Effective educational inclusion is based on a sound understanding of the challenges, differences and preferences of our students. We can build our knowledge, however, we can’t anticipate every student’s needs, as day-to-day fluctuations in health, mood and conditions can have important effects on an individual’s capacity to engage with learning.
But we can empower students to adapt their ways of working to their needs.
And we can provide the right support and flexibility at the right time.
Ordinarily Available Provision (OAP)
In planning learning activities and courses in higher education, we can broaden the range of approaches that fall within our business-as-usual teaching. In schools, the term OAP (Ordinarily Available Provision) is used to define what approaches, interventions and activities are built into the processes and structures of the school to support pupils with additional needs. At university, students often have to work hard to find out what alternative approaches to learning or flexibility of deadlines are available.
The most efficient way to identify needs and adapt learning is to empower the students themselves. We take for granted that some students prefer to work in a quiet library or late into the night, whereas other students focus better in a bustling café. Some students will work on several tasks in parallel, gaining a fresh perspective on a tricky question by moving onto something else before returning, while for some a clear single focus works best. All we need to do is to extend this understanding further.
Even where changes are needed to make courses accessible and inclusive, empowering students to adapt their learning to their needs can start with increasing awareness of the existing flexibility.
- Do students know which sessions can be rescheduled or accessed remotely?
- Is a pre-recorded presentation as easy to submit as an alternative to speaking live?
- Do students know whether an essay plan shared now is more useful to their learning than a delayed complete essay?
- Are the assessment arrangements clear enough for students to know which task to prioritise?
To empower students, we need to give them easily accessible answers to these and other questions, so that they can make informed decisions about how to adapt the course to their learning needs.
Responsibility and Respect
By handing over more responsibility for adapting learning to their needs, we’re also respecting students. Respecting their needs. Respecting their strengths.