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To achieve equity in higher education outcomes, we need to change how we teach – The Centre for Inclusive Education


In this C4IE blog, Linda Graham, Lara Maia-Pike, and Jenna Gillett-Swan consider what the 2024 May Budget means for the inclusion of students in priority equity groups, and those with unidentified disabilities, in higher education.

In the week leading up to Budget Night, the Minister for Education, Hon Jason Clare MP, announced changes to HELP debt indexation and paid placements in teaching, nursing, and social work.  

The minister flagged that these announcements were part of the initial reforms the government will implement in response to the Universities Accord Final Report released in February this year.  

The report made 47 recommendations that could transform higher education in Australia. At the forefront are equity targets to ensure that the higher education system delivers opportunities for all. 

Governments have set a range of equity targets since the 2008 Bradley Review, but they have never been met and we continue to see substandard outcome patterns, particularly for Indigenous students and students with disability. 

The Accord report advocates building these students’ aspirations for higher education. However, the notion of low aspirations is problematic and nor do they guarantee successful participation, retention, and completion.  

Aspiring to and successfully enrolling in university is just one of the hurdles that students encounter in obtaining a degree qualification. Other hurdles include financial difficulties, cultural differences, language expectations, discrimination, and use of stereotypes. These hurdles form barriers that impact students as they progress through their degree.

The quality of university teaching was also reviewed in the Accord report with the recommendation that assessment goes beyond current measures of employment outcomes and student experience surveys. Further examination of resourcing and learning environments to better understand and support the student experience was also recommended.  

These are valuable recommendations, but whenever the question of quality teaching is raised, we must also ask: quality for whom?

Without attention to the needs of students in priority equity groups, for whom accessibility is not just nice but essential, what passes as quality for most will be woefully inadequate for many. 

What is ‘accessibility’?

Accessibility in education extends beyond the provision of lifts, ramps, tactile signs, adjusted materials, and websites able to be read through the use of screen readers.

Accessibility is also more than the provision of reasonable adjustments through disability support services, which are often generic, retrospective, and logistically tedious to access. Many students do not bother applying for these supports or give up trying, which means they must grapple with the barriers they experience alone and unsupported.

Prominent among these students are those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), who account for around 14% of school-age students. Australian schools are more successfully including these students with the result that more are qualifying for university. University education must also change to ensure these students continue to succeed.

To successfully include students with disabilities impacting language and information processing, accessibility resides in the comprehensibility of teaching and assessment, learning management systems, and support provision processes. 

What does accessible teaching and learning look like?

Text says" I have ADHD, and the way this has been laid out is really helpful. I had a little idea on a few of the topics but it has been refreshing to familrise myself with the terms and further educate"Researchers from QUT’s Centre for Inclusive Education (C4IE) recently applied accessibility principles that were developed and tested in the award-winning Accessible Assessment ARC Linkage project with three Queensland state secondary schools to create and deliver a new university unit

In designing the unit, we maximised comprehensibility by removing all unnecessary linguistic, procedural, and visual complexity. For example, all unit content was purpose written using clear and concise language. This reduced the navigational burden on students as it did not require them to locate academic readings. It also eliminated the financial burden imposed by textbooks.  

Text says: " I really love your approach to this class. You help me understand and I really enjoy it. In my culture we're not taught to think differently. You have shown me new ways and it's a challenge but it's very good".Low frequency words and specialist vocabulary were defined using student-friendly terminology in a hyperlinked glossary. Procedural barriers were removed through logical content sequencing, clear signposting, and a carefully scaffolded assessment task with clear Steps for Success aligned to weekly tutorials.  

Students were provided with micro tasks to complete in the weekly tutorial where they could access support from expert teachers and feedback from their peers. Together, the micro tasks helped students produce around a third of the content they needed for their final assessment, ensuring that students were provided with ample opportunity to prepare their submission in time. 

Student outcomes were positive with the team receiving an Accessibility in Action Award from the Australian Disability Clearing House on Education and Training (ADCET).

What is needed to make all university teaching accessible?

When designing with accessibility in mind, we can prevent confusion and frustration, reduce students’ need to seek clarification, and reach all students, including students with disability or those from culturally diverse backgrounds whether those students have been identified or not. 

This is more than ‘quality teaching’. This is inclusive practice. And it is what Australian universities need to implement at scale if widening participation is to achieve more than an increase in enrolments and instead achieve an increase in student engagement, achievement, and completion. 

To achieve this, the Australian government must reinstate grants to support rigorous research into inclusive practices in higher education and fund scale-up of the results. Instead, Tuesday’s budget contained an $8 million cut over four years for the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching.

While these outcome measures fail to measure what we really need to measure (and that is the actual quality and accessibility of teaching practice), there is no indication in this year’s budget as to how the Australian government will ensure the ambitious targets for widening participation will be realised nor, even more importantly from our perspective, how students enticed into higher education will be supported to succeed once there.

The Accessible Assessment ARC Linkage team has developed student, self and peer assessment tools to measure and improve the accessibility of teaching and learning from the perspective of students, teachers, and teacher-peers.

Perhaps it is time those tools make their way into higher education?

 


Photo of a woman standing in front of plantsLinda J. Graham is Director of The Centre for Inclusive Education (C4IE) and a Professor in the Faculty of Creative Industries, Education and Social Justice at QUT. She leads the Accessible Assessment ARC Linkage Project and QUT004: Living and Working Collaboratively, Ethically and Inclusively.

 

 

Headshot of woman. She has long brown hair and is looking at the camera.Lara Maia-Pike is Coordinator of The Centre for Inclusive Education (C4IE) and a PhD candidate at QUT, where she is investigating the post-school transition planning experiences of students with disability in secondary schools. Lara is also part of the team that designed and delivered QUT004: Living and Working Collaboratively, Ethically and Inclusively.

 

 

Jenna Gillett-Swan
Jenna Gillett-Swan is an Associate Professor and the co-leader for the Health and Wellbeing Research Program within the Centre for Inclusive Education (C4IE). Jenna specialises in qualitative child-centred participatory research methodologies. Jenna is also part of the team that designed and delivered QUT004: Living and Working Collaboratively, Ethically and Inclusively.

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.
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