Sector leaders now have an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the entire higher education experience. A strategic approach to inclusive digital delivery will be critical to ensure a digital-first curriculum that makes the best use of technology for all students and staff.
This toolkit gives senior leaders an overview of the key drivers and benefits of inclusive practice. It explains why inclusion needs to be central to digital strategy going forward in order to improve quality, to mitigate risk and meet student expectations.
Ensuring success for all
An increase in online learning could create additional problems for vulnerable, disadvantaged and under-represented groups unless their needs are considered in digital planning. The starting point is to address the digital inequality exposed during the pandemic lockdown, to ensure all students have access to digital devices, stable connectivity, and suitable spaces to study.
There is also a need to adapt pedagogical practice, improve digital skills, and manage consistency and quality better for learning online. An inclusive approach could help remove barriers for some student groups who currently need additional support or alternative arrangements.
Access to quality higher education and digital inclusion will be key factors in improving social mobility and addressing regional deprivation. As well as being an important part of a fair society, inclusive practice is good practice and inclusion makes good business sense.
Inclusion is a strategic priority for many universities because equality, diversity, and inclusion are intrinsic to fair access and success in education. New accessibility legislation and widening participation aims also need to be reflected in strategic digital planning.
Widening participation has attracted more non-traditional students into higher and further education. The resulting diverse student/learner population has some significantly different needs and preferences.
Ensuring everyone can be successful brings added obligations and challenges:
- Managing demand for additional support and increased adaptation costs
- Meeting legal requirements and moral obligations to students/learners
- Anticipating increased risk of exclusion and dissatisfaction which comes with diversity
- Maintaining engagement for more challenged learners/students
- Managing innovative teaching practice equitably
- Addressing more variable student experience, engagement, retention, outcomes
- Ensuring adequate digital and employability skills for all
- Ensuring access to appropriate digital equipment and learning spaces
What can digital inclusion do?
Widening participation covers a huge range of students, situations, challenges and differences but in many cases, technology has a key role to play. An inclusive digital strategy addresses their needs at the outset. These include:
- Reduces the cost of supporting learner achievement
- Promotes cross-organisational accountability for student success
- Mitigates the increased risk of accidental exclusion
- Provides opportunities to extend and improve engagement
- Encourages innovative teaching based on individual needs
- Improves student experience, engagement, retention, outcomes
- Promotes digital and employability skills for all students
- Takes a strategic approach to managing the risk of digital exclusion
- Jisc report: shaping the digital future of FE and skills (pdf) - September 2020
- UK Government press release on Social Mobility Commission report: the long shadow of deprivation - September 2020
- Learning and teaching reimagined interim report: change and challenge for students, staff and leaders - July 2020
- Social Mobility Commission report: moving on to move up (pdf) - July 2020
- UK Government policy paper: improving social mobility through education - December 2017
Blogs on digital strategy:
- UUK blog: embracing the future of teaching and learning, by Paul Feldman, Jisc CEO
- Why your digital strategy must be inclusive - Jisc accessible organisations blog
- Accessibility: the secret to success is organisational buy-in - Jisc responding to coronavirus blog
News and features:
The main reasons for leaders to improve inclusion are:
- Adapting and improving online delivery fairly and without risk, post-COVID
- Government policy, new regulations and evidencing good practice
- Business development, future proofing and managing innovation
- Ensuring efficiency, maintaining quality and return on digital investment
Improving online delivery post COVID isn’t just about ensuring students have an equivalent experience on and off campus. Everyone should have equal opportunity to be successful.
Disadvantaged and underrepresented groups such as those without family or financial support, can be more adversely affected by change and there are significant outcome gaps for some groups.
Inclusive practice improves the student experience at every stage of the journey from recruitment to graduation. It impacts on engagement, satisfaction, retention and attainment.
- Hybrid time for inclusive teaching skills - Jisc accessible organisations blog
- Could 'HyFlex' make the difference for disadvantaged leaners - Jisc accessible organisations blog
The national higher education regulatory bodies in England and Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales require evidence of a proactive approach to improving fair access and wider participation as part of their regulatory frameworks.
Equality, diversity, and inclusion are a strategic priority for national and professional bodies in higher education. The Equality Act places a duty on universities to promote and provide quality opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Disability law requires that ‘reasonable adjustments'1 are made for people with disabilities and web accessibility regulations set a minimum inclusive standard for all digital assets.
Equality and accessibility are legal obligations. Inclusive practice focuses on usability - removing unnecessary barriers for all students/ learners and staff not just those with disabilities or protected characteristics.
- UK Government digital strategy, section 2: digital skills and inclusion
- Office for students annual review - A new approach to fair access
- Northern Ireland Department for the Economy article on widening participation strategy
- Scottish Government framework for fair access
- Higher Education Funding Council fr Wales (HEFCW) widening access and inclusion policy
- UUK equality, diversity and inclusion policy and analysis
- Association of Colleges (AoC) equality and diversity within the code of good governance for English colleges
- Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance for FE and HE
- Government Digital Service accessibility regulations campaign information for educations
- Inclusive teaching and learning in higher education - independent report on UK Government website
- Jisc information on meeting accessibility regulations
Taking an inclusive approach makes sound business sense, because it opens up new opportunities and extends delivery more readily into new communities and markets.
Inclusive practice aims to increase independence and broaden involvement, so it reduces additional support costs and mitigates against the accidental risk of exclusion.
Inclusion relies on differentiation which helps meets student expectations. It builds staff digital skills and encourages engagement and innovation.
Investing in inclusive platforms and technologies will enhance the experience and outcomes for all and be usable by everyone without additional investment or adaptation.
Staff with inclusive digital skills can confidently deliver engaging and inclusive digital content that makes best use of technology for all learners - including technologies that support learner independence and productivity.
An inclusive curriculum will be as accessible to as many people as possible. This will increase engagement, retention, satisfaction and achievement for all with less additional adaptation. Empowering all students with free enabling technologies will support their independence, reduce reliance on people-based support and raise awareness of productivity strategies and study skills for all students.
Inclusive practice benefits all students / learners not just those who have additional needs. Building inclusion into all digital planning will ensure easier access for all students. It will maximum usage of the platforms and services and enable a more accurate evaluation of digital investments.
News, blogs and features:
- Why digital strategy must be inclusive - Jisc accessible organisations blog
- Education is part of the answer to social mobility but not all - WonkHE blog
Set inclusive digital objectives
Digital strategy is about vision, ownership and accountability. It means involving staff and giving them the skills needed to develop a digital culture that aims to include everyone. All stakeholders should be invited to contribute to setting inclusive objectives for digital development.
As outlined in Wales' Digital 2030 strategy,
Learners can overcome barriers and reach their potential because they have accessible platforms, tools and resources. Staff understand their responsibilities and know how to support learners using technology, collaborating with partners where appropriate.
Objectives include ways to maximise potential:
Learners of all backgrounds and abilities can maximise their potential through the use of digital technology to increase flexibility and support independent learning.
And aims for delivering guidance and support:
Guidance and support is available to help staff to understand their responsibilities in using technology to widen access and support learners, taking account of online safety considerations and ensuring compliance with accessibility standards.
Embed inclusion in key policies
Inclusion is often seen as being the responsibility of student support services. Everyone in the organisation has a role to play in supporting strategic objectives and translating them into inclusive practice.
Staff recruitment, staff development and performance
- Identify role-related inclusive digital capabilities and link them to job descriptions and performance reviews
- Be specific about the importance of assistive technology and productivity tools
Teaching and learning
- Provide inclusive teaching practice guidelines, standards and training to support all staff and make them a requirement
- Provide templates and varied staff development opportunities that enable everyone to create accessible documents and rich media as a base line.
- Curriculum - Include usability criteria in all module design and specification processes so that course curricula and assessments are designed to be inclusive
- Adapt your IT policy to get the best from personal devices and to support extensive use of accessible rich media
- Ensure networks and technical support for widespread access to assistive technology and productivity tools
- Encourage, share and reward good practice in inclusive use of technology
Procurement policy and commissioning processes
- Don’t digitally exclude- consult the widest range of learners at the outset
- Build in usability checks at the start of the procurement procedure
- Reference relevant usability and Web Accessibility Initiative criteria
- Allocate responsibility for digital inclusion in Web and design management
Link inclusion to key policies to ensure it is ‘cross functional’ and that there is accountability across the organisation.
Best practice in the sector
UCL's inclusive teaching and learning toolkit for staff includes a baseline guide for staff on designing and delivering inclusive course modules. It includes guidance on:
- Inclusive navigation: consistent layout, clear organisation, meaningful heading structure, colour and word count tips
- Helping students orientate themselves at the beginning of the course - eg, welcome video, module summaries, learning aims and icebreaker activities
- Communication: opportunities for feedback and discussion, help forums for students to interact and evaluate the course
See also the University of Cambridge's inclusive design toolkit, which includes a design process checklist.
- A checklist for digital inclusion - Government Digital Service blog
- AdvanceHE guide: inclusive curriculum design in higher education
- W3C web accessibility initiative: accessibility, usability and inclusion
- W3C web accessibility initiative: planning and managing web accessibility
- Guide: The digitally-capable organisation
- Why digital strategy must be inclusive - Jisc accessible organisations blog
- Guide: A strategic approach to inclusive practice in higher education
Inclusive use of technology removes or overcomes barriers and meets more learners needs by offering differentiation and choice. Well-designed, asynchronous online delivery has the potential to deliver an inclusive digital-first curriculum that will work for everyone. This needs a planned approach designed to impact on the whole organisation.
Putting inclusion at the centre of digital strategy will demonstrate a commitment. It will shape an inclusive digital culture in which everyone from senior leaders to practitioners understands and can carry out their responsibilities.
- 1 What are reasonable adjustments, Equality and Human Rights Commission - https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/what-are-reas...