A University of Worcester academic has launched a book working with experts from all over the world exploring how to bring about a more inclusive learning culture to higher education.
Principal Lecturer in Education, Dr Seán Bracken, developed and co-edited the book Transforming Higher Education Through Universal Design for Learning, with contributions from academics, including from the USA, Australia, South Africa and Norway.
“It’s important for all those who interact with a growing diversity of students coming into higher education to have a sound understanding of how to address these students’ social and learning requirements,” he said.
“We want every student to realise their potential because some traditional forms of teaching in higher and further education don’t always facilitate the variety of backgrounds that students come from. Diversity may be seen as problematic, as opposed to thinking about ways that diversity can be incorporated positively into the curriculum and assessment.”
Three years in the making and co-edited by Dr Katie Novak, a Deputy Superintendent of Schools in Massachusetts, the book focuses on learning, teaching and assessment in universities and in colleges of further education.
It provides insights into the ways that Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a concept which puts students at the heart of the learning design process, and helps teachers to realise the potential of all learners. Dr Bracken says what makes the book significant is that it examines learning approaches in other parts of the world and it combines learning theory with ways that are mindful of particular cultural nuances. The book also addresses the potential of modern technology to help broaden accessibility.
The University of Worcester has earned a reputation as being one of the most inclusive institutions in the UK. Earlier this month, the University was ranked No.1 in the UK and 26th globally for Quality Education in the Times Higher Education Global Impact rankings, and also won a Guardian University Award for its work to share its inclusive approach to physical education around the world.
Dr Bracken said UDL methods can help overcome many challenges that students may face, especially those challenges faced by students with disabilities, those for whom English is not a first language, mature students and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
“In the past there was a feeling that professors or teachers’ role was to deliver a curriculum,” he added. “UDL changes the dynamic and says their role is enabling learning. That’s a powerful shift.”
Professor Richard Jackson, from Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, who contributed a chapter to the book and attended the launch, agreed. He said: "When developing modules or courses for higher education, it's best to design from the start with multiple and flexible modes of presentation in mind. Retrofitting for accessibility and usability wastes precious time yielding inadequate solutions.”
Ashiya Satar, an academic from the University of South Africa, who is also a chapter contributor, said: “Universal Design for Learning is the solution to widening access and equity to the increasingly diverse student populations that higher education institutions have been seeing in recent years. This book provides an insight into global applications of UDL in various institutions that is invaluable for all stakeholders in higher education institutions.”