e-Learning: Inclusivity in the Online Classroom

For our latest Technology Enhanced Learning session, educational developer Siobhan Clay talked to us about the issue of inclusivity. While inclusivity is something that tends to be much considered in relation to the real-world classroom there is a tendency to make assumptions that online platforms do not pose the same obstacles and almost inherently inclusive. Clearly this is not always the case and while these platforms can lower barriers in some areas they can also create new ones.

Siobhan talked us through a few ideas and texts of interests, introducing concepts along the way. One was Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant’s idea of ‘habitus’, the innate qualities we derived from our upbringing and experiences. Our habitus predisposes us to successful navigation of some situations and a more challenging experience in others. Online teaching is an example of this, students who perhaps come from homes and backgrounds where digital technologies are extensively used and who do not regard them as intimidating are likely to inherently find these environments more accessible than those students who have not had this experience.

Siobhan also introduced us to Neil Selwyn’s Distrusting educational technology which looks at some of the pitfalls of online spaces and questions the extent to which they can support detrimental agendas. Issues of social exclusion (low income, lack of motivation, exclusion through physical and mental health disabilities) digital exclusion (Lack of hardware, access to internet) and accessibility (Urban vs Rural, ICT and information literacy) all need to be considered before praising the openness of these platforms.

Siobhan also shared some interesting statistics gathered from students at UAL which questioned the idea of young people as ‘digial natives’. A quarter of students were mildly anxious about sharing work online. A third felt overwhelmed by the digital information they received from the college and course. We also discussed community building around these platforms particularly in light of our experiences over the past several weeks with Tweetchats. Does social media generate a community? I think to some extent you can view things like social media are a framework or scaffold for communities which may or may not survive in their absence. In the context of Twitter and photography has become an alternative space, photography exiles not really welcome in the traditional venues of discussion and debate. Are they really community building?

Lastly for this session we discussed plans for our self-initiated projects for this unit. I’m still undecided about the course I will take with it. One idea I had was to look at how various platforms could be used for collaborative online teaching, testing some of them out with students. However the impending easter break and the timescale for this assignment means it would be difficult to do this to the extent I’d like. Alternatively, building on the discussions of this session and some of my previous writing on the topic I may look at the ways that these online platforms and spaces incorporate certain biases and obsctacles and perpetuate sometimes unhelpful power relations. I’ll be researching both of these ideas over the coming week and for the latter I think the Selwyn book will be a particularly useful starting point for.

Author: Lewis Bush

Photographer, writer, curator and lecturer. www.lewisbush.com www.disphotic.com

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