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Universal Design for Learning
Equity Education and Anti-Oppression Frameworks

Social Identity and Representation

In Module 1, we explored the nature of social identityOpens in a new window and lived experienceOpens in a new window. This was further explored in Module 2 in the context of welcoming learners and encouraging their affective engagement. In this third module, we examine course design decisions using an antiracistOpens in a new window and decolonizationOpens in a new window lens.

For many students, their social identity is subject to disadvantage and stigma. This is writ large in course design and pedagogical decisions that reflect dominant culture knowledges and ways of knowing. Many other students experience advantages, alignment, and comfort with Eurocentric materials and methods of teaching. This is because course design and pedagogical decisions are generally centred around culturally dominant learning materials and teaching methods.

Using the dominant culture’s ways of relaying information makes it difficult for many of our learners to relate to what is being taught and how it’s being taught. It also limits how many sources of knowledge from marginalized Opens in a new windowcommunities and cultures are used in our learning environments. Representation of the lived experienceOpens in a new window of marginalized learners occurs when content has been sourced from and reflects a variety of social identities, knowledges, and culturally authentic realities, and when this is also reflected in the methods through which content is relayed to the learner.

Have a look at this short video of a faculty presenting a Learn and Share on Representation in their UDL community of practiceOpens in a new window.

Learn and Share on Representation 0:44 min

In the NUS Black Students Campaign National Students Survey Report, Race for Equality, A Report on the Experiences of Black Students in Further and Higher Education, it was found that “42 per cent [of Black students] did not believe their curriculum reflected issues of diversity, equality and discrimination.” In addition, “34 per cent stated they felt unable to bring their perspective as a Black student to lectures and tutor meetings” (National Union of Students, n.d.).

To be clear, we do not believe that there is any single “right way” to be an inclusive teacher, since so much of who we are as educators – our social identities, lived experiencesOpens in a new window, and disciplines – informs our teaching. All inclusive teaching is contextual teaching. This is an iterative and reflective process that builds upon ongoing personal and professional development and discovery.

We are all architects in inclusion.

Quirke, 2021

As discussed in Module 2, in our learning spaces, we want students to be open about what would work best for them and to seek support. As Christopher Emdin reminds us, “Equity is hearing someone’s voice about what they need and providing them with that.” In Module 4, you’ll have the chance to explore some options for seeking student feedback.

While we want to be responsive to all our students, many, for a variety of reasons, will not feel comfortable enough to let us know what they need (or are still working out what they need), and so we need to provide those supports in a proactive manner.

International graduate students are statistically less likely than others to come forward for services. UDL will be particularly well suited to address the needs of these students, as the implementation of inclusive design means there is less reliance on accessibility services.

Johnstone & Edwards, 2019

Remember the Inclusive Education PyramidOpens in a new window

UDL is a proactive approach. It encourages us to design our courses to meet the needs of all students, as it is not possible to predict the experience of each individual student. Also, providing options can facilitate learners’ discovery of their own needs, how they learn, and what a gratifying lifelong learning trajectory looks like to them.

However, as mentioned in earlier modules, UDL on its own is limited in critically addressing the tangible (embodied) lived experience of people whose intersecting social identities are impacted by oppressive social structures. These social identities are also contextual. In other words, no one ever has just one identity, and every identity we have is shaped by others. Let’s explore how our social identities can overlap in several ways!

Next sectionIntersectionality and Representation