5 Designing for Inclusion
Lessons from including all citizens
Jennifer Hardwick; Fiona Whittington-Walsh; Kya Bezanson; Anju Miller; and Emma Sawatzky
“Education as the practice of freedom affirms healthy self-esteem in students as it promotes their capacity to be aware and live consciously. It teaches them to reflect and act in ways that further self-actualization, rather than conformity to the status quo.” – bell hooks (2003)
Today in British Columbia, there are few inclusive post-secondary academic options that treat students with intellectual and developmental disabilities as capable of living conscious, self-actualized lives on par with their peers. The majority of students with disabilities end up in community based segregated day programs or segregated adult special educational programs in universities (Rasmussen, 2002), where the opportunity to build agency and self-esteem in the ways that hooks envisions are limited. As Kya Bezanson notes, this discrimination is present throughout the education system:
I am on the Board of Directors of Inclusion B.C and I am on the Self-Advocates Committee. I am a person with a disability. I have fetal alcohol syndrome disorder. Because of my disability a lot of my high school classes were modified, and I was told not to be proud of that work because it was modified.
Including All Citizens (IAC) was launched at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), on the shared, unceded and ancestral territories of the Coast Salish peoples, to provide an alternative to segregated or modified programs and to offer students with disabilities pathways to pursue their own unique self-actualization through education.
IAC works within a framework of disability rights to create an inclusive pedagogical model and is one of the first fully inclusive, for-credit university certificate programs in North America. More specifically, IAC has the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) as its philosophical foundation. Article 24, Education, recognizes the rights of people with disabilities to an inclusive education system including post-secondary, “without discrimination and on equal basis with others.” It also recognizes that access to education is fundamental to “The development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential,” and that education is necessary for “enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society.”
IAC was created through dialogue between Dr. Fiona Whittington-Walsh and five students with intellectual disabilities. The students had just completed KPU’s adult special education program, Access Program for People with Disabilities (APPD) and were disappointed with the lack of opportunities that they were provided. IAC developed out of a qualitative, ethnographic, and participatory action research project that investigated and assessed teaching strategies and techniques that support all students in the learning of essential knowledge and skill sets. Research ethics was approved in 2016, and the pilot started with all five students taking courses on-par with their neurotypical peers. Without adapting the academic foundation and content of the curriculum, IAC uses the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to transform teaching and deliver curriculum to a wide range of learners. In essence, as Kya notes, “now, at KPU, my courses are not modified, and I take the class just like everyone else.”
IAC is a student-centered learning environment where everyone is included and valued on an equal basis. The first three graduates (who are co-authors of this article, Kya Bezanson, Katie Miller (who uses the name Anju with friends and family), and Emma Sawatzky) completed their Faculty of Arts Certificates (FAC) in December 2020. The FAC pre-exists IAC and is an exit credential that prepares students for critical engagement with their communities. A new IAC cohort is scheduled to start in fall 2022.
Paulo Freire (1998) states that instructors need to “understand the concrete conditions” of student’s lives and without this understanding, “we have no access to the way they think, so only with great difficulty can we perceive what and how they know” (p. 58). In order to truly understand the conditions of student’s lives as Freire insists, one must develop relationships with students. Mentoring is a key aspect to IAC and is a two-fold process between instructor and student and between instructors. Mentoring involves an active relationship where individuals receive guidance and modeling that helps them enhance their professional growth and development (Cokley, 2000; Mertz, 2004; DeFreitas, 2007). Norma Mertz (2004) recognizes three functional categories in her hierarchy of mentoring framework that are associated with different roles: (1) modeling, (2) advising, and (3) brokering. (1) Modeling involves the roles of peers as well as teachers with psychosocial development.
It has well been documented that undergraduate students who have a relationship with a mentor experience a greater sense of belonging and connection to the university, which further facilitates academic success (Cokley, 2000; Lundberg & Schreiner, 2004). For students from marginalized and underrepresented groups, including those who have not excelled in academics, the relationship they develop with a faculty member becomes central to their learning and success (Stocks, Ramey, and Lazurus, 2004) superseding even the influence of their past experiences on their learning (Lundberg & Schreiner, 2004; Tillman, 2005).
IAC involves all three categories and subsequent roles. The instructor-student relationship is transferred into the classroom and provides the foundation for student-peer relationship building and mentorship. Relationship building becomes a key learning outcome and is an important aspect to IAC. (2) Advising is associated with professional development, and (3) brokering is associated with career advancement. Mentoring teachers have been identified as an important part of teacher education, recruitment, and retention (Wang & Odell, 2002; Tillman, 2005) and can become a “catalyst for transformative leadership” (Tillman, 2005: 614). Further, IAC offers what Wang and Odell (2002) call a critical constructivist mentoring relationship where together, the instructor/mentors are actively challenging existing teaching practices with the goal of teaching transformation. Instructors are mentored in how to transform their teaching and then become instructors/mentors for other faculty. This process has the potential for influencing wider systems change.
IAC’s disability rights framework, and its core principles of mentoring, communication, and relationship-building are reflected in this collaborative, co-written chapter. Dr. Fiona Whittington-Walsh is IAC’s principal investigator, coordinator, and mentor; Dr. Jennifer Hardwick is an instructor/mentor who began teaching with IAC in 2019; and Kya Bezanson, Emma Sawatzky, and Anju Miller are IAC alumni who recently graduated from KPU with a Faculty of Arts Certificate. We have brought our voices together in an informal and conversational way to explore different facets and experiences of Jennifer (Jen)’s Fall 2020 English 1202 course, which to-date is IAC’s only fully digital offering. We hope to highlight not only how the course was designed and institutionally-supported, but how it was experienced by students who were learning online for the first time. We believe that 1202 demonstrates while flexible and thoughtful design matter, accessible online courses work best when they are grounded in transparency, individual and institutional collaboration, and strong relationships between faculty, staff, and students. Ultimately, we see inclusion as a collective responsibility and inclusive design as action-oriented, relational, and practical. We hope our discussion of 1202 acts as a case study in using critical digital pedagogies, universal design for learning, and open educational practices to collaboratively transform classrooms, institutions, and communities.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) is an ideal place for a pilot project like Including All Citizens (IAC). KPU is an open-access special purpose teaching university where faculty typically teach four courses each semester. While classes tend to be smaller (usually between 25 and 35 students), there are no teaching assistants, which means that faculty are the primary contact and support for up to 140 students each semester. Many of these students face linguistic, cultural, technological, financial, and personal barriers, which means that inclusive and accessible course design is imperative. Nearly 30% of the university’s student population is composed of international students, of which 88% are English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners. Additionally, 32% of domestic and 48% of international students are first generation learners, and 35% of domestic students and 10% of international students identify as having a disability (KPU Office of Policy Analysis [OPA], 2021). Almost 70% of the student body works at least part-time while attending school (KPU OPA, 2022), and, like many other college students on the territories currently called North America, KPU students face significant challenges with food and housing security, homelessness, trauma, and discrimination based on factors such as race, gender, sex, and ability.
Given KPU’s mandate and demographics, it should be no surprise that IAC’s goals and approach have broad benefits. While the project was launched to support students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, placing access and inclusion at the forefront of course design benefits all students. However, figuring out what inclusive and accessible means has not always been easy. Ultimately, the answer for IAC has been about merging UDL and critical pedagogy, creating multiple pathways, and designing broadly while seeing students “in their particularity as individuals” and engaging with them “according to their needs” (hooks, p. 7).
Adding and Removing Barriers: Inclusive Digital Pedagogy
Drick Boyd (2016) outlines potential concerns and challenges to online learning from a Freirean pedagogical approach. Concerns regarding access to digital technologies are matched with fears that online learning is offered not because of pedagogical interests but for economic and political reasons. There are further concerns with the disembodied nature of online learning which could impede the constructivist nature of the learning process. Despite these concerns and challenges, Boyd does conclude that online learning can in fact, “enhance the teaching-learning experience” (p. 177) because of its ability to create meaningful dialogue as well as providing open access to information which can create opportunities of engagement for remote and marginalized communities.
Universal Design for Learning affirms that learners enter our classrooms with unique and diverse skills, challenges, and interests. As such, providing options and creating multiple pathways that all students can access is the best way to design an inclusive course. A digital environment does not change this core approach, and in our experiences, it does not make UDL any more or less difficult to apply—it simply changes the process. As IAC students so beautifully explain, digital pedagogy, like all other pedagogies, can simultaneously increase and remove barriers. For example, Anju struggled with a lack of social connection—particularly with the instructor—and with the mediated environment; however, she appreciated the ease of attending school from the comfort of home.
School traditionally has been in person for most of everyone’s life. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic, university students like myself have had to switch to online. The sudden switch has been quite difficult to adjust to due to several factors.
One of the most difficult for me is that, as a visual learner, I require to be up close to the instructor. This helps me watch how an instructor relays their lessons (ie: gestures, pacing, individual eye contact, etc.). While watching the teacher’s movements, I am able to retain more meaning behind each lecture. Most teachers had to resort to teaching online vocally, although some still did include visuals. This does help to aid in the visual part, but it doesn’t always help give meaning behind their lecture.
The physical interaction between students and teachers, and students and students, is still very much missing. We as people really depend on the social aspect of life, and to lose that just feels very foreign. This causes us as students to also rely on our computers and internet to get things done each session. During a particular lecture week, Moodle [KPU’s Online Learning Management System], was down and we were all unable to do the [synchronous] class that week. That caused a shift in the schedule moving forward.
While having no physical interaction was extremely difficult, there were plus sides to classes being online. The first has to be the convenience that you could quite literally jump out of bed (because the instructor was the only one with video) and join the class, instead of having to get up extremely early and take both the public and school transport to get to school. I did not have to leave my house almost 3 hours before school to be there on time.
Emma missed the focus and social interaction of classroom work, but appreciated the flexibility of having both asynchronous and synchronous options for learning in an online class.
What I didn’t like about online class was that I didn’t get to interact with people. Also, I didn’t really have technology problems; it was more like interruptions. Lots of people at home interrupting me because everyone is at home right now instead of going to work.
What I liked about the online course is how flexible it was.
The students’ experiences throughout the course affirmed that a digital environment was not inherently more or less accessible for all students—it simply offered different challenges and possibilities.
Where Open and Critical Pedagogies Meet: Course Materials
When designing an online version of English 1202—which is a writing-intensive, mandatory first year literary studies course—Jenn drew from Universal Design for Learning, critical pedagogy, and open education practices in order to reduce barriers, foster community, and provide a balance of structure and choice. As previously stated, mentorship is key to IAC, and Fiona mentored Jen in inclusive pedagogies by providing input into the course design, liaising with the library to source accessible materials, and collaborating on assignment design. Throughout the course, Jen and Fiona regularly checked in with each other, and Jen regularly checked in with all 1202 students through informal forum questions, surveys, and class dialogues.
Flexibility is absolutely critical to UDL, so the course was built with multiple pathways; students could complete 1202 entirely asynchronously or partake in synchronous learning and community activities. While UDL is primarily concerned with structure and design rather than content, critical pedagogy reminds us of the importance of curricula that challenge systems of power and provide students with tools to transform the world. Jen’s goal—to borrow from bell hooks—was to use both UDL and critical pedagogy to “enact pedagogical practices that engage directly both the concern for interrogating biases in curricula that reinscribe systems of domination (such as racism and sexism) while simultaneously providing new ways to teach diverse groups of students” (hook, 1994, p. 10). The course theme was “Literatures of Resistance” and the texts were chosen to speak to the diverse lived experiences of students and encourage them to meaningfully and ethically engage with communities they may not be part of. The texts—which included multimedia videos, spoken word, personal essays, a novel, and short stories that spanned genres and mediums—centered the voices and lived experiences of Indigenous, Black, disabled, women, LGBTS2S+, and South Asian authors and directly addressed topics such as colonization, racism, gender-based violence, and ableism.
As Anju notes, having a diversity of voices made the course more engaging for students. The texts spoke to the lived realities of the classroom community, modeled different forms of individual and communal agency and resistance, and provided opportunities to reflect on topics that felt meaningful:
Every [text] that was assigned became extremely relatable. Each one varied to show different experiences, which made it memorable. Some examples that were touched upon [were] gender, sexuality, and disability. This made doing the homework more enjoyable.
Kya echoes Anju, noting that course texts and assignment options provided her with opportunities to connect her lived experiences as an Indigenous woman with the course content and explore topics such as colonization, resistance, community, and culture.
My favorite part of the course was having to read, The Marrow Thieves [by Cherie Dimaline]. A lot of the work I chose to do was about Indigenous people. I just loved that book and the music video, “March March” by the Dixie Chicks. These two [texts] really were the ones that spoke out on a lot of issues that we are facing today. Especially during the pandemic. And a lot of issues that [Indigenous] people have been facing for centuries.
I am super passionate about the [Indigenous] community so I am glad [Jen] let us choose the topic for our final essay. I am passionate about this topic because I am Indigenous. Learning about my culture is really important to me. I felt like I was learning about my culture while reading the novel, and that is important to me.
Emma also found learning about Indigenous communities powerful as a non-Indigenous woman, and related to The Marrow Thieves’ emphasis on family, community, and respect for different ways of knowing.
The novel is now one of my favorites. I could relate to the story, despite not being Indigenous. I found the story was about building a strong team and community, creating strong connections. Everyone in the community was valued because of the different things they could contribute. For example, [the character] Minerva was a senior and even though she could not fight and do combat she was valued because she was a knowledge keeper and a storyteller. So, everyone kept her safe. When one person struggles, everyone joins together to help them. Just like in my family. So, I could relate to the story a lot.
The diversity of stories, voices, and approaches present in the class content and conversation drew attention to the strengths of different ways of knowing, learning, and sharing. It also helped students develop intersectional understandings of power as they realized there are many overlapping forms of both oppression and resistance. Given that IAC is about challenging systemic discrimination and transforming educational practice, it was important that the curriculum align with instructional design framework.
One key aspect of providing accessible course material for students is audio recordings to accompany required readings. In previous English courses, Fiona recorded numerous short stories and articles for Jen. For English 1202, we wanted to expand our use of audio readings and engage with an audio recorded novel. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (2017) was the assigned novel and is available in print, e-book, and audio book. We decided to maximize UDL principles by offering all three versions. Students had the choice of what version they would engage with.
We were also committed to KPU’s “ZTC” initiative, which is Canada’s first Zero Textbook Cost program. Currently, there are over 800 courses that use open educational resources and/or library materials and several program degrees, including the Faculty of Arts Certificate. We didn’t just want to suggest to students that they could purchase the audio recording themselves; we wanted to provide all three of the available mediums for the novel as part of the open education initiative for no cost to the students. In order to be able to do all of this, we enlisted the support from KPU’s E-Resource librarian, Allison Richardson, who explored every aspect of adopting all versions of the novel as library resources. This was new terrain for both the IAC team and the library, but we were all committed to full accessibility. Allison discovered numerous issues with adopting the audio book. We had to use OverDrive as the medium to host the E-book and audio book. OverDrive is a free service for students offered by libraries that provides digital content such as ebooks and audiobooks. KPU had to purchase a one-time subscription to OverDrive for 1202. Students had three ways they could access OverDrive: Libby app on a phone or device; Libby website on a desktop/laptop; and on the OverDrive website. Students could also download the ebook onto a kindle.
Despite providing links to the ebook and audiobook on the 1202 Moodle website, students still had to set up individual OverDrive accounts to access the content. Because students were choosing which medium they wanted to engage with, this eliminated any concerns regarding privacy of personal information. Students were not being forced to set up an OverDrive account and provide personal information, it was their choice to do so.
One other concern we encountered was that we could not provide all versions to all 25 students. The ebook had a different model with unlimited simultaneous users, so there wasn’t a need to purchase individual copies. The audiobook, however, was based on a pay-per-individual use. We decided to order five print copies for the library, unlimited ebooks, and ten copies of the audiobook. The KPU library supported this initiative and covered the costs. In moving forward, we are trying to secure a permanent subscription to audiobooks to accompany print and ebooks.
While the media were not without technical issues (such as not being able to sign out multiple versions at the same time), students enjoyed accessing the novel via the different media. Emma liked the audiobook and found that it supported her learning needs in a way that print book could not.
There was also an audio recording of the novel, The Marrow Thieves. I just got to listen to it and it was much easier for me to understand rather than just reading it, because I have reading comprehension problems.
Designing for Clarity and Community
English 1202 was an asynchronous course with optional synchronous components. It was designed from the ground up in order to promote accessibility, transparency, instructor presence, student participation, and community. Our Moodle website provided weekly schedules and acted as a central repository for documents and resources. Students cannot become part of a learning community if they cannot access that community, so intentional, accessible design was at the very heart of how ENGL 1202 was set up. We endeavored to reduce cognitive overload by avoiding clutter and keeping text spaced out so that students could navigate and find relevant information. Headings, labels, and hyperlinks were descriptive to ensure that they could be read by screen readers, all images included alt-text, and all videos contained captions. As Whittington-Walsh (2021) concludes:
“It is recommended to utilize a fully accessible course website. This provides the course information in multiple accessible and portable mediums. Conceptualize your course website as the more detailed road map that can store numerous documents uploaded for additional information. It can be set up the same way as the syllabus: not overly cluttered with text and nicely spaced out so the reader can navigate and find the relevant information including week-by-week schedule, homework, assignments, and grades. Larger font size further benefits all learners. Including a to-do list for each week is also very beneficial for students.”
Readings, resources for learning and well-being, and a week-by-week schedule were available on the site a week before the class began, and then the individual weeks were populated with additional materials as the semester progressed. Every Wednesday morning a 20-40 minute asynchronous lecture was posted, alongside the lecture slides, a forum with discussion questions, and a checklist that outlined the weekly activities such as readings, deadlines, and workshops. While some of the students struggled with the transition online, they found the consistent and clearly-labeled format easy to navigate. Anju noted that the headings and use of color made the class schedule easier to follow.
The syllabus was extremely easy to follow. The use of diverse colors that represented due dates, assignments, online readings, and class discussions helped keep me focused.
Kya also appreciated the clarity and structure of the online environment.
Jen’s online class was really well-organized. I didn’t need to look at the actual syllabus because her online format made it super easy to find things.
The visual navigability of the learning management system was a huge benefit of online learning, and clearly marked resources, weekly checklists, and a structured approach to posting helped to keep students on track.
Engaging with community online was central to the 1202 learning experience, and all 25 students in the course did it a little bit differently, bringing their unique preferences, approaches, challenges, and perspectives. On Wednesday afternoons students had the option to attend a Coffee Hour Chat, which functioned as a space for informal discussion about course content. Both the Coffee Hour Chat and the forums counted towards the course’s participation grade (which also included activities and workshops as possibilities), which gave students choice in how they wanted to share their knowledge and engage with the classroom community. Synchronous workshops were also offered throughout the semester to help students work on specific skills such as writing, editing, and library research. The workshops were interactive, and they were recorded for those who couldn’t attend. Jen acted as a facilitator in both Coffee Hour sessions and the forums by asking questions and helping students make connections between their responses, but the conversation was nearly entirely driven by students. Similarly, while Jen set the topics for the workshops and guided peer-review sessions, they were designed based on students’ interests, questions and requests. In addition to providing space to discuss course content, build skills, and foster relationships, Coffee Hour Chats, forums, workshops, and additional activities such as surveys allowed students to regularly provide feedback to Jen about deadlines, assignments, discussion questions, and readings.
Offering multiple synchronous and asynchronous ways to engage with the classroom community proved to be integral to student well-being and success. All of the students participated in different ways, and made use of different spaces and tools. Emma liked having options but gravitated towards the synchronous Coffee Hour Chats.
Jen gave you a choice for how you participated. Coffee Hour was people talking about anything, like “what’s going on?”, or “I am struggling with this section. Can you guys help me?” The workshops we had to follow specific guidelines: we are talking about this and nothing else. The workshop was more like sitting in her class except we were all on screens. What we were going to talk about in the workshops was on the syllabus, so we knew before what was going to be discussed.
There were also forum posts. Jen would post questions and you would answer the questions if you could not attend the Coffee Hour or the workshop and that’s how you got participation marks. I went to every Coffee Hour and the workshops. I didn’t find the forums interesting. The Coffee Hours were easy marks! You come and talk with Jen and other classmates. The workshops were great because you knew what the topic was ahead of time, and they were recorded. So, if I didn’t understand something I would listen to it again, and then I understood it.
Anju also attended the Coffee Hour Chats and found that the multimodal dialogue (which included chat, video, and audio functions) was easier for her than in-person interaction.
During class discussions I was able to find talking to my classmates much more alleviating. This is due to many years meeting most of my friends online in video games. I have found that talking online over in-person had many pros and cons; we as humans need to have the physical interactions with one another to function, but personally, I communicate better online than in person. The difficult part of communicating online is after the semester I don’t maintain the relationships like I would have in person. This is because physical interactions allow for easier in-person relationships to build […] written communication won’t grow [relationships] as fast.
On the other hand, Kya found that the asynchronous forums often worked better for her, but she shifted between options depending on the week.
I did the forums and mostly the workshops and a few Coffee Chats to help me understand the class work more. I really liked that there were choices for everything.
Having multiple ways to engage with community, build relationships, and learn from one another helped reduce isolation and foster a broad community of support where students could look to each other for help and encouragement.
Assessment and Feedback
UDL frameworks recognize that “there is not one means of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners.” As such, it is recommended that UDL practitioners provide students with multiple ways to share their knowledge. This was not always easy in English 1202, which is a writing-intensive course with fairly strict learning outcomes. According to the course outline students must:
- Apply the writing process in writing about literature
- Write analytical essays about literature that develop and defend a clear, substantive thesis
- Write literary analysis using correct, clear, coherent, and effective English
- Apply basic research techniques by using secondary sources responsibly
- Write successfully under time restrictions
There is no way for a student to succeed in 1202 without writing and editing academic essays, which means that the available modes of expression are somewhat limited.
Applying a UDL lens to a writing-intensive course required looking at the course as a whole; while not every assignment could contain options for expression, options could be provided throughout the semester. Additionally, writing assignments could offer choices in topic and approach, which would allow students to focus on materials they were passionate about.
Throughout the semester students were given assignments that asked them to:
- Write or verbally present an essay proposal
- Write analytical and research essays
- Take short open-book quizzes to build vocabulary and show reading comprehension
- Participate in forums or Coffee Hour to practice literary analysis skills, collegial engagement (for example building off of others’ ideas or engaging in respectful critique), and summary
Students were also invited to engage in peer-editing workshops and self-assessments/reflections at different points in the semester. In addition to building writing skills, the assignments were designed to give students the opportunity to share knowledge in ways they found comfortable, and to encourage them to try new or challenging forms of expression.
The students appreciated the variety of assignments and topics available to them, and, as expected, found some forms of assessment more difficult than others. However, what they found engaging, challenging, easy, or boring differed drastically according to their interests, skills, and barriers. While this may seem obvious, it is worthwhile to note that no assignment was inherently more or less accessible to all students—each form of assessment reduced barriers for some students, while increasing them for others. As a result, it was important to acknowledge obstacles, provide resources, and create pathways so that students could navigate through and around them.
For example, Kya struggled with vocabulary quizzes, but found reading comprehension quizzes and essays easier and more engaging.
There were two tests and I hate tests. One was on vocabulary and the other one was on the novel. I studied really hard for the vocabulary test, but I still got really stressed. I can’t associate things when it’s vocabulary like I can for novels. I remember characters because I create them in my imagination when I am reading a novel, but you can’t do that for definition questions. We also had to write essays for other things. We could choose [topics]: pick one of the [stories], poems, or music videos and write about it. “What are they trying to get you to understand?” kind of thing.
Anju also found quizzes stressful, but quickly realized that making an office hour appointment to prepare was helpful. She also found that the format of online quizzes alleviated anxiety and helped her focus.
When things like quizzes come up, I personally have high anxiety even when I know the material. My instructor offered me the ability to talk with them over Moodle, which in turn helped de-stress and center me to take the quiz with confidence. While taking the quiz online, I find having one question on the screen at a time helps calm my nerves. Physical classes don’t have the luxury to give out one question at a time and then let you revisit them later on before submitting.
Anju also appreciated that assignment instructions were offered in multiple ways (usually through a written assignment sheet and accompanying video) and that she could draw from different kinds of texts and sources in her assignments.
This made doing the assignments after much easier to follow thanks to the online videos posted. The assignments also varied greatly from having to read a book, to watching and listening to videos on YouTube that corresponded to the assignments.
Verbal and written formative and summative feedback were provided throughout the course. The feedback was holistic and relationship-oriented in that it addressed students’ growth, provided resources, and offered encouragement in addition to commenting on students’ abilities to meet learning outcomes and assessment criteria. As the students note below, the relationship to the instructor was instrumental in the feedback process. The online environment made comments feel disembodied, so personal touches were significant. Trust, communication, and transparency facilitated learning and problem solving, and gave students the self-confidence to meet challenges.
Anju made regular use of online office hours and sought consistent feedback, but found the lack of physical presence a challenge.
Homework has always been very difficult for me since I heavily rely on the feedback from my teachers and therefore, put myself down if I don’t get enough reassurance about how my work could be improved constructively […] For example, having to type out something and then seeing a curser edit for you over a physical being makes it feel like a robot over a person is editing your work.
Kya also missed the physical presence of the instructor, and valued personal communication alongside the more standard feedback.
Another part of online courses is you can’t see the teacher’s enthusiasm with your work like when they hand it back to you in-person. Even though my grades were the same, I still missed having my assignments handed back to me and getting that compliment from the teacher. That always made it worthwhile and made you feel like all that hard work was worth it. Online courses you hand it in and get your grade. I also worried that she might not have gotten it. When you physically hand in something, you know they got it.
At the end of this online course, Jen sent me a little message saying how well I did and that made me feel really proud. To see that message from Jen — it just put me over the top! I couldn’t believe that she thinks this, but she does. That was important for me to get her message.
The students’ experiences highlight the importance of ongoing communication, and of feedback that acknowledges students individually. Assessment is not just about guiding learning—it is about building relationships.
The success of IAC is grounded in critical digital pedagogy, universal design for learning, and open education approaches that ask us to:
- Treat accessibility as foundational and necessary for all learners
- Acknowledge students as complex, whole people whose learning is impacted by social, political, and economic structures
- Forefront communication, community, and relationality
- Promote reflection, action, and agency
- Acknowledges, upholds, and celebrates diverse voices and methodologies
- Build networks of support individually and institutionally
- Create multiple pathways so that students can engage with knowledge in a variety of ways
We hope this case study of 1202 shows the multifaceted nature of inclusive instructional design. It is work that is grounded in theory, care, community, and an attention to detail. Most significantly, it should not be siloed or seen as the responsibility of one individual. Inclusive instructional design is at its best when it is approached collaboratively; faculty mentorship, ongoing consultation with students, widespread student supports, and collaboration between units (for example, with the library) have a significant impact on its success.
Students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities deserve equal access to education. IAC proves that it can be done, and that inclusive, for-credit academic options are possible. What is needed is willingness, time, and commitment, both on the part of instructors and on the part of institutions. If we are truly committed to education as a transformational, transgressive practice of freedom, then inclusive instructional design is a necessary starting place.
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