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What is inclusive course design? 4 key principles to consider when designing an inclusive course

Nhi Nguyen
April 28, 2022

Last week on February 17, FeedbackFruits hosted our first webinar of 2022: “Engagement that lasts: Best strategies for inclusive course design”

During the webinar, Linda Lee – Director of Instructional Design at the Wharton School, together with Dan Hasan – Content Specialist at FeedbackFruits discussed the importance of Inclusive Course Design, along with the best pedagogical practices for creating meaningful engagement moments and feedback loops in any classroom size and modality.

For those who couldn’t attend, this article will go through the key takeaways that you, as an education expert, can’t afford to miss! You can also rewatch the webinar and download the slides, now available on our website.

Also, during the webinar, we introduced our latest ebook – "Quality online teaching and learning: Achieving the higher education we deserve". This ebook promises to be your go-to guide when it comes to designing quality courses in any settings (online, hybrid, blended or hyflex).

Table of Contents

1. The impact of the pandemic

2. How to incorporate FeedbackFruits' tools to support the Flipped Classroom Model

3. How to implement Inclusive Course Design?

4. Inclusive Course Design at the Wharton School

The impact of the pandemic

Upon opening the webinar, Dan immediately pointed us to the fact that the pandemic has amplified the pre-existing gaps in our current educational practices, thus leading to 4 major issues, starting with the state of uncertainty. Having to adapt to different course modalities (online, hybrid and blended) contributes to the negative impact on teaching and learning. Unpredictable variables happen that could disrupt students’ learning, like poor Internet connection can lead to students missing important classes. At the same time, the lack of visibility or physical interactions reduces student engagement, leading to decreased academic performance.

“Especially in group assignments, it is impossible to gauge the dynamics. How can you tell where you are in the learning trajectory, let alone give personal guidance to each student while facilitating meaningful learning experiences.” - Dan Hasan

This uncertainty then leads to lack of support for both instructors and students, which eventually resulted in burnout and stress. Another issue is corrosion of the learning community, arising from the limitation in time to check in with each student or provide direct feedback as compared to offline classrooms. Isolation and exclusion of students is another part of this problem. Traditional one size fits all model of teaching no longer works in this situation, it instead just amplifies the division between high and low performing students.

All these factors eventually culminated in what we call the crisis of inclusive engagement. That is, students have fewer opportunities to engage in meaningful interactions with teachers or their peers, which hinders the development of lifelong skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, feedback delivery and reception, and so on.

It is high time that institutions work towards achieving “the higher education we deserve” – a learning environment where students are the knowledge owners, instructors become the facilitators, and faculties remain agile and flexible to any changes needed. In other words, flexible and inclusive pedagogy should be the key to facilitating a fruitful learning experience for students in the future and beyond.

So how can instructors implement flexible and inclusive pedagogy that increase visibility, transparency; include formative and programmatic assessment; give opportunities for meaningful peer learning and collaboration; at the same time foster lifelong skills; utilize pedagogical technology effectively, and cater to students’ wellbeing?

At FeedbackFruits, we believe in the power of innovative pedagogical practices in driving educational transformation. And technology provides the tools to support educators - the driving force behind pedagogy in achieving the higher education we deserve. By working closely with institutions worldwide, the team developed a suite of 14 pedagogical tools, allowing instructors to facilitate different learning activities in any course modalities. Each tool, if used individually, supports specific learning activities or assessment like peer review, reading comprehension, or online discussion. However, teachers can combine different tools in harmony to maximize the effectiveness of different teaching approaches.

How to incorporate FeedbackFruits' tools to support the Flipped Classroom model

Student engagement tends to fluctuate throughout the course. They are much less engaged in learning after the first few weeks, then picked up again towards the end when the exam period starts. The challenge then remains: How do we keep students engaged and activated throughout the whole course?

Using a FeedbackFruits tool is a solution to tackle a course design challenge, such as enabling collaboration with Group Member Evaluation or using Interactive Study Material to ensure student engagement prior to class. And to even further capitalize on active knowledge uptake, application, collaboration, and reflection, all FeedbackFruits tools can be used together in harmony.

That’s why the FeedbackFruits team created the “Flipped Classroom journey” to show how you can maximize the benefits of our tool suite in the Flipped Classroom model. This graphic details in 11 steps how the journey from the start to finish of a course can be supported by FeedbackFruits pedagogical toolsuite.

The impact of the pandemic

Upon opening the webinar, Dan immediately pointed us to the fact that the pandemic has amplified the pre-existing gaps in our current educational practices, thus leading to 4 major issues, starting with the state of uncertainty. Having to adapt to different course modalities (online, hybrid and blended) contributes to the negative impact on teaching and learning. Unpredictable variables happen that could disrupt students’ learning, like poor Internet connection can lead to students missing important classes. At the same time, the lack of visibility or physical interactions reduces student engagement, leading to decreased academic performance.

“Especially in group assignments, it is impossible to gauge the dynamics. How can you tell where you are in the learning trajectory, let alone give personal guidance to each student while facilitating meaningful learning experiences.” - Dan Hasan

This uncertainty then leads to lack of support for both instructors and students, which eventually resulted in burnout and stress. Another issue is corrosion of the learning community, arising from the limitation in time to check in with each student or provide direct feedback as compared to offline classrooms. Isolation and exclusion of students is another part of this problem. Traditional one size fits all model of teaching no longer works in this situation, it instead just amplifies the division between high and low performing students.

All these factors eventually culminated in what we call the crisis of inclusive engagement. That is, students have fewer opportunities to engage in meaningful interactions with teachers or their peers, which hinders the development of lifelong skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, feedback delivery and reception, and so on.

It is high time that institutions work towards achieving “the higher education we deserve” – a learning environment where students are the knowledge owners, instructors become the facilitators, and faculties remain agile and flexible to any changes needed. In other words, flexible and inclusive pedagogy should be the key to facilitating a fruitful learning experience for students in the future and beyond.

So how can instructors implement flexible and inclusive pedagogy that increase visibility, transparency; include formative and programmatic assessment; give opportunities for meaningful peer learning and collaboration; at the same time foster lifelong skills; utilize pedagogical technology effectively, and cater to students’ wellbeing?

At FeedbackFruits, we believe in the power of innovative pedagogical practices in driving educational transformation. And technology provides the tools to support educators - the driving force behind pedagogy in achieving the higher education we deserve. By working closely with institutions worldwide, the team developed a suite of 14 pedagogical tools, allowing instructors to facilitate different learning activities in any course modalities. Each tool, if used individually, supports specific learning activities or assessment like peer review, reading comprehension, or online discussion. However, teachers can combine different tools in harmony to maximize the effectiveness of different teaching approaches.

How to incorporate FeedbackFruits' tools to support the Flipped Classroom model

Student engagement tends to fluctuate throughout the course. They are much less engaged in learning after the first few weeks, then picked up again towards the end when the exam period starts. The challenge then remains: How do we keep students engaged and activated throughout the whole course?

Using a FeedbackFruits tool is a solution to tackle a course design challenge, such as enabling collaboration with Group Member Evaluation or using Interactive Study Material to ensure student engagement prior to class. And to even further capitalize on active knowledge uptake, application, collaboration, and reflection, all FeedbackFruits tools can be used together in harmony.

That’s why the FeedbackFruits team created the “Flipped Classroom journey” to show how you can maximize the benefits of our tool suite in the Flipped Classroom model. This graphic details in 11 steps how the journey from the start to finish of a course can be supported by FeedbackFruits pedagogical toolsuite.

The impact of the pandemic

Upon opening the webinar, Dan immediately pointed us to the fact that the pandemic has amplified the pre-existing gaps in our current educational practices, thus leading to 4 major issues, starting with the state of uncertainty. Having to adapt to different course modalities (online, hybrid and blended) contributes to the negative impact on teaching and learning. Unpredictable variables happen that could disrupt students’ learning, like poor Internet connection can lead to students missing important classes. At the same time, the lack of visibility or physical interactions reduces student engagement, leading to decreased academic performance.

“Especially in group assignments, it is impossible to gauge the dynamics. How can you tell where you are in the learning trajectory, let alone give personal guidance to each student while facilitating meaningful learning experiences.” - Dan Hasan

This uncertainty then leads to lack of support for both instructors and students, which eventually resulted in burnout and stress. Another issue is corrosion of the learning community, arising from the limitation in time to check in with each student or provide direct feedback as compared to offline classrooms. Isolation and exclusion of students is another part of this problem. Traditional one size fits all model of teaching no longer works in this situation, it instead just amplifies the division between high and low performing students.

All these factors eventually culminated in what we call the crisis of inclusive engagement. That is, students have fewer opportunities to engage in meaningful interactions with teachers or their peers, which hinders the development of lifelong skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, feedback delivery and reception, and so on.

It is high time that institutions work towards achieving “the higher education we deserve” – a learning environment where students are the knowledge owners, instructors become the facilitators, and faculties remain agile and flexible to any changes needed. In other words, flexible and inclusive pedagogy should be the key to facilitating a fruitful learning experience for students in the future and beyond.

So how can instructors implement flexible and inclusive pedagogy that increase visibility, transparency; include formative and programmatic assessment; give opportunities for meaningful peer learning and collaboration; at the same time foster lifelong skills; utilize pedagogical technology effectively, and cater to students’ wellbeing?

At FeedbackFruits, we believe in the power of innovative pedagogical practices in driving educational transformation. And technology provides the tools to support educators - the driving force behind pedagogy in achieving the higher education we deserve. By working closely with institutions worldwide, the team developed a suite of 14 pedagogical tools, allowing instructors to facilitate different learning activities in any course modalities. Each tool, if used individually, supports specific learning activities or assessment like peer review, reading comprehension, or online discussion. However, teachers can combine different tools in harmony to maximize the effectiveness of different teaching approaches.

How to incorporate FeedbackFruits' tools to support the Flipped Classroom model

Student engagement tends to fluctuate throughout the course. They are much less engaged in learning after the first few weeks, then picked up again towards the end when the exam period starts. The challenge then remains: How do we keep students engaged and activated throughout the whole course?

Using a FeedbackFruits tool is a solution to tackle a course design challenge, such as enabling collaboration with Group Member Evaluation or using Interactive Study Material to ensure student engagement prior to class. And to even further capitalize on active knowledge uptake, application, collaboration, and reflection, all FeedbackFruits tools can be used together in harmony.

That’s why the FeedbackFruits team created the “Flipped Classroom journey” to show how you can maximize the benefits of our tool suite in the Flipped Classroom model. This graphic details in 11 steps how the journey from the start to finish of a course can be supported by FeedbackFruits pedagogical toolsuite.

Quality online teaching and learning

An ebook that helps you design meaningful learning experiences in any course modality
DOWNLOAD NOW

Figure 1. The Flipped Classroom Learning Journey

Step 1: Activating asynchronous engagement during before class preparation

“Preparation is half the job” - said Dan. When students come to class having studied the materials, instructors can have plenty of time to elaborate on the content without having to go over everything from scratch. However, it is never simple to encourage students’ active engagement with the materials, especially in online classes. FeedbackFruits Interactive Study Material helps stimulate student – content interaction, by allowing instructors to add in-line questions or discussions and turn the study materials into “ a space for meaningful dialogues”. Students can respond to the annotated questions, at the same time contribute their own responses. This process is critical to prepare for a deeper discussion during the synchronous sessions.

Step 2 and 3: Building up students’ understanding of the study materials

After the preparation is the in-class session, in which teachers address the major themes and questions that come up during the asynchronous activities. To further enhance students’ knowledge, FeedbackFruits Quiz tool can be used to give students a chance to consolidate their understanding in an engaging way. Based on the analytics shown in the tool platform, teachers can identify the emerging knowledge gaps and address them during synchronous sessions .

Step 4: Giving opportunities to apply the learned knowledge

To facilitate skills at the higher level of Bloom taxonomy, instructors often assign an individual or group assignment in which students apply their learned knowledge to solve a problem or create a project. During the completion of the assignment, feedback plays a key role to help students adjust their work and produce a quality final product. FeedbackFruits feedback tools let instructors create either individual or group assignments, while facilitating multi-layer feedback: teacher-student, student-student, and self-reflection.

Step 5: Facilitating teacher – student feedback

When it comes to writing assignments, providing students with personal and actionable feedback is always challenging, especially when the class size is huge and there is only a handful of staff. Automated Feedback is the tool to help teachers generate quality feedback suggestions on students’ written work based on teacher-defined rubric. This allows teachers to address higher-level writing aspects (reasoning, argumentation, and critical thinking), and grants students the autonomy, guidance, and support needed for their own learning.

Step 6: Encouraging quality peer feedback

After iterating on work themselves based on the automated feedback, students could then take part in peer review activity. Peer feedback has been proven to be an extremely effective method in activating lifelong skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and self-regulations [1].  Giving feedback encourages students to critically examine their peers’ work to identify potential problems; thus contemplating solutions and suggesting solutions. This entire process subsequently contributes to the development of reflective knowledge. At the same time, receiving feedback allows students to identify their mistakes, evaluate the comments, and take action to resolve the problems for a better product [1].

FeedbackFruits Peer Review is the tool for peer learning as it allows teachers to create assignments for students to provide feedback on their peers’ writing, based on a predefined rubric, while at the same time reflecting on the received feedback to improve their own drafts.

Step 7: Saving spot for self-reflection

Furthermore, instructors can set up a self-assessment step during the peer review process in which students critically review their own contribution before assessing others’, based on the same criteria.

Step 8: Reiterating on the feedback during synchronous discussion

Based on the generated feedback and analytics provided by the tools, teachers identify the common problems or improvements, then organize synchronous sessions where students can discuss solutions to address these issues.  

Step 9: Using the feedback to improve the assignments

Now that students have received both feedback and suggestions, they work on improving their final assignments, either individually or collaboratively.

Step 10: Organizing a final round of teacher – student feedback

Once students have finalized the assignments based on all the received feedback and comments, they can hand in their submissions with Assignment Review. Here teachers give feedback on whichever criteria you chose.

Step 11: Encouraging collaboration through group assessment

The entire learning journey is concluded with a Group Member Evaluation activity, in which students reflect on their own performance and their peers’ contribution. All the while, through each of these activities, teachers can maintain visibility on the progress and performance of each student and each group, save time on setup with reusable and shareable courses and templates, and give all students the activating, engaging, meaningful learning experiences they deserve.

The entire Learning Journey can be found in our new ebook – “Quality online teaching and learning: Achieving the higher education we deserve”. You can download it by clicking this link.

How to implement Inclusive Course Design

After explaining how teaching technology can be combined to facilitate an engaging and inclusive learning experience, Dan gave the stage to Linda to share her experience and insights to design inclusive courses.

What is inclusive course design?

Inclusive course design is sometimes used interchangeably with the term UDL – Universal Design for Learning, yet these are not the same.

According to Linda:

“UDL refers to the structure of courses that provides the greatest degree of access and usability for the most people. It emphasizes the single design that is intended to work for everyone.”

Inclusive course design borrows the elements from UDL and takes it to the “digital age”. It welcomes the “full range of human diversity and experience, ideally without the need for accommodation”. Most importantly, the idea behind inclusive course design is to “provide access to a course for everyone without needing to make those accommodations on an individual basis.” It tries to be open and welcoming regardless of the learners’ needs, perspectives, behaviors and locations.

Essentially, Inclusive Course Design refers to: 

“the course design that intentionally cultivates a more equitable and inclusive learning experience.” – concluded Linda.

Why does inclusive course design matter?

In the US, about 1 in 4 adults live with a disability, and many of those disabilities are not visible for institutions to recognize and tackle. At Wharton, classes (both offline and online) have become increasingly diverse, with students representing a varied profile regarding cultural, family, and financial background, as well as knowledge base, capacities, and emotional status.

“There is a wide range of diversity among the students at Wharton, students of color, international students, first year students, and women representing an increasing population across our degree program.” - commented Linda

Such a variety constitutes what Linda classifies as learner variability, a well-established topic in education. “This variability can lead to a wide range of barriers, a wide range of circumstances that can make education more challenging for students.” - Linda Lee emphasized in one of her presentations at inspirED 2021.

These barriers can be: lack of background knowledge, confusion about the next steps to take, lack of timely feedback, difficulty navigating social or emotional challenges, unfamiliarity with the terms, culture-irrelevant coursework, and technical or financial obstacles, to name but a few.

Inclusive Course Design takes these barriers into consideration and designs the learning experience around that. In other words, the approach intentionally makes it easier for learners to participate in the learning process. This proves the significance and impact of Inclusive Course Design.

The 4 considerations for Inclusive Course Design

Linda then emphasized 4 considerations or principles that instructors should keep in mind when designing inclusive courses, which are: Course policies, Course materials, Activities and Assessments, and Technology Use.

When crafting course policies, flexibility should be diffused in every aspect of the course, from deadlines, technology use, to attendance and participation policies. Providing flexibility will increase the chances that students are going to succeed. Furthermore, acknowledging that difficulty and struggle are the normal parts of the learning process, at the same time emphasizing a growth mindset is really important to students’ academic success.

Course materials is one of the areas that students, especially economically disadvantaged students struggle with the most. The cost of required textbooks and technology can be a huge burden and a hindrance for students when learning. Therefore, it is important that instructors provide materials at no or low cost in the form of electronic course reserves or teacher-generated content; make these accessible through the LMSs and available regardless of geographical and time constraints. Furthermore, making sure the materials are culturally relevant to students is absolutely essential when implementing inclusive course design.

When it comes to planning activities and assessments, offering students a choice if possible is the first on the list, as it helps increase engagement. Incorporating opportunities for multi-layer feedback, group work, and meaningful interactions should also be the core when designing inclusive learning activities and evaluation practices. Linda also stressed the importance of group formation and organization in promoting students’ belonging and a sense of ownership

Regarding technology use, instructors need to be “thoughtful and selective” when choosing the tools to use in your courses. This is because “everytime you ask your students to learn a new tool, that adds up to the emotional cognitive overload, so be thoughtful and selective about what you choose” - explained Linda. Furthermore, technology use policies can have a tremendous impact on students’ participation in classes. In general, think about using technology at all levels of the course, about what you choose to use in class and what you expect students to do with this technology.

To conclude, Linda remarked:

“Bear in mind that teaching and learning are iterative.”

That is, teaching and learning should be a constant process of implementation, reflection, and improvement, where instructors facilitate, reflect on the success and failures of the courses via feedback from colleagues and students to iterate and make appropriate adjustments.

So how can these 4 principles be applied in real classroom contexts? And what are the outcomes of Inclusive Course Design? These questions were then addressed in the use case shared by Linda, in which she and her team successfully implemented Inclusive Course Design in the course Wharton 101.

Quality online teaching and learning

An ebook that helps you design meaningful learning experiences in any course modality
DOWNLOAD NOW

Figure 3. Group Member Evaluation used in WH101

Inclusive course design at the Wharton School: How instructors at Wharton applied the principles of inclusive course design

Wharton 101, or gateway course, is part of the first year program at Wharton and attended by all undergraduates. This course aims to help students understand the Wharton experience, while setting the foundation for the business career prospects. In total, there were 650 students across 12 sections enrolled in the course. A team of 3 instructors consisting of Anne Greenhalgh – Deputy Director of the Wharton Leadership program, Scott Romeika – Lecturer at Wharton Undergraduate Division, and Diana Robertson – Vice Dean of Wharton Undergraduate Division was responsible for this course.

The course was designed to ensure inclusion and success, as it covered two main lecturing methods: Asynchronous lectures and Synchronous (in-person/hybrid) recitation meetings. The former modules, which used to be face-to-face lectures before the pandemic, covered business pathways and introduction to 10 departments of Wharton; the latter sessions focus on students’ personal and leadership development. Assessment of the course involves a semester-long project where students worked both individually and in groups of 10. Most importantly, the course was designed “at every stage to allow students to make up or redo the work that they had missed.”

Most importantly, the course took into consideration all the 4 principles of Inclusive Course Design.

The course was designed to make sure that there were no lost learning opportunities. Assignment deadlines were established in the LMS to keep students on track; however, these can be adjusted to accommodate students’ varying needs. For example, asynchronous lectures were kept open throughout the semester until they were all completed by all students. The synchronous sessions were automatically available for students unable to attend these classes.

The course materials were made free to students through the LMSs (Canvas, e-reserves). To increase accessibility, all asynchronous and synchronous lessons were recorded, captioned and shared publicly. Furthermore, students were provided with models and templates for every assignment expected to be completed.

When designing the activities and assessments, group work and feedback were the central themes of the course. Groups were planned before the semester began to cover students of different backgrounds, abilities and nationalities. To reduce free-riding and increase interaction in online settings, the course adopted different teaching tools to afford frequent opportunities for reflection on self and group performance.

To implement the course, the Wharton team relied on different teaching technologies. Canvas, Zoom, Panopto, course reserves, and FeedbackFruits were chosen due to their capacity to support a large-scale, inclusive, and engaging course. Pedagogical technology allowed instructors to provide students with all the grades and feedback, at the same time having an overview of learners’ progress and performance. And here is how several FeedbackFruits tools were used to support Inclusive Course Design at Wharton:

The asynchronous sessions were facilitated using FeedbackFruits Interactive Video. This tool enabled instructors to enrich the lecture videos with in-line questions and discussion prompts. As students responded to these prompts and contributed their own input, meaningful interactions were stimulated.

FeedbackFruits Group Member Evaluation was configured to work with Canvas groups. Using this tool, the instructors issued a Group assessment activity in which students provided feedback to their group members, evaluated their group contributions, and reflected on the received feedback.

And the results? The course has been a significant experience that critically fosters the development of lifelong skills and student success. Students were granted with every opportunity to pass the course. To conclude her presentation, Linda remarked:

“And as we look ahead to fall, we realize that this is an iterative process, and each year we look at where the students struggle, where the places didn’t go as we hoped. From that we seek the opportunities to improve for next year.”

Read more about the use case of Wharton 101: 

Managing Assessments at Scale: Reflection, Feedback, and Comprehension at the Wharton School

In conclusion

We were extremely grateful for the great conversation with Linda. It was powerful to see a passionate educator sharing her knowledge on improving engagement and inclusivity based on real experiences.

Again, the webinar is now available on our website to be rewatched. Feel free to take a look and pick up valuable nuggets for your course design. Also, stay tuned for our upcoming webinars and events, where we will share best teaching practices to help you transform your teaching.

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