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Inclusive-Learning@York Toolkit

Our toolkit gives guidance on developing inclusive practice and links to further reading and resources. Below you can find links to our page of case studies of good inclusive practice. See also our collection of further resources for staff and students. More resources will be added as they become available.

Inclusive-Learning case studies

These case studies of good practice reflect several pieces of work taking place across the University of York which promote and teach important lessons about inclusive teaching and learning practice.

YUSU’s ‘Life in Lockdown’ research: What the COVID-19 lockdown taught us about the importance of Inclusive practice.

Theme two: Inclusive Learning and Teaching Approaches

This case study highlights the impact of sharing students’ individual experiences at the University of York, through acknowledging a diverse array of intersectional identities. It is an important example of student-centred approaches to learning, teaching and assessment.

Led by University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) 

What did we do?

‘Life in Lockdown’ was a research project conducted by the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) throughout the first COVID-19 national lockdown, collecting students’ personal stories in order to understand how the shift to online learning affected University of York students. The research asked students to depict their personal experiences of learning and student-life during lockdown through personal stories and representations. 

Why did we do it?

To understand how the national lockdown affected students from the University of York and, in particular, to understand the differences in students' experiences between different student groups. 

What did we find?

Many student stories highlighted that the shift to online learning exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in the higher education system, which meant certain student groups felt disadvantaged in their learning experiences. In particular, student’s highlighted the false expectation that all students would have the same level of access to teaching and learning resources, opportunities and support over the national lockdown period.  This included an assumption that students would have access to private study spaces and technologies such as a computer and stable internet access. The student’s stories also highlighted the importance of flexible assessment practises in ensuring all students could have equitable access to achieving the same grades and outcomes. 

Reflections and recommendations

  • Consider where and when different approaches to support may need to be taken for different student groups and individuals in order to ensure equitable access to learning experiences and resources.
  • Listening to student  perspectives and involving them in aspects of teaching and learning, including assessments and learning technologies, can help develop a more honest and holistic approach to inclusive learning. 

To find out more get in touch with n.glover@yusu.org or read more about the ‘Life in Lockdown’ project. 

YUSU’s ‘Life in Lockdown’ research: Student Partnerships

Theme five: Co-Construction, Student Partners and Student Voice

This case study highlights the impact of sharing students’ individual experiences at the University of York, through acknowledging a diverse array of intersectional identities. It is an important example of student-centred approaches to learning, teaching and assessment.

Led by University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) 

What did we do? 

Through use of Digital Storytelling, (a process of personal story development where storytellers retell and share ideas based on certain life experiences) ‘Life in Lockdown’ collected information about student lived experiences during national lockdown. By mapping the stories of 42 students throughout the first national Covid-19 lockdown, research was gathered to produce a unique study focused on highlighting ‘unseen struggles’ of students as they worked within unprecedented environments. 

Why did we do it? 

Foregrounding the perspectives of underrepresented groups (eg BAME, working class, disabled students), ‘Life in Lockdown’ aimed to unveil the complex, intersectional experiences of individuals at the University of York. Through using the ‘storytelling’ method of research, the project’s process gave all the control to the students, enabling their creativity and self-expression. These stories could then be used to inform learning, teaching and assessment practices in light of the significant disruptions Covid-19 brought upon Higher Education and life more generally. 

What did we find? 

Within the study we found that students’ environments constantly influenced their learning experiences, specifically their motivation levels. While in social isolation, students were often led to feelings of apathy toward learning and their daily routine in general. The study also uncovered a deep connection between student identity and place. Living and learning in altered environments over lockdown, students experienced varying impacts upon their sense of self: some felt positive about the security of  home life, while others experienced a loss of their sense of student identity, which in turn impacted their motivation and connected to their learning.

What did we learn? 

Overwhelmingly, ‘Life in Lockdown’ points to the connection between students’ living environments and their learning experiences. It highlights the rich learning that can happen, when students are given the freedom and opportunity to express their lived experiences in ways that go beyond traditional surveys and questionnaires. ‘Life in Lockdown’ also highlights the value of student centred approaches to student experience research, which in turn influences the ways in which we think about approaches to learning, teaching and assessment. For example, students who took part in the study revealed the positive impacts of greater flexibility in learning, teaching and assessment approaches, particularly in relation to being more inclusive and accessible to the needs of their cohort. The project emphasises key lessons to take from the pandemic and beyond, namely, the need to recognise a diversity of experiences within the student population in relation to LTA and the benefits of collaboration with students in exploring and understanding their individual lived experiences. 

Reflections and recommendations…

  • Consider using individual storytelling methods to collaborate with students and collect evidence of student experience/ opinion
  • Consider ways in which you can make your teaching and assessment more flexible to student needs and demands 
  • Be considerate of students’ unique environments. Education doesn’t take place within a ‘vacuum’ and learning, teaching and assessment design should be cognisant and critical of inequalities within the student body, and should work to address inequities. .  

To find out more get in touch with n.glover@yusu.org or read more about the Life in Lockdown’ project.

Capturing student voices: a student panel event on lived experiences with disability

Theme five: Co-Construction, Student Partners and Student Voice

Creating spaces through which to highlight and listen to student voices and perspectives is at the heart of inclusive practice within higher education. Through giving students a platform to share their stories and have their voice heard, this event shone the spotlight on student’s personal lived experiences with a disability and how this impacts their experience at University.  

Led by Inclusive-Learning@York and University of York Student Union (YUSU)

What did we do?

In partnership with the University of York Student Union (YUSU), Inclusive-Learning@York organised a student-led panel discussion on lived experiences with disability focusing on ‘Invisible Disabilities’- the first of three events planned to take place. Here, four University of York students volunteered as panellists, with the discussion facilitated by YUSU’s disabled students officer. There was an important emphasis on co-construction in the planning of the event, both in terms of constructing the discussion prompts and regarding aspects such as audience engagement. 

Why did we do it?

The event was organised in order to develop a well-rounded understanding of student’s experiences with disability at York and to give students a platform through which to share these experiences and challenges and have these experiences heard and recognised. We also wanted to highlight the importance of student voices in the tackling of barriers to inclusivity and accessibility within HE.

What did we find?

The students involved, both as panellists and from the audience, gave a range of insights into their experiences with an invisible disability, and how these experiences impact their sense of identity and belonging and their learning at University. The panellists gave honest and frank recounts of their experiences and perspectives on a range of issues and provided key recommendations on where support could be provided or improved for students with invisible disabilities at York. These insights were extremely well received by the audience, with a clear sense of gratitude and learning from attendees at the end of the event. 

What did we learn?

Lived experiences and perspectives can vary greatly between students. Therefore it's critically important we provide spaces for these multiple perspectives to be shared, discussed and listened to by the University,  rather than generalising a single student voice and story when looking at disability and similar inclusivity topics. This event also showed a high level of engagement from those within the HE community when listening to student voices and perspectives, indicating that such discussions are valued both in hearing shared perspectives and in their professional development and learning. 

Reflections and recommendations

  • Create spaces for open and honest dialogue between students and students and staff within the University 
  • Encourage and respect student feedback, especially on challenges regarding inclusivity and lived experience. 

To find out more get in touch with inclusive-learning@york.ac.uk 

The Mature Student Retention Project

Theme four: Academic Communities of Students and Staff

Creating an inclusive community is essential to help all students feel as if they matter, while successful transition empowers a student to feel more confident in approaching their studies. The Mature Student Retention Project focuses on enabling this transition, with feelings of belonging at the heart of what we do.

Led by Nicola Browne and Tamlyn Ryan

What did we do?

The Mature Student Retention Project involves the implementation of various approaches, including Mature Student Induction events, a Student Buddying scheme, and weekly coffee drop-in sessions, aimed to improve the transition experience of mature students entering the University. The project successfully created a ‘Mature student community’ through the induction events, a Facebook group, the Mature Student Buddy scheme, a programme of events to encourage involvement in the mature student community and closer links with the Mature Students’ Association. As of Autumn 2021, 221 student buddies are in place supporting 441 students, and the student induction events have been developed further into the ‘Step Ahead’ programme which also supports other student groups. 

Why did we do it?

In 2015, a series of focus groups  found a real need for our mature students to feel a sense of belonging at the university, with one student stating “I just want to find someone like me”. This project therefore aims to improve the transition experience of mature students entering the university, and support mature students in developing a sense of belonging and identity early on in their studies. It also seeks to reduce the gap in the continuation rate at York for young and mature full-time UK first degree students to within six percentage points by 2021.

What did we find?

Approaches such as the Mature Students’ induction event have grown in popularity since the first Mature Students’ Induction Day in 2016 which was attended by 43 mature students. The same event in 2019 was attended by 101 students. After the 2019 event it was felt that students in other underrepresented groups would also benefit from attending an induction event and in 2020 the Step Ahead induction, for students in all widening participation groups, was introduced. In 2021, 110 mature students (and 157 students from other groups) attended Step Ahead. The vast majority of the mature students opted to attend the ‘mature’ cohort where the information was tailored for students who were starting university age 21 or over. 

What did we learn? 

The Induction event has since evolved into the Step Ahead induction programme which was held online in 2021 and was open to mature students and students from other groups. The Mature Student Buddy scheme has now evolved into the Student Buddying Scheme which all first year home students have access to. Aspects of the project have since been replicated and expanded to all marginalised student communities. 

Reflections and recommendations

  • Recognise the importance of induction events and activities in the creation of student community and sense of belonging. 
  • To what extent do you organise events for marginalised groups? For example, decolonising and diversifying induction/transition events.
  • Utilise your Departmental Community Coordinator (DCC) to make sure there is local-level transition and inductions.

To find out more get in touch with tamlyn.ryan@york.ac.uk or nicola.browne@york.ac.uk.

Inclusive-Learning@York: Placement student partners

Theme five: Co-Construction, Student Partners and Student Voice

This case study highlights the benefits of paid student roles within higher education, and particularly within work on inclusion. Valuing student input and time through paid work experience is not only inclusive practice in action, but also a meaningful way to involve students in discussions around inclusive learning and teaching. 

An example from Inclusive-Learning@York

What did we do?

The Inclusive-Learning team employs a variety of student roles throughout the academic year. Through these roles and other collaborative areas of work with students, the team makes a commitment to empowering students, engaging students in the decisions that affect their learning and challenging traditional power relations between students and staff. 

An example of such a student partnership is this year's placement roles. Two students, Alice and Rachel, are currently undertaking an undergraduate placement year with Inclusive-Learning@York as Research and Communications assistants. Their work so far has spanned projects within the team and working across other areas of the University. For example, they have launched Inclusive-Learning@York social media accounts and started a monthly newsletter for students and staff, alongside working on independent projects including the organisation of discussion events, workshops and most recently developing an online learning course on inclusive practice for students.

Why did we do it?

“With a lot of emphasis on self-drive with projects and ideas, our role has enabled us to focus on what we are passionate about. Our overall aims were to create opportunities for other students and staff to come together by creating spaces, such as discussion events and workshops, to speak openly about challenges at university. Using our position as both staff and student, we have been able to bring these two groups together with more ease.” - Alice

What did we find?

“We have found that this placement has allowed us to create impact during our time at York by giving us responsibility for our learning and teaching environments. It is empowering to take part as a student-staff member, as it creates increased reciprocation between students, staff and the University as an institution, going beyond the boundaries of our degrees. It has enabled us to gain skills that will be helpful in our lives beyond university, while providing the University with the benefit of our student knowledge and experience.” - Rachel

Reflections and recommendations:

  • Consider getting students on board with projects from their very conception
  • Allow students to pursue areas of interest and encouraging them to start their own projects
  • Consider the benefits of paid roles and internships: how can paying students to take part in institutional roles increase the access and outreach of student jobs?

Further resources for staff and students