers to knowledge access; the role of assessment; the typology of specific barriers to knowledge access. 2. The second phase of the research has been realized as an in-depth exploration of the same issues in a specific course: Scienze della Formazione Primaria - the in-training course for early childhood and primary teachers. The aim was twofold: on one hand the importance of collecting data about these themes by in-training teachers considering their alignment with UDL/UDI principles (teachers are relevant actors for promoting inclusive cultures) and on the other side, the importance of the use of these data for implementing a training focused on these issues. Participants: 154 students of Scienze della Formazione Primaria (82 from University of Padova and 72 from University of Huelva, Spain). Instrument: A questionnaire divided into 6 sections (1. Facilitators of inclusion, 2. Barriers to inclusion, 3. Moving toward inclusion, 4. Inclusion language, 5. Entitlements, 6. Beliefs about accessibility and participation) for a total of 78 items (scale of agreement from 1 to 4) has been developed starting from the instrument used in the first phase and then enriched (additional questions were added based on the principles of UDL/UDI) in order to obtain specific data about inclusive cultures and values of in-training teachers.
Among the aspects that could contribute to promote accessibility in educational contexts, students reported that the main aspect is related to the opportunity of receiving multiple options for being engaged and motivated, as well as providing flexible curricula and projects. Both these aspects show that the students’ perspectives are aligned with UDL/UDI thinking. About barriers, the most indicated barrier is “comprehension” (38%), that is “the difficulty of understanding and making connections between the material presented in class”; the second barrier is “instructional” (27%), i.e. lessons timetable, complexity of contents, past knowledge, assessment procedures. The third barrier is “institutional” (11%): the course structure (fixed times and spaces) does not allow a full and significant learning. A last interesting barrier is the so-called “relational” (11%): these students also found that they meet a contextual barrier for interaction and the creation of positive relationships among students. Another emerged major theme is the difference between accessibility and usability: it’s not sufficient to talk about accessibility, being able to access to some material, but also usability, being able to use them with satisfaction (Sapp, 2007). The study confirm that the UD principles are useful to design accessible and usable instructional activities by a broad range of students. Since UD can be considered as a model for good teaching generally (Schelly et al., 2011), the strength is in improving learning opportunities for all students by providing always a choice: in methods, in language, in managing information, in comprehension, in support. It “proactively builds in features to accommodate the range of human diversity” (McGuire et al., 2006, p. 173) offering “universally designed” solutions that can be used and enjoyed by everyone (Immordino et al., 2007). Results will be presented in relation to Universal Design principles. Differences among Italian and Spanish students will be presented.
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