From Ghent to Worcester: A pathway for universal inclusion

Dr Sean Bracken, co-Learning and Teaching Lead, Institute of Education

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Patrick Clarke (Specialist Learning Support Service Mnager at Student Services at the University of Worcester) and Dr. Helen Mongan-Ralis (University of Minnesota Duluth) whose erudite discussions and generosity of intellectual spirit have revealed the potentials of Universal Design for Learning.

Two years ago here at the University of Worcester, at one of a series of ‘food for thought’ seminars organised to raise awareness about staff and student intercultural and transnational experiences, a colleague shared her reflections about being ‘othered’ and estranged both within and outside of the university. Her stories have remained with me as a testimony for the need to counter the sometimes overt, but perhaps more frequently unconscious, influences of racial and cultural bias that inform pedagogical, social and cultural practices within and beyond our University.

Some might observe that the sharing of one academic’s experiences is anecdotal and unreliable. However, as a lecturer engaging first year undergraduate students in searching conversations about identity and inclusion in the educational context, time and again students have also shared personal experiences of being harassed and abused because of their ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and/or their religious beliefs. Make no mistake about it – this also impacts on students’ learning outcomes. The lived experiences of inequalities that students encounter are clearly reflected in the data associated with students’ achievements.

Students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are not achieving to the same extent as White students. In many cases, this is despite their arriving at the University from positions of equitable achievement and academic strength. Typical analyses of this situation generally tend to reflect a desire to explain away rather than tackle such inequalities.

It is frequently argued that, firstly the data is not that reliable because there are such small percentages of students involved and secondly, it is suggested that this situation merely mirrors a similar national state of affairs. But as educators, these covering explanations should be troubling and disquieting. Searching questions ought to be posed as to how structural and systematic biases and inequalities might be tackled rather than merely explained away enabling the status quo to continue being so.

At first, such systematic challenges may seem intractable. Individuals or small groups of educators may wish to make a positive difference but become overwhelmed by the apparently deep-seated nature of social inequalities. If social inertia is to be overcome, there is a need to be mindful of the bigger picture while taking forward individual initiatives.

Through interrogating policy developments, reflecting on our learning and teaching processes, and challenging unjust social practices, the tendencies towards exclusion and power exclusivity are highlighted and can be countered. Ultimately, this should lead to a roll back of the ‘business as usual’ so there is growing capacity to tackle replications of social, cultural ethnic or value based biases that compound inequalities. The capacity to effect more sustainable change arises particularly where individual initiatives are seen to contribute to a wider culture of what I would like to call ‘intentional organisational inclusivity’.

University teachers, students and senior leaders may question the forms and processes that would enable such systematic changes to be put into place. Whatever their foundations, these forms and processes should facilitate the stable progressive building of initiatives that are increasingly realistic and sustainable. Resultant emerging actions should be able to demonstrate impact in terms of changed experiences and outcomes for marginalised students.

The good news is that such blueprints for organisational transformation already exist. We can draw on learning shared by those that have faced similar challenges previously and who have developed models and processes enabling ‘intentional organisational inclusivity’ to become the bedrock for initiatives that aim to impact systematically on current values and practices.

Recently, I attended a conference at Howest University in Ghent that showcased how European higher educational providers have adopted and adapted an approach known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a model to make rapid systematic progress towards ‘intentional organisational inclusivity’.

Two particular case studies of whole organisational change were particularly impressive, those of the host University of Howest and of the prestigious McGill University in Canada. In the first instance, Howest adopted a concerted multi-layered approach involving all key stakeholders in the change process. This initiative resulted in demonstrable changes in the levels of retention and engagement of students who were identified as being ‘disadvantaged’. At McGill, the primary focus was upon up-skilling of teaching staff through targeted professional development – sustained collegiate capacity building was seen as crucial for success.

As identified in the publication by Burgstahler and Coy (2008), at its most basic universal design includes consideration of the following dimensions:

  1. Class climate – Ensure to engender a culture of respect for diversity and inclusiveness and insist upon high expectations for all students, this might also involve checking for personal bias through systematic self-reflection and awareness;
  2. Interaction – Promote regular and effective interactions between students and the instructor and ensure that communication methods are accessible to all participants;
  3. Physical environments and products – Enable participation by all students by interrogating whether the physical facilities, learning activities, pedagogical materials, and equipment are accessible to all students and reflective of their diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds;
  4. Delivery methods – Encourage student engagement by using multiple, accessible instructional methods accessible to all learners, for example this might involve the use of lecture capture to enable working students to access learning if the timetables clash with student imperatives to earn additional finances;
  5. Information resources and technology -Ensure that course materials, notes, and other information resources are engaging, flexible, and accessible for all students, there should be consistency of availability in advance of and following taught sessions;
  6. Feedback and feed forward – Provide multiple modes and opportunities for feedback and feed forward,
  7. AssessmentRegularly assess student progress using multiple accessible methods and tools, and use data to adjust instruction accordingly ensure that students and professionals alike become increasingly ‘assessment literate’ through peer interactions, dialogue with lecturers and through systems such as personal academic tutoring;
  8. Accommodation – Plan for accommodations for students whose needs are not met by the instructional design.

At a university level, new learning and teaching initiatives should ensure that these aspects of inclusivity form the foundation for collaborative research projects. These have the very real potential to impact upon two core elements of lived experiences within the university and beyond. These are the social and cultural expressions of student and staff identities and, very importantly, their interrelationships with learning outcomes and professional progression (Burgstahler, 2013).

However, the constructive potential inherent in university initiatives should not be limited to what happens on campus. There is a social imperative to influence ways of thinking and being in wider society. When we dream big we have the capacity to tackle unjust systematic beliefs and practices on a grander scale. For example, through Project Zero, the Government of Norway has shared its aspiration to provide for a whole country that is ‘universal designed’ by 2025. It aims to do so by facilitating social engagement by all and by countering discrimination, accordingly:

The Ministry of Children and Equality is responsible for promoting equality and preventing discrimination on the basis of gender, age, sexual orientation, skin colour, ethnicity, religion or disability. Through this action plan for universal design and increased accessibility, the government is bringing both the equality policy and sustainability policy an important step further. (Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality, 2009: 7).

If a country is working towards the realisation of such an ambitious aspiration, why shouldn’t it be achieved within a university? As exemplified in the collaborative and universal designed nature of the HIVE , the only library in the UK that is at once accessible by the wider public and tailored to meet the needs of university students, the University of Worcester is well placed to provide for a similar ambitious programme of university universal design.

Such an initiative should be developed with the intention of making an impact on wider ways of thinking, doing and being so that universal access and experiences become more than university idylls. Using its good offices, the University has scope to promote this concept of equity, inclusivity and universality within the City of Worcester and wider to incorporate the County of Worcestershire.

The incidences of ‘othering’ shared by my colleague from North Africa, whose experiences I alluded to earlier, were encountered within and beyond the confines of the university. We have recently seen, on both sides of the Atlantic, the dangers arising from divisiveness and inequalities associated with race and ethnicity. More than ever, we now need to articulate a plan for ensuring that our University and our society has the vision, will and capacity to address inequities and to create greater social cohesion. The stakes are too high to merely tinker at the edges of change.

The pathways of universal design offer tangible routes for at least partial redress for social, racial, ethnic and cultural inequalities and our challenge is to avail of the opportunities provided in order to plan for, and bring to fruition, the positive changes for learning and society.

To learn more about the conference focused on UDL, please visit the conference website at:

Burgstahler, S. , & Coy, R. (Eds.). (2008) Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. Boston: Harvard Education Press.

Burgstahler, S. (2013) Universal design in higher education: Promising practices. Seattle: DO-IT, University of Washington. Retrieved from: Accessed, 9th July, 2016.

Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality (2009) Norway universally designed by 2025 The Norwegian government’s action plan for universal design and increased accessibility 2009-2013. Retrieved from: Accessed, 9th July, 2016




Links to Dr Doug Belshaw’s keynote

To follow up from the IoE TEL SDD, here are the links to the keynote and free book offer.


Marie Stowell also circulated these links that you might like to explore:

Making Student Engagement a Reality: Turning Theory into Practice

Learning design has greatest impact on student satisfaction

Inclusive Pedagogy: Principles, Policy, and Practice

Message sent on behalf of Sean Bracken

SHARE AND INSPIRE-Sean Bracken-14-12-2015 (doc1) (003)

 Dear colleagues,

 Given the diversity of our student profiles and mindful of the current focus on widening participation and internationalisation in HE, the need to develop inclusive pedagogical practices has never been greater.  

 Please find attached the flyer for our forthcoming Share & Inspire Seminar entitled Inclusive Pedagogy: Principles, Policy, and Practice which takes place on 14th of December from 11:30-14:00, in EE2009. The seminar will provide key information about the diverse teaching and learning context at Worcester, it will provide insights into current great practice across the university and it will enable space to inform future policy through a hands-on seminar.

The IoE will be well represented so please do support your colleagues and sign up for this seminar here (


Sean and Karen.


IT in Teacher Education Research Fellowship Programme- invitation to apply for a Research Fellowship

The University of Worcester is an institutional member of ITTE (the Association for Information Technology in Teacher Education).


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ITTE Fellowships worth up to £1000 are available to support a Research Fellow to lead a team in the review and synthesis of existing research on a topic of interest within the field of digital technologies in educational settings. Projects should support ITTE’s main aim which is to enhance the use of digital technology in all phases of education through effective teacher education and training and across the range of any UK curriculum.

Applications for a Research Fellowship are welcomed from ITTE members who are Teacher Educators or Researchers in Higher Education or any related teacher training provider, including  staff in Teaching Schools (Alliances, School Direct, Teach First, Strategic Partnerships etc.).

An application must include at least one team member in addition to the Research Fellow.

To Apply for a Fellowship please complete this application form.

Closing date Friday 25th September 2015

For the 18 month period of the award, the Research Fellow will be entitled to use the title ‘ITTE Research Fellow in <the topic>‘ and use the special ITTE logo. If team members are involved (who are not required to be ITTE members) they will be entitled to use the title ‘ITTE Educational Researcher‘ and use the appropriate special ITTE logo.

Project teams will be supported by a dedicated online collaboration workspace provided by Knowledge Hub.

The final outcomes of the Fellowship to be completed within 18 months are expected to be:

  • a research review to be submitted for publication as an academic article in the Association’s journal Technology, Pedagogy and Education;
  • a summary of the findings of the review published as a MESHGuide and written in a form accessible to practitioners;
  • a presentation about the project at an ITTE annual conference in the year of completion.

The outcome of the Phase 1 application round will be announced in October 2015.

To find out more please visit:

Academic librarian update Jennifer Dumbleton

By Jennifer Dumbleton

Module reading lists are useful teaching tools, but as a librarian I have seen firsthand how confusing they can sometimes be for students. When are they supposed to find the time to read all these books? Are some better than others? How do they even know if the boks are relevant to them?

I don’t think the answer is to spoonfeed students all of their reading, but I think it is important to listen to the student perspective on reading lists and their ideas about how to improve them. This term University Librarian Judith Keene, Primary students Sarah Brewster and Ellie Newman, and I  completed a Students as Academic Partners project designed to do just that. The slideshow below shows the background of the project, how it was carried out, and where we hope the work will lead.

Using the new resource list system Aspire, Sarah and Ellie created their own version of the PITE2001 Professional Studies 2 reading list. I have to say I think it’s a good one; it has a lot of breadth, which is appropriate for the subject, and is current. At the same time, though, it reflects their interest in making sure reading lists are assignment relevant, rather than just providing wider reading around the topic of the module. Next year, the student-generated list will run alongside tutor Joy Carroll’s list, and the library will try to compare usage and feedback for the two lists.

I may be biased, but I hope this is the beginning of a renewed interest in reading lists, how they are used and how they influence reading habits. Both Ellie and Sarah seemed to believe the new, easier-to-find lists created in Aspire wouldn’t put them off investigating further, off-list reading. I look forward to seeing what happens next year.

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“Asking the right questions: A study to explore the means by which professional dialogue between learners and teachers can inform new course design” (Area 7)

Karen Blackmore and Michelle Rogers (IoE)

In an environment of rapidly evolving and competitive Higher Education, it is vital for institutions to be flexible in their provision (Alexandra, 2014). This project aims to support the creation of new programs by raising awareness of existing best practice, and augment this with a “learner centred” perspective. The researchers endeavour to discern the key elements of successful program design using a dialogic approach. Our thinking has been influenced from several theoretical perspectives including self-determinism theory (Ryan and Deci, 2006), which describes how adult learners require a degree of autonomy and opportunities to demonstrate competence, through to grounded theory of high quality leadership programs (Eich, 2008). By analysing empirical research data from interested parties (in the form of semi-structured interviews and questionnaires), we aim to design a suite of questions which can be used to prompt discourse surrounding new course design. The study draws on the work of Dolenceon, 2014 who created a structure to guide dialog and enquiry about curriculum. He identified seven key elements of program design and highlighted questioning approaches that could be used to interrogate these components, e.g. “What objectives do the learners seek?” helps to identify the motivations and learning experiences required by learners. “Who are the learners?” attempts to identify to what extent reciprocity exists between these two delineated roles. It is anticipated to use the findings from this study to inform successful future course design.

“Fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment for male students in undergraduate initial teacher education courses” (Area 3)

Rachel Barrell & Dr Colin Howard (IoE)

Current research has highlighted the significant issues surrounding attracting, recruiting and retaining male trainees in ITE, not only during their training, but also once they have entered the primary classroom. The study outlined will investigate the role that ‘male working in partnership groups’ (Male WiPs) can play in engaging and supporting trainees whilst on their undergraduate teacher training programme. In this pilot year a male focused support group was set up as a mechanism of supporting trainees in their development in what statistically is a female dominated course. Issues explored included the feelings of isolation that male trainees feel whilst on school experience and the limited opportunities for males to support one another not only when training but also in their induction year and subsequent course. The initial findings from this pilot year will be discussed and their significance examined in terms of the role that this initiative can play in fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment within male trainees.

“Student Reflections about how Universities support High Level Student Achievement” (Area 2&4)

Will Bowen-Jones (EDU), Lerverne Barber & Nick Breeze (ISES)

This study seeks to better understand the extent to which recently graduated students perceive that their academic potential was realised during their studies. The work is set in the context of what is widely understood in the UK Higher Education sector to be a ‘good degree’ (i.e. a first or upper second class degree). Initial findings indicate that students have differing conceptions of achievement. This supports Hattie and Timperley’s (2007) assertion that the student experience is a complex issue, but a key aspect is their ability to understand how to access the available resources. The principal research question was: To what extent do students perceive their academic potential was realised during their undergraduate studies? Data was collected during 2014, in which a sample of students was asked a series of open-ended questions. The interview questions focused on their aspirations and achievements during their course. The most significant factor which supported academic progress was found to be supportive academic tutors – 62% reported this to be the case. Other significant factors included: effective tutor use of VLE; self-determination; creation of a positive learning environment and open access to online and print journals.

“Final year midwifery students’ views and experiences of telling and listening to practice-related stories” (Area 2&7)

Poster and Oral presentation
Ros Weston, (IHS)
This paper describes preliminary findings of an initial study. The aim was to explore final year midwifery students’ views and experiences of telling and listening to practice-related stories. The chosen methodology was naturalistic interpretative inquiry. The target population was final year midwifery students, registered in one university in the academic year 2014/2015. A small purposive sample of four final year midwifery students was recruited. Three participants took part in a focus group, and one in a conversational interview. Data were electronically recorded, transcribed verbatim and thematically analyzed. Stories assisted students to reflect on practice, helping to make learning more real. Students deliberately retold stories for motivation and support. Storytelling can be cathartic. ‘Cautionary tales’, told by lecturers, about mistakes in practice, motivated students to avoid making mistakes. Mentors’ stories aided students to feel part of a team. Service users’ stories, told in class, helped students to empathize with women in practice. These findings have potential significance for curriculum design, educators and mentors, they will be explored further in the main Doctoral Study.