In November 2018, around 40 School of Government and Society staff from across all three departments, professional services and our PGR cohort took part in an Away Day focused on sharing ideas, frustrations and challenges around diversifying the curriculum and fostering inclusive learning environments. The afternoon’s discussions and activities, part of a wider set of on-going initiatives across the School, included reflection on module syllabuses and the sharing of good practice and strategies. These were led and guided by Dr Meera Sabaratnam (SOAS) whose research focuses, inter alia, on questions of diversity, inclusion and governance in higher education.
The event provided a rare and valuable space for colleagues to come together and discuss teaching. It also provided an opportunity to reflect on practical strategies to address some of the issues and challenges raised. Some of the latter can, of course, require longer-term shifts in culture and practice which require time, buy-in and awareness-raising. Many colleagues – including myself – were nonetheless conscious of the range of approaches and strategies which can be put into place in the more immediate term. The remainder of this blog reflects on some of those approaches.
Pedagogical strategies to foster more inclusive learning environments and more diverse curricula:
- Clarify the ‘rules of the game’ early on around structuring participation – both through outlining your own expectations and through asking students how they prefer to contribute. Setting ground rules over participation can, colleagues suggested, remove some of the anxieties some students feel about being picked out in class discussions – and help to build confidence. This might also be important for managing expectations around whose voices dominate and are called upon in class discussions, and how more sensitive topics are introduced or discussed.
- Articulate decisions made on module design, discussion questions and handbook material openly and clearly. Explaining what you have included, and excluded, in a module can be helpful not only for making us reflect on decisions we have made but also for giving students a greater sense of the many different ways in which a topic can be presented.
- Incorporating other voices into the classroom, particularly when the class is dominated by staff and students from a single demographic/socio-economic group. Ideas included the use of videos where voices not present in the class can be presented and discussed.
We also discussed different aspects of diversifying the curriculum, including:
- Differentiating between just including female/BAME/Southern scholars on reading lists and bringing their perspectives into class discussions and the module content.
- Placing work from scholars in context.
- Bringing canon texts into dialogue with other scholarship.
- Including more female/BAME/Southern scholars on reading lists but also – where relevant – using biographical information (around, say documented disability) to contextualise readings, making them more relatable.
- Not just setting academic sources as key readings but other kinds of material.
- Thinking about where voices appear in a module, or programme more generally.