How does EdTech strengthen diversity and inclusion?

How to keep people at the heart of learning

Post-pandemic education and technology have evolved to deliver learning opportunities beyond the classroom. EdTech (education technology) has removed barriers to education by offering remote learning and expanding the means of gaining knowledge. This blog post covers how we can use EdTech to support diversity and inclusion and keep people at the heart of learning.

Inclusive practices in education New Zealand (NZ)

In New Zealand education, there are guiding principles used to cover what is important in the school curriculum. Below are three principles that focus on inclusion and diversity in the curriculum:

  • The Treaty of Waitangi principle: "The curriculum acknowledges the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and the bicultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand. All students have the opportunity to acquire knowledge of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga."
  • The cultural diversity principle: "The curriculum reflects New Zealand’s cultural diversity and values the histories and traditions of all its people."
  • The inclusion principle: "The curriculum is non-sexist, non-racist, and non-discriminatory; it ensures that students’ identities, languages, abilities, and talents are recognised and affirmed and that their learning needs are addressed."

These principles work to recognise, respect and value differences and diversity in learners to build inclusion. When diversity is embraced, people of different identities feel comfortable to express themselves as they feel included. Diversity includes:

  • ethnicity
  • gender
  • age
  • race
  • religion
  • disability
  • sexual orientation.

By following and practising these principles and celebrating diversity and inclusion in learning environments, learners are more likely to:

  • feel accepted
  • establish positive relationships with peers and educators
  • become active and visible participators
  • have increased empathy and understanding of different perspectives.

10 ways to improve your course content

1. Follow the Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

The UDL framework is an inclusionary practice to reduce barriers to learning. UDL focuses on:

  • Multiple means of representation: providing more than one way to present and acquire information. Take the time to connect with your learners and consider what options work best for them. For example, you could provide a video with closed captions and a transcription underneath. By giving your learners options, they have ownership over their own learning journeys and can learn in the ways that best suit them.
  • Multiple means of expression: providing learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know. Be flexible with your approaches and enable your learners to be creative.
  • Multiple means of engagement: tap into learners' interests and provide the right amount of challenge and motivation to support their learning.

2. Be aware of your own biases

Becoming aware of biases, subconscious or otherwise, enables you to work towards inclusive practices. Consider your core beliefs and values and ask yourself if they affect how you interact with people. Do you have negative assumptions about certain groups of people, and if so, do you treat those people differently from others? Reflect on how biases can be expressed in multiple ways, including discrimination, prejudice, and stereotyping. For instance, assuming someone of a specific ethnicity is fluent in a language or customs associated with that ethnicity.

Critically approaching your thoughts enables you to improve your behaviour in future. Take the time to reflect and make changes to be more inclusive. Using a portfolio platform like Mahara is a great place to keep track of your reflections and encourage your learners to do the same. Discover how reflection can broaden how your learners interact with their work and learn about the DEIBD (diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and decolonisation) principle in practice.

3. Incorporate diverse perspectives and voices

Rose Lu, a Chinese New Zealand author, thought it was a writing convention that characters had blonde hair and blue eyes. Consider what you’re portraying with the examples you give your learners. Are your images representative of your audience? Do they perpetuate stereotypes?

Continue to reflect on your own biases when designing and building your course content. Are you offering a range of perspectives that will resonate with your learners, or just favouring one perspective? When learners don’t see people like themselves represented in course materials they can feel invisible, but if they’re represented positively, this can combat negative self beliefs.

With this in mind, review if you’re favouring one gender over another. When using people as examples, how many times have you used he compared to she? Is there a pattern or stereotype being reinforced with what sort of role or skill the person has? Better yet, if you use gender neutral pronouns (they/them) whenever possible, you’re including everyone.

4. Create accessible content

Course content should be available to all learners regardless of their circumstances. If you’re unfamiliar with WCAG check out our blog post. Review your tools to ensure your EdTech is compatible with assistive technology such as screen readers. Additionally, be aware of the capabilities and limitations of your technology and if it can support diverse needs. If there are accessibility gaps, are there plugins to fix them? For instance, Moodle LMS has a plugin that provides a detailed overview of the accessibility performance per course.

The next time you’re building or updating LMS course content keep accessibility at the forefront of your mind and:

  • check how to improve readability
  • use tables rather than images of tables
  • turn long text blocks into shorter books or H5P.

5. Provide mobile-friendly options

Some learners may not have regular access to a computer or laptop: for example, they may share a device with their household or use a library’s device. Due to the high number of mobile users in New Zealand, it's more likely your learners will have access to a mobile phone. Therefore, ensure your course content works well on mobiles if it’s not built mobile-first. For instance, LMS like Moodle, have a mobile app that makes accessing a course on a mobile easier.

To improve your course content for a mobile experience, you can:

  • reduce, crop or remove large images
  • offer quizzes with offline attempts in an LMS
  • use books and H5P instead of pages and files.

6. Offer offline access to course content

Providing offline access to course content makes it easier for learners to complete work, even if they have no data, or they have limited internet access or a poor internet connection. To support offline access, provide downloadable content and offline quizzes when possible.

7. Provide access to learning progress

It helps learners if they have an easy way to check their progress. If you use an LMS like Tōtara, you can set up a learning plan for each learner to view on their profile. Alternatively, your learners can use a 'Record of Learning' to display all learning, including evidence, competencies, objectives and programs, and certifications.

Additionally, if you use Moodle, you can use plugins such as 'Block completion progress' or 'Course completion' to show learners’ progress visually. As an educator, you'll have a dashboard overview of all learners.

If you use Mahara for reflection, you can use SmartEvidence to track progress against competencies. SmartEvidence visually displays competency frameworks, so learners can have an overview of their progress.

8. Offer flexible learning paths

People all think and learn differently. Providing flexible ways to work through a course means learners can revisit concepts and go at their own pace. Each learner will approach a course with different levels of understanding and experience, so a single learning path won’t always suit everyone. You could begin a course with an assessment and use the results to suggest paths for your learners. Providing different paths means learners have more control of their learning journey, and can still achieve the same learning outcomes. Plus, if you display learning content in multiple ways, learners can use the method that suits them.

9. Support multilingual options

By having a deep understanding of your learners and learning objectives, you can decide on suitable approaches for delivering content. When appropriate, provide your learners with multilingual options for course content, so they can choose what language they want to work in. Within Moodle, you can set up a ‘Multi-language content filter’ to create courses in multiple languages. Plus, Moodle has a range of plugins you can try if the content filter doesn’t support the desired translation.

10. Provide visible support

Supporting material should always be visible to learners. Make sure there are pages with:

  • a list of the wellbeing services your organisation provides
  • FAQs for both course content and the technical side of your tool
  • a process and pathway to report inappropriate behaviour.

Set up a forum for each course to encourage support, peer learning, and the inclusion of learners. Ensure they know this is a learner-only place to discuss course-related topics and to ask for help. To manage the interactions, set up a code of conduct that learners sign before starting courses and give a class representative the permission needed to manage the forums.

You can also utilise plugins to set up reminders for learners when assignments are due to help with time management.

Content development support

Ultimately, EdTech can aid you in creating accessible and inclusive materials. However, without humans establishing unbiased frameworks and challenging their own (sub)conscious biases, bias will creep into the frameworks. That’s why creating course content isn’t just about loading text into an LMS but knowing what content type is the most effective to deliver content. If you need help with your course design, Catalyst’s experienced instructional designers can craft content tailored just for you. Contact us today.