Diversified, relevant and creative
This chapter discusses three characteristics that make our input more inclusive and memorable: it needs to be diversified, relevant and creative.
Diversified input applies to the mode in which the information is presented or accessed; to the variety of activity types we design and it also refers to the need of culturally diversified input, which links back to the root-value ‘liberating’ and to decolonisation.
Relevant refers to learning that creates a real connection with the lives and interests of the students, it’s learning that supports their holistic growth and also helps them integrate in the world beyond academia more easily.
Creative refers to ways of making the input innovative, for instance through playful approaches to teaching and learning and kinaesthetic activities.
About the case studies
There are 13 case studies in this chapter: seven under ‘diversified’, two under ‘relevant’ and four under ‘creative’. Ten are in the printed/ebook edition while three are on this webpage, below.
1. In the printed/ebook edition, there is an initial case study entitled ‘Universal Design for Learning: Using multiple formats of representation to engage and support staff in understanding accessibility’ by Tracy Galvin and Jen McParland (Northern Ireland) about how applying UDL principles to content design has meant producing content in multiple formats to cater for various learning needs: watch a 2-minute video of the authors discussing their use of UDL.
The next 3 case studies tackle various cognitive science aspects to diversify course content: scaffolding; chunking & checking; and making learning visible.
2. In the printed/ebook edition, read a case study by Lisa Low, Alexandra Sanderson and Helen Handley (HK), about the importance of reducing cognitive load and effectively using scaffolding to allow for deeper learning at a pace the students can handle.
3. Here below, in a case study entitled ‘Inclusive communication, including chunking and checking’, Vicki Dale (Scotland) applies a medical communication model more broadly to explain how chunking the content into smaller units and ongoing checking for understanding can support more inclusive input design.
Inclusive communication, including chunking and checking
By Vicki Dale (Scotland)
This brief case study is derived from an idea that teaching is essentially an act of communication, between the teacher and students, and between students as peers. The idea that effective communication underpins learning and teaching is not new; Laurillard (2013) acknowledged the importance of multi-way communication in e-learning, and this is replicated in the work of Gonzalez (2012) who identified knowledge construction and communication as a higher form of e-learning than more transmissive approaches, echoing different approaches to traditional learning (Trigwell et al 1999). All this suggests that learning and teaching is a dialogic process, and given that education is an act of care, it therefore mirrors clinical communication.
I adapted a veterinary communication skills framework (Radford et al 2006) for veterinary education more broadly (Dale 2008). This framework can also offer a structured, student-centred approach to e-learning, allowing the teacher to build and maintain a rapport with students while structuring and scaffolding learning. The framework is shown in the image below, with each component explained in turn.
Image: Clinical communication framework adapted for digital education
As you Prepare the session, you anticipate the expectations and experiences of your learners; what accessibility requirements might they have? Are there likely issues of varying digital literacies or digital equity? What technical or pedagogical issues might arise?
As you Initiate the session, establish a rapport by introducing yourself and allowing learners to introduce themselves, providing a welcoming body language and tone (either visually in video, or using emojis or being attentive to written language). In a synchronous online session, some students may feel more comfortable introducing themselves in the chat rather than via audio or video. From a student-centred approach, the session agenda should be negotiated with learners.
As you Gather information from your learners, ask about their concerns, and find out what they already know about a topic. Here, you could use a poll to allow students to choose and discuss their answer or encourage them to post their thoughts in a discussion forum or chat window. Be open to picking up verbal cues (language) or non-verbal cues (silence, emojis, tone).
As you Provide explanations, be sure to pitch explanations at an appropriate level for your students. One way to do this is through ‘chunking and checking’; deliver your content in small bite-sized chunks to prevent cognitive overload and use visual aids appropriately and in accordance with copyright and accessibility requirements. Recent advice for online and blended learning recommends ‘chunking’ longer traditional lectures into digital mini-lectures (Nordmann et al 2020), interspersed with activities and reflection points where you can ‘check’ that learners are meaningfully engaging with course concepts. Asynchronous checkpoints could be provided as discussion forum posts, multiple choice questions or interactive exercises, e.g. created using H5P, an interactive content plugin for VLEs. Synchronous checkpoints could be provided as an opportunity to ask questions verbally in a live webinar or posting contributions in a chat window.
The Examination stage (a physical exam in the clinical setting) could include ‘checking’ activities such as those already described, or formative assessment techniques such as the one-minute paper, muddiest point, or think-pair-share activity (Angelo and Cross 1993). Webinar breakout rooms could support the latter, allowing learners to check in with each other.
As you Close the session, you should summarise what has been covered, and forward-plan in terms of signposting to the next session, to allow students to build a schema of the different course concepts and how they relate to each other.
Taking such a structured and supportive approach to synchronous or asynchronous e-learning should help all learners, involving them in the learning process and providing a safe and supportive learning environment where they gain regular feedback throughout the sessions and course overall.
In practice, I have used these techniques in my own teaching, on the PGCAP in Academic Practice at the University of Glasgow. Particularly during the pandemic, requiring a fast transition to remote and blended delivery, it was important to be particularly clear and inclusive to learners studying at a distance. For example, I include chunked mini-lectures in my courses, interspersed with activities designed to encourage students to reflect on their own practice, or engage in communication with peers to share their experiences. Setting a constructive, welcoming tone is essential to encouraging participation, particularly from less confident learners who may be reluctant to communicate their understanding in front of peers.
Angelo, T.A., and Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. (2nd Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Dale, V.H.M. (2008). Effective communication in the classroom. Educational methods and technologies in undergraduate veterinary medicine: a case study of veterinary teaching and learning at Glasgow, 1949-2006 (Doctoral dissertation, University of Glasgow, http://theses.gla.ac.uk/339/), pp.344-347.
González, C. (2012). The relationship between approaches to teaching, approaches to e-teaching and perceptions of the teaching situation in relation to e-learning among higher education teachers. Instructional Science 40(6): 975-998. doi: 10.1007/s11251-011-9198-x
Laurillard, D. (2013). Rethinking university teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies. Routledge.
Nordmann, E., Horlin, C., Hutchison, J., Murray, J-A., Robson, L., Seery, M.K. and MacKay, J.R.D. (2020). 10 simple rules for supporting a temporary online pivot in higher education. PsyArXiv Preprints. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1008242
Radford, A., Stockley, P., Silverman, J., Taylor, I., Turner, R., Gray, C., Bush, L., Glyde, M., Healy, A., Dale, V. and Kaney, S. (2006). Development, teaching, and evaluation of a consultation structure model for use in veterinary education. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 33(1), pp.38-44. doi: 10.3138/jvme.33.1.38
Trigwell, K., Prosser, M. and Waterhouse, F. (1999). Relations between teachers’ approaches to teaching and students’ approaches to learning. Higher Education, 37(1), pp.57-70.
Cognitive overload is a major barrier to students’ learning. One way of avoiding it is by chunking the content, so it is provided in bite-size chunks.
The challenge is for us teachers to have the big picture of the learning at hand clear in mind (the big ideas and thresholds) and being able to create short input for each meaningful piece of learning students need.
This can require more time than speaking a topic in one go. However, we could see this as an investment: for example, if we make good quality chunked videos or one-pagers that we can reuse for every iteration of the course, we will have a growing, inclusive bank of materials we can draw on. The optimal length of chucked materials depends on the topic, the level and the make-up of the cohort, but the idea is to produce bite-size input, something that can easily be taken in, in one go.
4. In the printed/ebook edition read a case study entitled ‘Making thinking and learning visible in our classes’, by Margarita del Pilar Silva Rojas (Mexico) discusses one way of checking learning: allowing students to show it to us, in a visible way.
5. In the printed/ebook edition, regarding diverse activity types, read a case study by Joanne Tippett (UK) entitled ‘Kinaesthetic and active learning’ which discusses hands-on activities which literally move students to learn.
6. Here below, regarding culturally diversified content read a case study by Edward Windus (UK), entitled ‘Inclusive Reading Lists’ which discusses the role of a culturally responsive, digital and live reading list.
Inclusive Reading Lists
By Edward Windus (UK)
How do we make a reading list as inclusive as possible? My aim was to include material that appeals to every student in my class – an entire extremely diverse cohort – and make it as accessible as I could. I’m going to briefly share some strategies that resulted in dramatically increasing reading in a module on the Film Industry for a class of around 180 students I taught as part of a BA (Hons) Digital Film Production.
Integrated electronic reading list
The core of the course is an integrated electronic reading list. I used Talis, an online resource list management system.
As a list of online articles, YouTube videos and other resources, an integrated electronic reading list is already an effective tool that can be embedded on learning platforms and sent as a link to individual students, for instance by e-mail as well as posted regularly on the virtual learning environment (VLE) (Naik 2021). It’s useful for the neurodivergent or those who need more time to read, for instance non-native speakers, as it allows them to plan ahead and, in some cases, to start reading before the course begins. Using a mobile platform supports mobile learning and can reduce issues of access/accessibility: some students told me they were reading downloaded pdfs on their phone on the train to university.
Integrated electronic reading lists such as Talis allow personalisation options such as: zoom in, keyboard navigation for most functions, speech recognition software and screen reader.
The electronic reading list can be more easily navigable if divided into sections. At the University of Worcester, the most popular Talis reading list of over 1,000 items long was subdivided by theme. Electronic reading lists therefore act as a curated space of reputable sources, guiding students away from websites, vlogs and blogs that might contain generally questionable quality material and directing them towards more reputable sources of information.
I’ve found it most effective combining online resources and physical resources with library digitisation of the legal copyright allowance of a single chapter, which has the added advantage of focusing the reading on the most relevant sections of a reference (Wilson 2021).
To encourage flipped learning, I set reading of chapters or articles every week, and I allocated time to discuss them. I also scheduled slots to catch up on reading within the class or in a break. This ensured all students understood where the Talis link was online and how it worked, for instance how to find the embedded pdf chapter. This has resulted in increased use of references in reflective essays. The library reported increased visits and requests to borrow books, in particular relating to the #MeToo movement and on Black Cinema. This was supplemented by students asking for lecturers’ and librarians’ recommendations on a vast range of topics (Clark 2019).
A digital, ‘live’ reading list allowed reading and watching lists to be integrated, which had a tangible effect on essay writing, steering students towards reputable recommended material. In conjunction with an up-to-date, decolonised reading list with an international bias (in my case Latin American and Asian cinema), this increased engagement and a sense of empowerment for students. Most importantly the course content does not need to be aimed at a single common denominator; instead, the modern-day equivalent of the library of Alexandria can be at your students’ fingertips.
Image: A live, integrated digital reading list supports inclusivity through (1) diverse resource types and (2) its instant accessibility on multiple devices, anytime, anywhere.
Clark, I. (2019). The role of the library in decolonising. [online] Medium. Available at: https://ijclark.medium.com/the-role-of-the-library-in-decolonising-f749a6bc912a
Naik, N. (2021). How have universities re-evaluated their e-content approach? [online] Talis. Available at: https://talis.com/2021/05/18/how-have-universities-re-evaluated-their-e-content-approach/
Wilson, J. (2021). How to develop inclusive reading lists for distance and blended learning. [online] Times Higher Education. Available at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/campus/how-develop-inclusive-reading-lists-distance-and-blended-learning
Reading lists can be a main barrier to students’ engagement with relevant literature if they are required to buy several expensive books per module and if they are a list of hard copies books only (not all students can carry heavy books on their backs and we may struggle to provide enough library copies for all). Having free access to core digital resources is vital for inclusivity.
Technology clearly plays a part here to make materials more accessible and to support specific learning needs. Providing an accessible, digital and live reading list means students can instantly access the materials, for instance using their mobiles in their commute time.
The reading (and watching) needs to be set out in doable chunks, for instance asking for a particular chapter or small section to be read (accompanied by advance organisers as explained in chapter 5). We could indicate how many pages or minutes the resource is, so students can plan their study time.
As mentioned in the case study, we should also dedicate time in class to discuss how to make effective use of the digital reading list, avoiding making assumptions about students digital and information literacy capabilities.
7. In the printed/ebook edition, read a case study, by Kolton Lee and Rosemary Stott (UK) entitled ‘Applying critical race theory to teaching Film in Higher Education’ which discusses how the authors have created a learning environment and experience where students are provided with a critical lens on the ‘standard’ curriculum.
8. In the printed/ebook edition read a case study by Camille Dickson-Deane (Australia) entitled ‘Learning within context’ which discusses how academics can link studies and the post-university world of work, while making students better citizens.
9. In the printed/ebook edition read a case study by Aranee Manoharan (UK), entitled ‘Facilitating ‘real-world’ learning through community and industry engagement’ which illustrates ways in which we can provide more relevant learning experiences by making connections with industry and community engagement
10. In the printed/ebook edition, read a case study by Adrienne Baytops Paul (USA) entitled ‘Game On: Cultivating educational discourse through digital game boards’ read about playing and creating games to help students learn mathematics and watch the author’s video to learn more.
11. In the printed/ebook edition, reads a case study by Divya Kapoor (India), entitled ‘Art Integrated Learning’ which discusses the why and the how of art integrated learning.
12. In the printed/ebook edition read a case study by Ourania Varsou (UK) entitled ‘Online Teaching Using Medical and Anatomical Imagery to Explore Research Methods’ which discusses how anatomical art supports the learning of research methods.
13. Here below, read a case study by Elaine Fisher (UK) about ‘LEGO © Serious Play’ on a teacher education course. You will notice how using a kinaesthetic tool such as LEGO© helped teacher-students represent and articulate some of the tricky thresholds they encountered on the course.
LEGO© Serious Play
By Elaine Fisher (UK)
Cultivation of the imagination requires serious thinking outside of the box to truly develop what is often required: “student innovation”. Students using creative exercises such as Lego © Serious Play find them powerful tools in enhancing group dynamics to produce proactive thought. This article describes challenges, results achieved and future development to produce greater synergies in differing contexts for groups and individuals.
The intention was to support staff by enhancing their practice to facilitate inclusivity, innovation and promote the articulation of difficult ideas which they could then explore with their students. Creativity-based workshops can break down normal barriers such as shyness, conformity to established norms or fear of trying unusual ideas: ‘the efficacy of this methodology for student learning across disciplines and its role in maintaining student energy, engagement and concentration (particularly helpful for students with attention deficit disorder or dyslexia), noting also that adopting three dimensional, kinaesthetic approaches helps students cross barriers of language and learning culture and strengthens memories of experiences’ (James 2015).
In the context of our internal teacher education course, participants were asked to undertake several activities that would encourage them to consider how they would represent core attitudes, beliefs, values or other ideas they had in how they approached their teaching, using LEGO to build that representation. The photo below shows one such representations.
Once the LEGO creation was ready, teacher-students used it to elaborate and articulate their educational philosophy, engaging in peer discussion of each other’s model.
Image: Creativity, teamwork with enhanced critical reflection
Impact of creative-based exercises
Innovative thinking may require stepping from linear paths and bringing a more creative flow to cognitive processes (Gauntlett 2007) which can facilitate or support this process. Handling or manipulating physical objects can make the theoretical/esoteric more concrete, so for students studying ideologies or concepts which they are finding hard to understand breaking this down into the production of models which they can handle can often produce the ‘aha’ moment.
Initial evaluation showed that participants enjoyed the experience, produced enhanced memorisation of topics and created many new ideas. Many lecturers spoke in their feedback of how they could use exercises to explain assessments which had proved challenging in the past. This resulted in their students feeling they engaged more critically with subjects and enhanced links with others thereby strengthening team working.
Staff who teach English for Academic Purposes found that students learn better through discovering knowledge themselves via finding practical applications and so using a practical tool such as LEGO can prove invaluable. Making something with their hands can feel empowering and can spark creativity that simply does not come from reading or listening passively to instructions.
Architecture staff were more attuned to using models but felt that the freedom that could come from self-exploration would also promote more creativity and a desire to explore more of their own personal values and thoughts. Students have reported that using play has helped them to unlock the way that they think as they are able to consider theoretical applications and ideas in more concrete terms.
Accountancy students reported that this was far removed from what they considered “traditional” learning for their subjects. Using creative exercises seriously enhanced memorisation of technical topics, enabled group discussions and broke up “dry” sessions.
Challenges and development
Using creative exercises was clearly not for all lecturers – it required risk-taking, flair at generating enthusiasm and ability to differentiate approaches with different groups of students. But (Collison and Parcel 2001) “to capture the synergies it is necessary to acknowledge the differences and learn from them”. Lego © Serious Play enhanced student feedback, improved creative thought and increased critical reflection, which all support a more inclusive learning experience.
Collison, C. and Parcell, G. (2001). Learning to fly: practical knowledge management from leading and learning organisations. Capstone Publishing Ltd, Chichester.
Gauntlett, D. (2007). Creative Explorations: New Approaches to Identities and Audiences. Routledge, Oxon.
James, A. (2015). Learning in Three Dimensions: Using Lego Serious Play for Creative and Critical Reflection Across Time and Space. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-10482-9_17
LEGO supports inclusivity because: it transcends language, age and cultural barriers providing a universal language; it is playful and engages students in a non-threatening way; it can be a powerful ‘mediating artefact’ (Conole 2008) to represent difficult and complex concepts.
Challenges for teachers: the cost and storage of LEGO; not being comfortable handling LEGO; not knowing how to design a LEGO activity.
Possible solutions: teachers could pool resources to buy a shared LEGO set (perhaps second hand), or the Library could buy one for the whole department (or even institution) it can be re-used for years and in many different ways; or someone might be able to lend their kids’ LEGO for classroom use; teachers could also share ideas on why, when and how to use LEGO in their context.
Challenges for students: for students with dyspraxia characteristics, using LEGO can be counterproductive as they may not see the physical/spatial relationships; others may have conditions affecting their fine motor skills which makes manipulating small pieces very challenging.
Possible solutions: if we know using LEGO is not suitable for some of our students, we should agree with them a suitable alternative such as drawing or using digital images and tools.