Saturday, 19 May 2012

Activity Four - on a roll!

Activity Four: Access and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity.
Access in education is about many things, but essentially it is about enabling anyone, irrespective of their characteristics, to engage in the learning opportunities they wish to. This requires the removal of barriers to their engagement, which could relate to affordability, being a particular gender or having personal attributes considered inappropriate. Ideas about access may well be socially constructed, as on the one hand, open access is an honourable aspiration, but there may sometimes be sound reasons why access might be limited. For example, most people would embrace the possibility of a child with a physical disability being a member of a mainstream classroom, but those same people might baulk at the idea of a convicted paedophile having the opportunity to be educated as a primary school teacher.
Zondiros & Dimitris (2008) identify a number of potential barriers in access to education. These include income, gender, race, power, status, age, religion and physical or mental disability. I believe there are additional barriers once access has been secured, which might prevent successful progress in people’s learning pathways. These might include learning strategies that are incompatible with learner styles, inflexible assessment arrangements, negative or prejudicial attitudes within some aspect of the student’s required learning environments (eg in a clinical placement context) or language difficulty.
Equity sits alongside access, and relates to learners having equal opportunity to participate and be successful. It includes the structures that are in place to increase one’s ability to take part, for example distance and online education. Rhode (2009) found that learners participating in distance online learning highly valued the interactions they had with both the lecturer and the content of their course, but found learner-to-learner interaction harder to prioritise. The flexibility that online learning allows might have its cost in less interaction between learners, because students are not engaging at the same time and in the same ways. This seems to be similar in our midwifery course; students say they love being able to engage with the theoretical content at their own pace and in their own time, but this often results in less interaction with one another about specific content areas.
Diversity is humanity, in all its various forms! No two learners are the same, despite that they will share attributes which brought them to their place of study. They may be an eclectic mix of cultures, ages, genders, sexual orientations and learning proclivities, with physical, social, political and spiritual differences and uniqueness. This enables a rich and vibrant learning environment in which people can share experiences and gain valuable insights into each other’s worlds, as they move through their learning journey together.
Inclusivity sits alongside diversity as it is the tool used to ensure that diverse elements have the opportunity to give to and receive from one another. The shared learning in an inclusive context is an important process, as strategies that work for some don’t work for others, but through discussion of the differences new strategies can be found that are workable. A recent example in my context is the learning of Procal – or professional calculations – this is maths-based content which student midwives learn to be able to calculate and administer drug dosages correctly. Some students have learned this content best by using real-life scenarios, picking up a syringe and an ampoule of medication, figuring out what would be a correct volume with the maths and then practicing drawing up etc. They have found the practical application helpful. Others have found the exercises in the Moodle modules adequate for their learning, some have found the Adobe session where a lecturer worked through some examples most useful, and yet others have only learned it through peer –tutoring, and using different strategies with the maths to arrive at the correct result.
Universal Design in Learning: I have really enjoyed looking into this topic, and ended up looking at several of the ‘related’ slideshare offerings alongside the UDL: Framework for Access and Equity. The UDL concept suggests that we conceptualise learning content “from scratch” as incorporating a variety of tools to enable all learners to pick and choose how they will learn the topic. The principles include having multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement. This allows learners to have a range of options for acquiring knowledge, for demonstrating what they know, and “taps into [their] interests, offers appropriate challenges, and increases [their] motivation” (Universal Design for Learning, n.d.). I was stimulated into thinking about designing a learning resource that would be about learning a specific skill, for example abdominal palpation, in which I could incorporate an number of different options to accommodate our students’ diverse learning styles. On more than one occasion I have had Maori midwifery students lament the fact that if only they could ‘sing’ an assessment, or weave a mat while they talked to a lecturer about a theoretical concept, this would be much better for them. An idea is taking shape in my head about a learning resource which might include both visual and audio components, maybe even a song to help remember a concept…
Which brings me to issues of access and equity within my learning context: the Bachelor of Midwifery is a four year degree delivered in three years. This means a very long academic year of 45 weeks (end January to mid-Dec each year). This limits student’s chances of being able to work to support their studies, so most have student loans which will continue to burden them once their studies are completed. The cost of the course is also a significant barrier to many prospective students. There are strict entry criteria including a moderately high level of prior academic achievement (NCEA Level 3). Students must be able to afford significant ongoing additional costs over and above course costs, as they are required to travel to weekly face-to-face tutorials, attend visits in women’s homes and clinical placements. In their third year they are required to do a six week placement outside their usual area of residence and therefore have to meet accommodation and travel costs for this. The blended model of course design requires them to have a computer, secure and reliable internet connection, and the requisite digital literacy skills to engage in the learning opportunities provided. Students are required to be on-call, so need to have very flexible and reliable arrangements for childcare, as there exists the possibility of ‘drop everything and go’ at all times. This is made difficult for women who are parenting alone, or whose partners have little flexibility in their workplaces.
Strategies to mitigate these issues: include limited opportunities for scholarships, and the availability of a Certificate Level Course which enables prospective students who do not meet the academic entry criteria to up-skill in the areas they need to demonstrate proficiency in. The Learning Centre is available to support students who have ongoing learning difficulty once they are accepted into the course. Age and gender restrictions are not applied, although it is unusual to receive applications from men for the midwifery course. Learning pedagogy within the school sees great variety being offered in terms of course content delivery, with online modules, synchronous online tutorials, face-to-face learning, clinical placements to develop skill proficiency and regular opportunities to debrief practice experiences. Assessment strategies are varied too, with presentations, exams, quizzes, video assessment, essays and case studies all being employed to assess learning. Different learner styles are hopefully accommodated within this matrix, but I can definitely see a place for inclusion of assessments that ‘work’ for students who find these ones stressful and difficult. Perhaps this is where I will focus my attention…
Rhode. (2009). Interaction equivalency in self-paced online learning environments: An exploration of learner preferences. Retrieved from The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 10 (1)

Universal Design for Learning: Meeting the Needs of Learners. Retrieved from
Zondiros, D. (2008). Online, distance education and globalisation: Its impact on educational access, inequality and exclusion. Retrieved from The European Journal of Open and Distance Learning website:

1 comment:

  1. This is a fabulous description in your context of some of the challenges and the existing situation surrounding access and equity and inclusivity and diversity. You have some excellent ideas Suzanne especially around designing assessments where students can present their knowledge through weaving or singing.

    Presently there is a foundation course for potential enrollees into health programmes which you may not be aware of - The Certificate in Health.

    Have you thought about using group assessments which develop during the course so that students get lots of formative feedback, and build towards a final assessment? I can't wait to hear more.