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Universal Design for Learning
Equity Education and Anti-Oppression Frameworks

Social Identity and Action & Expression

Postsecondary learners bring their previous experiences regarding action and expression to the classroom. These might be positive or negative depending on their lived experiencesOpens in a new window. For example, Black, Indigenous, and other racialized students may have experienced stereotypes regarding their belonging and academic abilities in previous school environments.   Our colleges and universities support implicitOpens in a new window and explicit biasesOpens in a new window against students whose intersectional identities include aspects that are marginalized such as Black, Indigenous, people of colour, disabled, and LGBTQ2S+ students. As these biases are present in our institutions and educational spaces, this leads to racismOpens in a new window, sexism, ableismOpens in a new window, ageism, homophobia, etc. In particular, individuals with Indigenous, Black, and other racialized identities living in Canada may have experienced education systems that were toxic to their learning. These are the systems we and our learners grew up, work, and learn in. We must recognize this history in our educational design and pedagogy. A learning environment that engages, represents, and honours multiple social identitiesOpens in a new window helps to mitigate the impact of identity threatOpens in a new window (i.e., which may cause the brain to move into “fight, flight or freeze” mode), and lack of belonging. As a result, learners can be more open in the way they express their learning. Research has shown that designing learning environments to promote belonging for a diverse student population increases the performance for non-majority groups (Verschelden, 2017).

It’s important not to assume barriers based on an individual’s unique social identityOpens in a new window (aspects of which are both visible and invisible), as the lived experienceOpens in a new window associated with belonging to certain groups is never monolithic (N. Dhanota, personal communication, May 12, 2021). However, we can implement teaching and learning strategies that help to lessen potential barriers presented in the learning environment while supporting learners to develop their own expert learning skills.

Now, let’s look more closely at this principle using antiracismOpens in a new window (AR) and anti-oppressive practiceOpens in a new window (AOP) lenses.

Here are some ways that the Action & Expression guidelines might be viewed using an equity, AR/AOP education lens.

Across these three guidelines, as educators, we must also:

  • Get to know the tools and devices students have access to where they are studying.
  • Where time is an irrelevant construct, provide flexible timelines for completion of action and expression activities. Allow learners to set their own due dates with support on how they might break larger tasks into chunks.
  • Ensure multiple ways for learners to engage in action/expression activities (i.e., voice, text, video, image).
  • Help learners understand the importance of presenting their own learning in ways that are accessible to all (i.e., captioned videos, using accessible fonts, creating alt text for images shared).
  • Engage with learners via the social media channels they value.
  • Encourage creative expression for learners to show what they value, know, and can do. Incorporate storytelling and the arts into expression and communication.
  • Offer opportunities for learners to reflect on their strengths developed through lived experience to build current and future learning upon.
  • Ensure learners have access to the use of different tools to support their learning (i.e., calculators, vocabulary lists, text prediction software, textbooks/readings/notes, graphic organizers).
  • Provide feedback that honours learners’ strengths and encourages opportunities to learn from mistakes.
  • Arrange for models/mentors in the field who reflect diverse social identities.

Goal: To become strategic and goal-directed learners.

As with the Representation principle, an antiracistOpens in a new window and anti-oppressiveOpens in a new window lens on action and expression decentres text-based expression and values other pathways for learners to express what they value, know, and can do. It also takes cues from students’ knowledge and learning goals so they can build on strengths and awareness and use these to build capacity in other modes. Action and expression involve performance elements, which can be stress-inducing for many learners. An antiracist, decolonized, UDL-informed environment supports all learners in managing (and, where necessary, reducing) their stress so they can access the strategic networks of the brain to plan, organize, and strategize.

Next chapterDecolonizing Curriculum