Besides reading the Preface below, you can:
- Watch the keynote (69 minutes) I gave at the University of Liverpool T&L conference 2021 about my Inclusive Learning Design approach.
- Listen to this TalkingHE podcast (13 minutes) about how the book came about.
- Watch this MyFest 2023 presentation (49 minutes) of my ‘roots to shoots’ approach.
(Preface from the printed/ebook version)
Peoples of the Earth was the title of the book my teacher gave me as an exit present at the end of my primary school years. I absolutely loved that book: its illustrations, the stories about the Maya, the Masai, Australian Aborigines and many more. For a ten-year-old curious girl living in a small monocultural town in Central Italy, before the age of the Internet, this was a wonderful window on the diversity in the world. As it turns out, I have been fortunate enough to have indeed connected with many ‘peoples of the earth’ both through cultural travel and having lived for over two decades in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, London.
In 2020, just before the pandemic, after over two decades of teaching, my interest in human diversity and the ongoing pedagogical challenge of catering for all the different needs that diversity entails, prompted me to embark on the biggest professional project of my life: writing a book to fill a gap – the need for a practical guide on inclusive learning design for university practitioners.
Taking account of the changed educational landscape post-pandemic, this book is about things you can design for your course that will make it more inclusive. However, it addresses both ‘configuring’ and ‘enacting’ the design (Goodyear and Dimitriadis 2013), going from designing and planning to implementing inclusive learning. Hence, through this book I invite you to see yourself as both the architect (with a design and a vision) and a builder (dealing with the practicalities) of more inclusive learning environments and experiences.
This book is an invitation to reflect on what types of choices you intentionally make regarding learning environments, experiences, activities, tasks, assessment and feedback and to what extent they are inclusive (a term I define further down) in terms of inviting the students to bring their whole selves to the course, feeling valued and having their voices heard about their learning. This implies getting away from a procedural focus on inclusivity towards a broader, all-encompassing approach, viewing learning design as a holistic, iterative process.
Why this book
As a teacher educator, my priority has always been to model and embody inclusive teaching because to me good teaching is inclusive teaching. However, while running the Post-Graduate Certificate in Education, I realised that there is no practical guide to help teachers design more inclusive learning. Yet, there is an urgent need to make our courses more inclusive as the student population grows in numbers and in diversity dimensions.
The writing of this book is the result of many years of designing and redesigning learning experiences; of piloting various teaching approaches to refine my teaching practice; of reading and researching educational theory, including the science of learning; of discussing
practice with colleagues and learning from others; of letting my students teach me about inclusivity. Although writing my ideas about inclusivity in a book is part of my own professional growth and development, it also responds to a very real need within the wider UK Higher Education landscape at a time of historical paradigm shifts within education and society. I believe every teacher needs to seriously ask themselves how inclusive their practice is and how they can design more inclusive learning experiences and environments.
Inclusivity cannot be left to chance any longer—it needs to be intentional and paramount.
My goal in writing this book is to make all educators aware of the critical importance of taking an inclusivity approach to learning design and implementation. Not every teacher knows how to turn inclusive intentions into inclusive practices. Indeed, this book is about making inclusivity a signature pedagogy (Shulman 2005)—or hallmark—of the university course you offer or support. This book will help you develop a clearer picture of where you currently stand, what embedding inclusivity in the curriculum design looks like, and your level of readiness to implement change. This book will meet you where you are and provide a practical roadmap to create more inclusive learning.
In this book I hope to demonstrate how inclusive pedagogies are executable (with no budget) across multiple disciplines, and emerge through dialogue with others by sharing how our own teaching practices have developed in relation to our students, social contexts,
education and life experiences. I advocate inclusivity as an educational habit of heart, habit of mind and habit of hand (Shulman 2005) to cater for each and every student. However, I also propose a realistic appraisal of inclusive approaches by discussing the challenges and logistical issues of designing, implementing and sustaining more inclusive practices.
Through the many case studies presented in the book, you will taste an international menu of ideas and examples of inclusive learning design. Some are reminders of practices which have been discussed for decades, such as ways to support dyslexic students; others
are newer, surfacing (emergent) inclusivity practices that are easy to implement and are well supported both by research and real-life evidence.
Through the prompt questions at the start of every chapter, and through my narrative, examples and case studies, you will have opportunities to reflect on your own formative experiences and perspectives and to consider a range of new approaches to sustain more
inclusive learning environments.
Inclusivity has been talked about for many years, yet it still seems a novel pedagogy—I believe that once people dig a little and grasp the unquestionable necessity of it, it becomes an ‘irreversible’ threshold concept (Meyer and Land 2006) in that it changes
our pedagogical outlook for good.
What does inclusive learning design mean?
In a nutshell:
Inclusive learning design is design that considers the full range of human diversity with its complexity. It is designing learning environments, experiences, activities, tasks, assessment and feedback with students’ voice and choice at its heart, so that students can grow academically, culturally and socially.
The phrase is in the right order as inclusivity (first) is the lens through which all learning (second) should be designed (third). It is also useful to define the three terms individually:
Inclusive. It is an educational mindset and ethos. Each student matters, is valued equally, treated with respect and provided with real learning opportunities tailored to their individual needs as much as possible.
Learning. The process of acquiring new understanding, knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, attitudes and preferences. This book focuses in particular on the things we put in place to prompt learning within a university course.
Design. The creative, purposeful, deliberate and systematic organization of learning environments and experiences. Design informs plans: it provides a means to gain understanding of the complexity of learning so that appropriate plans can be put in place.
The preceding definitions are my attempt at providing statements of meaning for the key words in this book. However, it is not easy to agree on a universally acceptable definition of inclusive learning design. The three words that make up this phrase are each contentious, so their meanings keep evolving and being redefined. They each can have narrow or broad definitions depending on context and what emphasis is sought. For these reasons, rather than fixed definitions, I favour ‘broader understandings’ that reflect the complexities of education and that acknowledge that how we define and understand terms is context bound (McArthur 2021). Also, definitions are provisional: they evolve, are reviewed and modified as practice changes, as we change as educators and as the wider world changes. I discuss the definition and three words that make up ‘inclusive learning design’ in more depth in the ‘Background’ section.
Who this book is for
This is a book for anyone in education who is interested in more inclusive practices at university. As it is a practical guide, it will be of particular interest to university academics such as teachers and lecturers in the UK and other Anglophone countries (faculty in the US), tutors, instructors and similar roles—all those with direct classroom responsibilities.
It will also be useful to:
- Educational developers, academic developers and other teacher educators
- Practitioners such as: Third space professionals or ‘para-academics’ (such as support
staff, librarians, technical tutors, study skills tutors, mentors and similar roles)
- Learning designers, instructional designers, e-learning developers and other similar roles
- Quality teams
- Researchers and scholars in: education, learning design and of course inclusivity
- Leaders (such as teaching and learning deans or directors; other programme directors
or deans and similar roles)
A note on the way I address you, the reader. As the main audience for this book is university teachers, I have chosen to refer to you as academics or as teachers, interchangeably. I will often include myself in the discussion by using the term ‘we’.
Whether you are new to teaching or have years or decades of experience, this book has something for everyone—something to think about and hopefully something to try out. It is a resource deliberately oriented to practice which showcases a wide variety of learning design responses from diverse contexts while remaining grounded in commitments to inclusivity.
Using the powerful metaphor of a tree with roots and branches, I discuss (1) the values— at the roots—that should inform our inclusive design; (2) the context—how to set up the course and its space and how to engage students; (3) the content—how to provide input and practice in a more inclusive way; (4) the assessment—what outputs to design for students and how to design inclusive feedback; and (5) the critical area of curriculum evaluation. Through the sections of the book and using a plethora of lived examples, I invite you to travel from ‘roots to shoots’, from the values to the design dimensions and practices.
Head to the companion website inclusivelearningdesign.com to read the Key concepts and background chapter where I provide further details about inclusive learning design, why this book is needed and why now, my educational philosophy and my ‘show rather than tell’ approach in writing this book.
I acknowledge my cultural and social roots in the Global North. I was born and raised in Italy but have lived the second half of my life in London, UK. As such, my education and professional life and identities have been shaped by European views and values.
I acknowledge that my skin colour and cultural background have given me and continue to give me some privileges both in the Global North and in the Global South. I acknowledge the pain and damage done by various forms of colonisations, of which we are still reaping the effects in both the Global North and in the Global South.
Through cultural travel, learning languages and extensive voluntary work, I have always sought to question my stance and grow in new directions. My life as a cultural nomad in many lands has enriched me enormously and provided me the inspiration to write this book to further the conversation about inclusive educational practices, in an attempt to change the current educational narrative. It is my heartfelt hope that this book might contribute to lifting new faces and new voices alongside more experienced academic ‘giants’ so that we may, all together, create a better way of teaching and learning for the benefit of all involved.
A note regarding the use of language, acronyms and ‘labels’: I aim to be as respectful as possible towards all in a rapidly changing socio-cultural landscape, so I apologise for any unintentional mistakes in my use of language, but I would be grateful to be alerted to it to inform future use. You can connect with me on Twitter using my handle @VirnaRossi or via email.
Goodyear, P. and Dimitriadis, Y. (2013). ‘In Medias Res’: Reframing Design for Learning. Research in Learning Technology, 21. doi: 10.3402/rlt.v21i0.19909
McArthur, J. (2021). The Inclusive University: A Critical Theory Perspective Using a Recognition‐Based Approach. Social Inclusion, [online] 9(3), 6–15. Available at: https://www.cogitatiopress.com/socialinclusion/article/view/4122/4122
Meyer, J. and Land, R. (2006). Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge. New York: Routledge.
Shulman, L.S. (2005). Signature Pedagogies in the Professions. Daedalus, 134(3), 52–59. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20027998
Rossi, V. (2023) Inclusive Learning Design in Higher Education – A Practical Guide to Creating Equitable Learning Experiences. London: Routledge