Teachers in online learning aim to eliminate opportunity gaps and elevate the diverse talents of all students. But the reality is that many online students do not have access to all the opportunities to become motivated, purposeful, resourceful, and strategic learners at full capacity. Unconscious prejudices and structural barriers are playing a role here.
Those who own and control knowledge have power. According to Foucault, a philosopher in the 20th century, knowledge production serves the interests of those who have the power. These interests are often implicit and are therefore not challenged, which perpetuates existing inequalities and beliefs about superiority as the legitimised norm.
In this module, you will learn how to challenge the notion that disability is a ‘limitation and inferiority’ in online learning and be culturally responsive in your classroom. Furthermore, you will discover how implicit ideas of inferiority and superiority might be embedded into the curriculum.
As you will see, equity-responsive teaching is not just about fairness, it is also about inclusiveness. Both concepts are inextricably linked.
Ableism is a societal belief that is deep rooted. Ableism views people with disabilities as a diminished state of being human, which can be worse as it ranks them as dependent, invisible or hidden. Ableism is the conscious and unconscious attitude, and beliefs, that certain abilities (such as cognition, competitiveness, speed, or having an able body and mind) is preferred and essential in society. Therefore, people with disabilities are perceived as inferior or less valuable. However, if ableism is eliminated from the online education equation, it is possible that more faculty and students will feel comfortable including disability in their identity (Brown, N. & Leigh, J., 2018).
Ableism can take the form of ideas, assumptions, stereotypes, attitudes and practices, physical barriers in the environment or larger scale oppression. In online higher education, different forms of ableism can be recognized. First, it appears when it is required to disclose and prove the disability in order to get accomodations. Second, it may emerge in participation activities. For example, in an online classroom some students do not engage by speaking up or jumping into written discussions and fora. It is important to understand that participation and engagement can be different things, and one doesn’t always equal the other. Third, due to underrepresentation of students and faculty members with disabilities,faculty and students may have little familiarity with people with disabilities and misunderstand the fairness of accommodations. Fourth, online higher education institutions that adopt managerial approaches might perceive students with disabilities as not desirable students by being ‘non-typical’ or requiring costly accommodations.
In online education, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a well-proven framework for lesson design. To reach inclusiveness, it is necessary to connect UDL with equity responsiveness. In essence, this involves recognizing that every single learner has amazing assets that will allow them to learn at high levels when provided with online learning that is accessible, engaging, linguistically appropriate, culturally sustaining and non ableist.
Online learning has a lot of potential to take into account the diversity of the students based on a proactive design that runs against uniformity and the idea that all students are equal. Being blind for gender, sexual-orientation, disability, etnicity, race etc. is neutralizing a part of a person that is an asset. Those diverse characteristics are an added value of learning experiences and perspectives.
Colour blindness, sometimes called cultural blindness, regards ethnic, racial and cultural groups as identical and does not recognise the existing differences among them. This creates inequality where minority groups are at a disadvantage as they are not ‘seen’.
As a teacher in online learning, consider how students can help to co-create learning experiences that are relevant, authentic, and meaningful, and choose and use tools and techniques to honour student identity and culture. By doing this, you will provide all students with online learning opportunities to share their voices and make choices about their learning in a challenging and flexible way.
However, it is not only necessary to work with the diverse characteristics of students as individuals and as a group but also with the curriculum –since this is an essential part of the process towards inclusion. An online curriculum provides a way of identifying the knowledge we value. It structures the ways in which we are taught to think and talk about the world. In any case, the task of diversifying the voices included in the online curricula can not be put on the shoulders of students who are minority.
A curriculum provides a way of identifying the knowledge we value. It structures the ways in which we are taught to think and talk about the world.
More often than desired, there is an institutional blindness outside the regional concentric circles surrounding our educational institutions, namely our own country and region, or Europe, the US and the ‘West’. In such cases, the curriculum and learning resources are not open enough nor well-balanced in its attention to the world, despite the increasing internationalisation of students and staff, and the wider society the university should serve. The default learning situation reveals a dominance of Western perspectives, an implicit blindness towards other views, and a lack of reflection on the positionality of research, and consequently, education. A correlative problem is the hegemony of Anglo-Saxon sources and their dominance over other voices. .
However, as education has become increasingly global, communities have challenged the widespread assumption that the most valuable knowledge and the most valuable ways of teaching and learning come from European or Western traditions.
In the context of inclusive education, decolonizing the online curriculum prompts us to consider everything we study from diverse perspectives. It draws attention to how often the only world view presented to online learners is (e.g. male, white, Western). This is not simply about removing some content from the curriculum and replacing it with new content: it is about considering multiple perspectives and making space to think carefully about what we value.
It also prompts professional practices. The aim is not to tell what should be included on a reading list nor question academic freedom, but to make visible the lack of minoritized voices, so that those subject experts can revise their content with a new critical view.
It is not possible to bring in all existing perspectives, but the one-sidedness or certain missing perspectives can be made explicit. Making missing perspectives explicit is a matter of self-awareness and correctness. This can be done in various ways throughout designing the online learning environment and in justifying and engaging with the chosen materials and tools. Online learning has a lot of potential to take into account the diversity of the students based on a proactive design that runs against uniformity, single perspective and the idea that all are equal.