INCLUSIVE LEARNING AT UNIVERSITY OF GALWAY
“The students found the inclusivity work so helpful that they wondered why it had not been done before”
What problems were being addressed?
- Staff digital skills
- The accessibility of digital content
- The emergency pivot to online learning
Who was involved?
The University of Galway EDTL Team consisted of the Project Lead, Kate Molloy, who was based in the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), and the Student Intern, Lauren Muldowney. They worked with the University of Galway Inclusive Learning Team, academic staff, support services and the Student’s Union.
Why did you choose to address the challenges this way?
- Blackboard Ally was changing the digital face of academic inclusion
- Universal Design for Teaching and Learning (UDL) provided a comprehensive framework
- Webinars and courses would communicate the
knowledge staff needed
How were the goals achieved?
For every student to excel in their academic studies, they must be able to access their curriculum, regardless of their age, disability, gender, race or socio-economical background. The National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education recognised the integral importance of academic inclusion and funded a strategic initiative at the University of Galway.
The EDTL Project Lead, Kate Molloy, also understood the challenges facing non-traditional students and recognized the impact that the EDTL project could have on the strategic implementation of more inclusive digital teaching and learning practices. And after conferring with the NUIG Inclusive Learning Team, the NUIG EDTL Team partnered on the initiative.
“The University of Galway EDTL Team then focused in on Area 5 of the DigiCompEdu framework – Empowering Learners – as a constant point of reference”
The key objectives of the Inclusive learning project were:
- Centre and amplify the student voice and establish an evidence base for postgraduate student perceptions and experiences of inclusion and exclusion in participating Colleges and Schools at NUI Galway
- Raise staff and student awareness about issues of inclusion and exclusion in teaching, learningand assessment practices at NUI Galway, with specific reference to postgraduate students (including students on research programmes)
- Provide practical supports and resources to promote and embed inclusive teaching practices at NUI Galway
- Develop a model for monitoring inclusion in relation to teaching and learning at NUI Galway
- Draw on the evidence of student experiences to address structural and attitudinal barriers to inclusion and influence University policy
After completing a comprehensive audit of all CPD offerings at NUI Galway in relation to the DigCompEdu framework, the NUIG EDTL Team Lead inferred that more emphasis was needed on Area 5: Empowering Learners.
The University of Galway EDTL Team then focused in on Area 5 of the DigiCompEdu framework – Empowering Learners – as a constant point of reference. Here are the key elements they abided by:
- Accessibility & Inclusion
- Differentiation & Personalisation
- Actively Engaging Learners
Having researched Blackboard Ally prior to both projects, the NUIG EDTL Project Lead was already aware of the difference the software was making internationally and presented the findings to the NUIG Inclusive Learning Team, who agreed upon the benefits of integrating the inclusive software into NUIG. Once the software licence was purchased, the NUIG EDTL Project Lead began to embed Blackboard Ally within NUIG’s VLE.
Blackboard Ally is a tool that seamlessly integrates with Learning Management Systems (LMS) to provide insight into an institution’s accessibility, while also enabling users to:
- Gain an understanding of their institution’s accessibility performance
- Proactively tackle accessibility and target both instructors and content
- View accessibility trends and detailed graphs to monitor improvement
An Inclusive Learning conference was planned for March 2020, with the intention of informing staff on the how to use Blackboard Ally – but the pandemic had other plans for theacademic agenda. Luckily, the NUIG EDTL Team hit the ground running. The team expedited the release of Blackboard Ally for all students and staff at NUI Galway, and it was rolled out in March 2020 to meet the needs of learners who were suddenly learning fully online. NUI Galway was the first Irish university to adopt Blackboard Ally.
Viewing the transition as the perfect time to take staff digital training back to beginners, the NUIG EDTL Team adopted the Universal Design for Teaching and Learning (UDL) digital badge course for a local rollout. They also partnered with Blackboard to deliver a series of in-depth summer workshops on Blackboard Ally.
Navigating The New Normal
After launching Blackboard Ally, the University of Galway EDTL Team Project Lead hosted a number of webinars, where the focus was answering staff’s questions and listening to their queries, as well as informing the approach to delivering the UDL course, but what was most important was the need to ensure that staff understood the need to actively promote Blackboard Ally in their teaching and promote it amongst their students, who were due to benefit from it most.
The opportunity to inform staff of Blackboard Ally, also offered an opportunity to reach students and create awareness, simply because students listen to their lecturers and make use of the resources their lecturers recommend.
The constant collaboration between the NUIG EDTL Team and the NUIG Inclusive Learning Team, along with input from academic staff, support services and the Student’s Union, ensured that activities continued to evolve, and alleviate some of the pressure staff were feeling at the time. The invaluable perspective gained through the EDTL Project meetings that took place regularly, also promised the NUIG EDTL Team were persistently sourcing the most relevant answers to staff’s questions.
By Spring 2021, the positive feedback received by the NUIG EDTL Team and the NUIG Inclusive Learning Team, proved that it would be possible to host an online Inclusive Learning symposium. And that it would be possible to invite international keynote speakers, who might not have been able to partake under ordinary circumstances, as the online environment eradicated any of the concerns challenging in-person events.
The two-day event focused on raising awareness across issues of equality, diversity and inclusion in higher education. It highlighted the importance of centring the student voice, while showcasing and sharing inclusive pedagogies, practices and approaches.
Here are the attendance numbers:
250 + LOGGED IN
As for the future of academic accessibility within NUIG, the Inclusive earning Project has drawn much needed attention to the diverse range of learning methods available to students, therefore transforming the way staff treat their course material and the way many studentsinteract their curriculum. It has invigorated academia, while shining a light on the difficulties students were facing when their basic requirements were not being met. And even though the problem has not yet been wholly solved, it is surely on the cusp of revolutionising the student experience, with the help of a few well- designed digital resources.
Reworking the inclusivity of an institution’s digital content is no easy task, especially considering the time each academic has to communicate their course material – but there are some deeper questions that lie at the foundation of such a transition. How can we create more inclusive digital learning environments beyond the accessibility of digital content?
Some considerations include:
- How do we conduct ourselves?
- How do we communicate effectively with students?
- How do we ensure all students are represented in the curriculum?
- Are there other pedagogical considerations?