The Challenge is Inclusion, An Experience from Latin America and Europe

by Silvia Baldiris

Inclusion, the big challenge beyond the continents

On Thursday, May 6, 2014, early afternoon in Medellin, Colombia, approximately 30 teachers, currently enrolled in the Master of Information and Communication Technology program at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, gathered in a small room to discuss how to create inclusive lessons for their students and how to support students with diverse needs and preferences in the classroom. However, for many of the teachers, neither the university where they studied primary or secondary education nor the people who lead their schools have offered training that would help them consider all their students’ needs and address diversity in their classrooms. That is the reality for many teachers, not only in Latin America, but also around the world.

On Tuesday, April 29, 2014, early morning in Girona, Spain, eleven teachers from different Vocational Educational Institutions from the Comarca Gironina, Catalonia, identified a couple main concerns: how to create inclusive lessons for their students and how to engage all of their students in the learning process – students who, in many instances, have been excluded from the system because they have different preferences or a particular way of learning.

Two continents, the same reality: the educational system is not inclusive at all. The good news is that teachers want to learn how to embrace diversity and address the expectations and needs of all of their students.

This article is the first of a series of three articles presenting an initiative carried out in Europe and Latin America called the Inclusive Learning Project, developed as a result of our conviction that promoting an inclusive learning culture will, in the long term, achieve prosperity for all. This article will give an overview of the Inclusive Learning Project and its motivation; the second article will presents the Open Educational Resource (OER) Co-Creation process as a promising solution for working with teachers in a collaborative way to respond to the diversity challenge; and finally, in the third article, the project results will be presented through real cases of teachers.

Inclusive Learning Project, a transnational effort for promoting inclusiveness

Diversity in the educational system has been addressed internationally from many different approaches. Some initiatives aim to re-think the teaching-learning process by directly targeting the root of the problem: educational systems designing standardized curricula for a "standard" student to make teaching easier for the teacher (Rouse & Florian, 2012). Other initiatives have presented innovative frameworks for designing for diversity such as the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014) or differentiated instruction (Tomlinson, & McTighe, 2006).  In recent decades, new approaches from the didactic and pedagogical fields have always been accompanied by extraordinary technological advances. We highlight technologies that create more personalized and adaptive interfaces and the efforts to improve sharing of resources between different learning platforms, to facilitate universal learning processes through interoperability1 and customization (ISO, 2014).

Promising approaches to promote diversity are those that consider learning as a social process where people collaborate with the purpose of offering equal opportunities for all students to learn. The Inclusive Learning Project (Supporting Trainers for an Inclusive Vocational Education and Training) is one such initiative funded by the European Commission under the Leonardo Da Vinci programme.

The Inclusive Learning Project’s philosophy is that the only way to change the world is by giving all persons the opportunity to engage in inclusive, high-quality learning with the adequate materials and methods. The Inclusive Learning Project aims to provide institutions at different educational levels (e.g. elementary, secondary) solutions for addressing diversity in the educational system by providing two main supports:

  • Guidelines and a certified training course to help teachers address their diverse classrooms, and
  • A technological infrastructure for designing, developing, sharing and delivering accessible open educational resources (OER) – educational resources that are freely accessible and have an open (i.e. non-copyright) license.

 

Inclusive Learning Products

The Inclusive Learning Products are resources that support teachers by providing them methodologies, technological tools, and examples that facilitate the difficult task of creating inclusive lessons.

Inclusive Learning Portal

Teachers can access and create inclusive tools through the Inclusive Learning Portal, which includes access to the Inclusive Learning Handbook and ATutor (the learning management system used in the project), with a simple login. The Inclusive Learning Portal also integrates authoring tools for teachers for the creation of OERs and the definition of metadata (i.e. tags and other information that can help search engines find accessible OERs). The portal offers educators the opportunity to search for accessible OERs created by other teachers around the world through a “unified metadata harvester.” The metadata harvester integrates the metadata files from two OER repositories developed in several European projects, delivering more results to teachers searching for accessible resources. Figure 1 shows a screen shot of the portal.

screen shot of the Inclusive Learning Portal showing the webpage www.inclusive-learning.eu
Figure 1. Inclusive Learning Portal

Inclusive Learning Handook

The Inclusive Learning Handbook is an OER and as such it is available “freely” for educators and stakeholders with no charge or license fees (Butcher, 2011). The Inclusive Learning Handbook was created with Wordpress and includes User Interface Options (UIO) (FLUID Project Consortium, 2014), a tool developed by the Fluid Project that customizes any webpage to be more accessible.

There are four main sections in the Inclusive Learning Handbook:

  • Historical, political and academic general guidelines,
  • Case studies for teachers,
  • Examples showing the creation of accessible OERs, and
  • Technologies to support the creation of inclusive and accessible learning scenarios.

 

Figure 2 shows a general overview of the Inclusive Learning Handbook and its structure. As seen in the upper half of Figure 2, the User Interface Options make this open book more accessible for teachers and other readers.

screen shot of the Inclusive Learning Handbook at http://handbook.inclusive-learning.eu
Figure 2. Inclusive Learning Handbook

Designing and Developing the Inclusive Learning Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)

The Designing and Developing Inclusive Learning Course facilitate teachers to learn how to create inclusive lessons considering the UDL principles and web content accessibility guidelines. The course earns participants 1 European Credit defined under the European Credit Transfer system (ECTS) and takes approximately 30 hours to complete. The Course is a blended learning modality, with teachers spending 18 hours face-to-face and 12 hours learning online. Knowledge and expertise varied greatly, as the participants included teachers with strong pedagogical expertise, teachers working on addressing diversity, and teachers with expertise in web content accessibility and OER creation.

The course’s virtual sessions took place in the learning management system ATutor, accessed through the Inclusive Learning Project’s website.

For face-to-face sessions, a multimedia room was configured with a computer for each participant.  The computers were configured according to the users' preferences, and the computer room was accessible.

The course and course materials were designed considering universal design for learning guidelines in order to address participants’ diverse needs. Box 1 and Figure 3 are examples of alternative content considered in the course design.

Box 1: Excerpt from the web content accessibility guidelines 2.0 on alternative content to video (WCAG Working Group, 2008)

Perceptible guidelines

Creating text alternatives

This guideline states that every non-text content, such as videos, animations, audio or any images (photos, graphics, diagrams and images of text) must have a text alternative that allows the user to obtain the same information transmitted through non-text content. This text alternative will be presented to the user so that it can be correctly perceived.

For example, if a blind or visually impaired person finds an image within the content, using the screen reader will let him/her read the text alternative obtaining information that conveys the image that they cannot see.

There are two types of text alternatives:

  • Short text Alternative: A short text presents the same information as the non-text content so that it is possible to replace the original content of the text alternative without losing information. It is important to note that this text alternative does not describe the non-text content.
  • Long text alternative: It is used when short text alternative is not enough to convey the non-text content information. The long text alternative conveys the information in a much more completed way and always more detail when necessary.

screen shot of a youtube video which is indicated to explain how to define text alternatives for images
Figure 3. Alternative content to text

Conclusions

Embracing diversity is one of the most important concerns of governments around the world because inclusion really means prosperity for all. Inclusive Learning Projects offer solutions to facilitate teachers adopting technology as a tool to consider the special needs and preferences of all students. However, the use of technology is not enough for achieving inclusive learning, adequate methodologies are also very important. The next articles in this series will describe the designed methodology in the Inclusive Learning Project to facilitate teachers developing Inclusive and Accessible Open Educational Resources.

1. Interoperability: the ability of making systems and organizations work together..

Authors

Silvia Baldiris has a degree in Systems and Industrial Engineering from the Industrial University of Santander (UIS), Colombia, with a Master’s in Industrial Informatics and Automatic from the University of Girona and a PhD in Technologies from the University of Girona. Since her earlier twenty, Silvia has been interested in research about how technologies can facilitate the inclusion of all students in the educational system. She has technically coordinated international projects such as User modelling and planning for complex user-oriented tasks (ADAPTAPlan), EIE-Surveyor: Reference Point for Electrical and Information Engineering in Europe, A2UN@: Accessibility and Adaptation for ALL in Higher Education, the European project ALTER-NATIVA, ARrELS Project - Augmented Reality in Adaptive Learning Management Systems for All and Inclusive Learning Project - Supporting Teacher Training for an Inclusive Vocational Education.

References

ALTER-NATIVA Community. (2013). ALTER-NATIVA Project. Retrieved May 21, 2015, from alfa3alternativa.eu

Butcher, N.A. (2011). In A. Kanwar and S. Uvalic-Trumbic’s, Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources

FLUID Project Consortium. (2014). Fluid Project Wiki. Retrieved from http://wiki.fluidproject.org/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=29959408

ISO. (2014). International Organization for Standardization. Retreived from http://www.iso.org/

Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal Design for Learning, theory and practice (pp. 234), Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.

Rouse, M., & Florian, L. (2012). Inclusive Practice Project: Final Report (pp. 62). Scotland: University of Aberdeen. Retrieved from http://www.efds.co.uk/assets/0000/6672/OO195.pdf.

Tomlinson, C.A., & McTighe, J. (2006). Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids, Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

WCAG Working Group. (2008). Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/

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