This blog post is part of the Gonski Institute for Education’s open access annotated bibliography (OAAB) series, a project led by Dr Sally Baker. OAABs offer a snapshot of some of the available literature on a particular topic. The literature is curated by a collective of scholars who share an interest in equity in education. These resources are intended to be shared with the international community of researchers, students, educators and practitioners. The literature has been organised thematically according to patterns that have emerged from a deep and sustained engagement with the various fields.
Following the policy focus on social inclusion, there is a sustained focus on how this notion plays out in the teaching and learning environment. At the policy level, social inclusion was a centrepiece of the Bradley review of Australian higher education (2008), using the terms ‘widening participation’, ‘equity’, ‘access and participation of under-represented groups of students’, and ‘social inclusion’. This focus was enshrined in both policy and funding, through the HEPPP package and an increase in base funding for teaching and learning. However, these policy terms index multiple understandings of what social inclusion means in the pedagogic environment. Gidley et al. (2010) explored the discourses that underpin such social inclusion policies, arguing that there are multiple definitions instantiated in policy, which sit on a spectrum from human potential-social justice-neoliberalism. Kilpatrick & Johns’ (2014) used Gidley et al.’s (2010) heuristic to analyse the strategic planning documents of all public Australian universities so as to search for evidence of strategies to implement social inclusion agenda. They found variety in the take up of the discourses, with a broad pattern emerging between older/ more research intensive universities and newer/ more teaching intensive universities, with the older institutions tending to align more frequently with neoliberal views of access, and the newer institutions instantiating more social justice/ human potential approaches. Kilpatrick & Johns assert that in order to engage in the project of social inclusion, “universities [need to] articulate a comprehensive and integrated suite of strategies spanning the access, participation and empowerment domains”, which include “a high level plan or framework that articulates goals, agreed strategies for building and sustaining a socially inclusive organisation, and indicators of success” (p.27).
Similarly, a review of the literature reveals varying discourses on the notion of diversity in higher education. Archer (2007) distinguishes between the conflicting concepts of ‘horizontal diversity’, which indicates a ‘plurality of options’ (appealing to ‘customers’ needs’), and ‘vertical diversity’, which indicates the stratification of institutions based on the notions of ‘quality’ (p. 639). Similarly, Brennan and Osborne (2008) draw on Teichler’s (2007) conceptualisation of horizontal and vertical forms of differentiation in discussing ideologies underpinning an agenda of diversity in higher education. Horizontal differentiation is argued to focuse on program differences, subjects and links with industry, while vertical differentiation is contended to relate to an institution’s status and prestige (Teichler, 2007). There is also a general consensus in the literature regarding the problems with the notion of ‘diversity’ in higher education. Bowl (2018) argues that the language of ‘distinctiveness’ and ‘diversity’ are often employed in higher education institutions to ‘mask the incompatibility of market competition and equity, and to bolster claims for elite status’ (p. 2). On the other hand, Campbell (2000) contends that the reductive ‘good’ and ‘bad’ notions of diversity often fail to recognise the ‘historic, embodied, entrenched marginalisation that non-white people face in Australia’, which is often unrelatable to most educators and future educators in the current higher education system. Campbell (2000) argues that to effectively educate a culturally diverse society, a culturally diverse teaching team is a ‘necessity’ (p. 383). Similarly, Gayton (2019) who examines the overlaps between internationalisation and the WP agendas in higher education institutions asserts that ‘diversity’ is often employed reductively, consequently conflating students into homogenous groups, often based on ethnicity or nationality. He highlights the significant overlaps observed between internationalisation and WP agendas and the challenges faced by international and non-traditional students, and therefore argues that universities should provide more holistic support for both international and non-traditional students to promote diversity in higher education. Gibson et al. (2016) thus contend that ‘diversity’, and its use by institutions for marketing, the provision of support and the identification of ‘non-traditional’ and ‘at risk’ students, needs to be carefully reconsidered to avoid any negative impacts, including disempowerment, stereotyping, exposing and disconnecting students. Apart from that, David (2012) problematises the current policy discourse surrounding diversity, which has moved away from equity or equality towards social mobility, with selective evidence base used to make arguments and develop an instrumental focus on jobs.
In line with the contested understandings of social inclusion as a policy driver/ discourse, what social inclusion means for pedagogy appears to be taken up in various and varying ways. However, Keevers & Aboudha (2012) offer an encompassing definition for the pedagogic context, one that goes beyond the (common) focus on the student. They contend that social inclusion is the dynamic interplay between respect, recognition, redistribution, representation, voice, belonging and connectedness. These seven elements are well represented in the literature that examines inclusivity in the teaching context. For example, there is a strong thread of argument for recognition, respecting and valuing of the diversity of the student body in the contemporary academy (for example, Gale, 2011b; Benson et al., 2012; Cocks & Stokes, 2013; Gale & Mills, 2013; Daddow, Moraitis & Carr, 2013; McKay & Devlin, 2015; Burke et al., 2016). Being aware of the diversity in the teaching environment “opens dialogue between students and teachers and actively informs teaching, resulting in inclusive practice” (Cocks & Stokes, 2013: 28). For Gale & Mills (2013) an inclusive teaching environment needs to be transformative, in the sense that it can challenge normative assumptions and deficits, and instead valorise heterogeneity in terms of the students themselves, but also their practices, capitals, languages and knowledges. Similarly, there is a related body of work that attends to the importance of feeling a sense of belonging and connection to studies, peers and university (Day & Nolde, 2009; Nelson, Creagh & Clarke, 2009; Rubin, 2012; Rahman, 2013; Wrench et al., 2013; Burke et al., 2016). Methodologically, there is a strong commitment to qualitative, rich and nuanced research in this literature, with issues related to voice and representation often explicitly unpacked and the position of students – often from marginalised groups – given prominence. Epistemologically, this commitment privileges the knowledges that students have, and demonstrates a resistance to the normative reliance on the knowledge of the ‘expert’ (researcher) by building on the emic perspectives gathered through in-depth interviews and focus groups.
The notion of diversity in pedagogy also appears to be taken up in various ways in the literature. Murray (2016) focuses on the linguistic dimension of diversity, arguing that increased student diversity requires higher education staff to ‘accommodate to their students, rather than impose their own lingua-cultural values and associated expectations’(p. 175) in teaching. Murray (2016) therefore suggests that intercultural competence to be a compulsory aspect of training and development for educators in higher education institutions. Apart from that, Snowball and McKenna (2017) explore the use of student-generated content (SGC) to facilitate teaching for diversity in universities. The study examined the use of student-generated podcasts as a way of harnessing the diversity of student experiences in an Economic class of nearly 600 first year students at a South African university. Findings from the study suggest that a majority of the students perceived SGC to be a positive experience in their course. 66% of the podcast creators agreed that content creation was an ‘interesting way to learn’, while 50% of the podcast viewers agreed or strongly agreed that watching videos created by fellow coursemates was ‘a fun way to learn economics’ (p. 611). The authors thus conclude that SGC, such as the student-generated podcasts can provide opportunities to support teaching for diversity by including students in the community of knowledge creators, rather than positioning them as outsiders who are passive receivers of knowledge controlled and mediated by their educators (Snowball & McKenna, 2017). On the other hand, Haggis (2006), identifies five areas of curriculum and pedagogy that impedes the support for diversity in higher education institutions: students lack of familiarity with academic practices and conventions in higher education, the incongruence between pedagogy and the wide range of motives and types of student engagement, student understanding of the orientation of the varying disciplines at university, students’ different understandings about language use and communication and the nature of process in the varying disciplines. Haggis (2016) therefore argues that these five alienating areas should be considered and revised to ensure more effective teaching for diversity, and resist ‘transmission’ pedagogies in the higher education system (p. 530). In addition, Testa & Egan (2014), who explored the higher education experiences of students from diverse backgrounds argue against the ‘traditional, individualistic teaching and learning pedagogy taught exclusively through the lens of a Western paradigm’ (p. 240), which could lead to a significant disadvantage for CALD students throughout their undergraduate studies. Hence, they suggest an examination of the current curriculum, and consequently challenge curriculum designers and educators to integrate the perspectives and experiences of CALD students in the curriculum, therefore offering ‘alternative voices’ in the comprehension and use of theories and practice in higher education (p. 240).
However, for social inclusion in education, there are threads of concern weaved throughout the literature about how the elements listed above are taken up in practice. Briguglio (2011) cautions against engaging in debates about inclusive education without also reflexively unpacking what it means and who it is for. She argues that “the term [inclusive education] itself, even with the best intentions, reflects a standpoint of ‘we’ (the knowing, the mainstream, the powerful) including ‘them’ (the needy, the different, the disadvantaged). To maintain that one is teaching an ‘inclusive’ curriculum smacks, even if unwittingly, of cultural imperialism” (p.321) and it can be seen as “hegemony masquerading as equity and democracy” (p.321). For Keevers & Aboudha (2012), this manifests in the (reductive) focus on the products of teaching, rather than the process. They advocate for “an alternative, expanded, conception of social inclusion as situated, engaged, relational, ongoing practices rather than end-state orientated” (A-42). For Thomas (2014), the problem lies in the absence of an articulation of a coherent, university-wide strategy in his institution to address the teaching and learning challenges and opportunities of a more socially diverse cohort (p.812). The lack of examples of coordinated and whole-of-institution pedagogies as described in the case present by Thomas (2014) could be explained by disciplinary and organisational disconnections that can occur in large institutions like universities, but others have argued that the oppressive dominance of neoliberal logics are to blame (Pearce & Down, 2011). Similarly, for Gale (2011b), assumptions made about the homogeneity of the student body impede the possibilities of inclusive teaching; he argues that in order to move forward, institutions need to understand that all students bring “assets” to university (p.679), rather than working from deficit positions that assume non-traditional students are lacking (see also Gale & Mills, 2013). Burke et al. (2016) found that students are often aware of how deficit framings impact on perceptions of their capacity to learn, and this can be made worse by teachers’ expectations about students’ dispositions to learning, resulting in the misrecognition of students ‘lacking capability’. They argue that while inclusive pedagogic environments offer the optimum conditions for developing students’ confidence, universities need to support teachers to develop these pedagogies.
There are plenty of examples in the literature that respond to the need identified by Burke et al. (2016), albeit many of these are reports of individual responses rather than the coordinated, whole-of-institution response that Thomas (2014) identified as absent in his institution (for example, Benson et al., 2012; Francis & Mills, 2012; O’Shea et al., 2016). Others have offered guidance on how to more comprehensively embed inclusive pedagogies into the core business of higher education. One example from Gale & 2 (2013) suggests that the conditions which facilitate such practices require a counter-hegemonic epistemological shift, so that students’ home discourses, knowledges and languages are not replaced by academic discourses and practices, but rather these academic ways of being, knowing and doing are added to students’ repertoires. They suggest that without shifting away from dominant, normative notions about teaching and learning – ways that resonate with Freire’s (1970) characterisation of the ‘banking model’ of teaching – the project of inclusive education will be difficult to achieve. According to Gale & Mills, the pedagogical challenge is not changing the students, but instead “transforming the capital that counts: equipping students with academic skills and competencies that make up the cultural capital valued by dominant groups while contesting the disempowering effects of the hegemonic curriculum by embracing the notion of multiple knowledges that are equally valid” (2013: 13-14). Thomas’ (2014) proposal to use ‘Universal Design for Learning’ could be one way of developing a more coordinated approach to socially inclusive pedagogies in a way that removes responsibility from (often casual and/or untrained) teachers; “What this does is shift the burden of being flexible and responsive from the student to the curriculum and its designers” (p.813).
Another example of overarching principles to guide more socially inclusive education is offered in Nelson, Creagh & Clarke’s (2009) report of their ALTC-funded research, which was designed to review ‘Monitor Student Learning Engagement’ (MSLE) initiatives. From heir review of social justice oriented literature, they identified five principles that should be used to guide MSLE program design: self-determination, rights, access, equity, and participation. Nelson, Creagh & Clarke advocate for more participatory approaches, so that students are able to participate in program design, enactment and evaluation, as well as having the opportunity to make informed decisions about their individual participation in the program (‘self-determination’). Students should also be treated with dignity and have their backgrounds recognised (‘rights’) within programs that act as active and impartial channels to institutional resources and activities (‘access’), and help with interpreting the complex and unfamiliar codes and conventions of academia (‘equity’). Similar to the principles espoused by Gale & Mills (2013), their guiding factors come from the idea that it is institutional culture that needs to change, rather than students having to adapt to the discourses of the academy.
However, a significant barrier to enacting these principles is identified in O’Shea, Onsman & McKay (2011). Their research explored the perceptions and understandings of university staff in terms of how they perceive their role in relation to social inclusion. From the data collected through surveying 272 staff members, O’Shea, Onsman & McKay found (unsurprisingly) that there was strong support for the notion of inclusive teaching, with the majority of respondents agreeing that it is ‘essential to higher education’ and constitutes the ‘basics of good teaching’, although there was also cynicism reported regarding how deeply this could be embedded, and concern expressed about adding to their workload. This finding is echoed in Chapman, Mangion & Buchanan’s (2015) paper. Their research into staff members’ perspectives on how equity is instantiated in institutional mission statements suggests that despite reading positive messages, “most common was a perceived concern by staff that the university did not live the mission statement, rendering itself more as a business model than as a space embodying ethical experience and inclusiveness” (p.9). This sense of not enacting the professed equity/ inclusive practices enshrined in institutional policy documents serves to undermine the possibilities of inclusive and equitable higher education; as Pearce & Down (2011) contend, “When academics do not recognise the potentially exclusionary impact of their pedagogies and thus fail to engage in a relationship that can provide support when it is needed, they may unconsciously perpetuate existing social inequalities” (p.492).
Another significant finding in O’Shea, Onsman & McKay (2011) was the significant diversity in staff responses regarding who holds responsibility for inclusivity: 22 comments suggested that teachers have responsibility, while 28 claimed that responsibility lies outside of the remit of teaching role. O’Shea, Onsman & McKay argue that this is particularly problematic in the context of increasing casualisation of the teaching workforce. They make the case that casual staff rarely get paid for the kinds of practices that assist with enacting institutional cultural change, and have limited (if any) access to the resources that are necessary, such as payment for extra time or access to rooms to offer face-to-face time to students. O’Shea, Onsman & McKay (2011) argue that without having a sense of inclusion or job security themselves, it is problematic to expect casual staff to enact inclusive practices and pedagogies; they ask: “how can staff make others feel included when they feel excluded?” (2011: 11). The work presented in Pearce & Down (2011) foregrounds how important relationship building is to developing inclusive pedagogies; this is certainly impeded when the teacher is paid on a sessional basis and has no access to university communication services (such as email or the virtual learning environment) when the semester has finished. There are certainly no answers offered to the question posed by O’Shea, Onsman & McKay (2011) in the literature reviewed; however, Martin’s (2015) discussion of scale and critical pedagogy suggests that activist-scholars (presumably permanent staff with the agency and legitimacy to advocate for students and casual colleagues) have the choice to either resist the status quo through engaging with horizontalist critical pedagogies, or conforming through ignoring the conditions that allow inequality -for students and staff-to continue.
On the other hand, in terms of teaching for diversity, there is a considerable amount of literature on the principles for supporting an agenda of diversity in higher education. Benson et al. (2012), who explored how students from diverse backgrounds succeed in higher education, assert that the ‘conceptualisation of student experience needs to be broadened to include students from diverse backgrounds to acknowledge diversity and heterogeneity in student population’, as students from non-traditional backgrounds are not likely to have access to the physical and emotional resources available to their other peers in universities. Their findings suggest that factors influencing the success of non-traditional students in higher education include planning (financial and personal), time management, change in circumstances and sources of support (Benson et al., 2012). In addition, Cook-Sather et al. (2018) foregrounds student input as a significant component in the dialogue about diversity in higher education. Based on their findings on the impact of the ‘Advocating Diversity in Higher Education’ undergraduate course in multiple institutions, they contend that universities must consider ‘the intersecting positions that comprise student identities’ (p. 384) to inform pedagogical practice and student learning. Kruse et al. (2012) however emphasises the importance of developing organisational characteristics and conditions that support cultural competency in higher education institutions, as they argue that well-meaning attention to cultural competence alone is insufficient to support sustained and successful effort. The conditions outlined to support a strong cultural competency agenda include the provision of time to meet, learn and process new learning, time to monitor, evaluate and refine processes and practices across the campus, communications structures that support the work of cultural competency, a climate of trust and openness to improvement and learning, supportive leadership and access to expertise designed to support new individual and organisational learning (Kruse et al., 2012). Apart from that, Towsend (2010), who investigated how mature students experience barriers in accessing, progressing and succeeding at university, contends that universities need to consider the principle of ‘andragogy’, as adult learning programs should ‘adhere to well-informed adult learning principles’ (p. 335).
Support for inclusive teaching and diversity
The operationalisation of the critiques of normative pedagogies, and the guiding principles for socially inclusive education offered by Gale & Mills (2013) and Nelson, Creagh & Clarke (2009) as discussed above, need to be facilitated by pedagogies and support mechanisms. Pearce & Down (2011) contend that to engage in relational pedagogy, interaction between staff and students (in lectures, tutorials, informal interactions, feedback on assessed work) is fundamental to the development of rapport and for lecturers to create a sense of approachability. For Thomas, the ethos encapsulated in the notion of ‘relational pedagogy’ could be achieved through embedding learning and studies support within the curriculum, rather than locating support outside the disciplines or in centralised spaces. Ultimately, much of the literature argues for understandings and assumptions that drive ‘student experience’ supports need to be broadened to serve the needs of a diverse and heterogeneous study body (e.g. Gale, 2011b; Benson et al., 2012; Gale & Mills, 2013). There is evidence presented in the literature that strongly suggests that current forms of support offered in universities is not designed with ‘non-traditional’ students in mind. The work presented in Tones et al. (2009) suggests that for mature age students at least, support services are inadequate because they are not available at times that suit the responsibilities and resulting lifestyles of students who have families, caring responsibilities or other such commitments on their time. For Benson et al. (2012), without an expanded conceptualisation of the student body, there will continue to be a lack of parity in the way that supports work for different groups of students. They argue that, “…students from non-traditional backgrounds are less likely to have access to physical and emotional resources to assist them to cope with difficult situations. For example, they frequently lack role models with higher educational qualifications to provide psychological support. Thus, there is stronger likelihood that contextual factors will have an impact on their study performance, or even their continuation of study” (p.24). Although this framing linguistically speaks partially into the deficit discourse, there is also recognition here that different students have differing needs and therefore require differentiated forms of support.
In contrast, Carpenter, Dearlove & Marland’s (2015) investigation of the study strategies that students bring to higher education, offers a contradictory picture, at least on the surface. Their data, collected through using questionnaires based on the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI), suggests that many students entered their programs without the strategies, skills and attitudes necessary (according to LASSI) for success, irrespective of age, gender, SES or ATAR. This therefore suggests that the entire student cohort starting an undergraduate degree would benefit from academic support, although this study does not specifiy what that support might look like. However, Carpenter, Dearlove & Marland’s work does have an implications for equity in higher education. They argue that on the basis that older/ more research-intensive universities are less likely to admit ‘educationally disadvantaged students’, the impetus is on younger, regional universities “to channel funds and effort into meeting the challenges of the Bradley agenda” (p.295). However, this recommendation does not address inequities in terms of how funding for equity work is distributed across the sector. Chapman, Mangion & Buchanan’s (2015) central argument is pertinent here. Their analysis of a case study of how equity is “translated into action” in one university, suggests that without commensurate resources to support student retention and support, conflict is created between the economic and equity aspects of widening participation (p.13). It is this, they argue, that underpins practitioners’ struggles with and against the neoliberal logics that drive policy and practice around equity.
Despite these challenges, there are examples of strategies, initiatives and pedagogies specifically designed to support the project of socially inclusive education. In the Indigenous context, the importance of Indigenous centres is a recurrent theme (e.g. Asmar, Page & Radloff, 2015; Bunda, Zipin & Brennan, 2012; Day & Nolde, 2009). Other initiatives reported on in the literature include the use of Facebook as a point of connection, belonging and networking for pre-tertiary bridging students at the University of Southern Queensland (Ryan & Hopkins, 2013), residential support at La Trobe University (Burge, 2012), financial support at Swinburne University (Carson, 2010).
Similarly, the literature also highlights interventions and strategies to promote diversity in universities. Ross (2014) explores the dynamics of intergroup interaction and democratic learning outcomes among self-identified Black and White students enrolled in two sections of a university diversity education course within a predominantly White university in southeastern United States. Findings from the study suggest that democratisation through socially just education can be achieved via the presence of a critical mass of diverse students in a higher education learning environment, the facilitation of conflict to allow for coalition-building and the blending of diverse and previously unaffiliated groups of students to promote participatory democracy (Ross, 2014). Besides that, Hatton (2012) examines two ‘diversity initiatives’ for Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students in two English universities, to reflect and ‘consider curriculum change and intervention, in supporting the collective insights of all students’ (p. 35). The findings suggest that the tutors often lacked confidence in creating change, which may hinder curriculum development (Hatton, 2012). Hatton thus asserts that in most Western contexts, the curriculum is predominantly Eurocentric and is ‘fixed’ by tutors ‘anxiously repeating’ courses (p. 41). Hatton’s recommendations for the implementation of interventions to support diversity are thus as follows: Using cross-faculty knowledge and individual research expertise, along with practical steps to ensure that students feel safe to express their ideas around subjects, recognising the institutional power in facilitating or limiting curricular and cultural transformation, and to look in on the nine questions offered (p.48-9) which probe the ontological and epistemological foundations and assumptions of a course, subject or discipline.
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Wrench, A.; Hammond, C.; McCallum, F.; & Price, D. (2013). Inspire to aspire: raising aspirational outcomes through a student well-being curricular focus, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 17(9), 932–947.
Dr Sally Baker is a lecturer for the School of Education at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Sally’s research primarily focuses on equity in higher education, with her main interests being education policy, experiences of students from refugee and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and educational transitions. She is currently the Co-Chair of the Refugee Education Special Interest Group and the educational focal point in the Forced Migration Research Network at UNSW.
The thematic organisation of the open access annotated bibliographies (OAABs) does not reflect the intersecting and complex overlaps of the various foci in the literature, so please keep in mind that this is an interpretive exercise and one that could easily be reworked by another set of authors. An important note to make is that these resources should not be read as ‘the reading’ of any piece — rather they reflect the interpretive lens of a small number of people and should therefore be used as a ‘way in’ to the academic and grey literature. Hyperlinks have been provided to each entry (where possible) so that you may be able to access the original texts (although many of these will be hidden behind pay walls, which we cannot override for copyright reasons).
Furthermore, it is important to note that these resources are not a ‘finished product’; rather, they are reflective of an on-going, iterative engagement with the inter/national literature that critically engages with issues relating to equity in education. As such, there are unintentional omissions in these resources — if you see a gap in the literature, please feel free to make this clear, or offer an entry for inclusion. This annotated bibliography will be updated every six months for the first year, and annually thereafter.