What is Diversity and Inclusion?
Diversity, in the context of digital literacy, is about recognising, respecting and valuing all individuals, for who they are. Acknowledging that everyone has something to contribute and helping all students reach their full potential by promoting an inclusive learning environment.
The Tomlinson Report1 (1996) defines inclusive learning as:
‘By inclusive learning we mean the greatest degree of match or fit between how learners learn best, what they need and want to learn, and what is required from the sector, a college and teachers for successful learning to take place.’
Diversity and inclusion is about removing barriers to education and providing a learner-focused service. In addition to those characteristics protected by existing legislation such as the Equality Act 20102, it can also encompass learners from poor socio-economic backgrounds and others who may have emotional or behavioural difficulties. Essentially, it is about ensuring that nobody is marginalised or disadvantaged, regardless of their personal circumstances.
Unfortunately, one of the primary barriers to achieving diversity and inclusion within digital literacy, that is not a protected characteristic of the Equality Act, is the expense associated with the purchase of tools and technology. This is frequently beyond the financial means of many.
What Effects May Tutor Values Have in Respect of Diversity and Inclusion?
Tutor values and attitudes can have a significant impact as regards diversity and inclusion. As Petty3 (2004) states:
‘All students must feel that they are positively and equally valued and accepted, and that their efforts to learn are recognised, and judged without bias. It is not enough that they are tolerated. They must feel that they, and the groups to which they belong (e.g. gender, social-class or attainment groups) are fully and equally accepted and valued by you, and the establishment in which you work’.
Every individual has their own personal set of attitudes, values and beliefs. Therefore, it is not uncommon for the tutor’s values to differ from those of their learners. Nonetheless, if the digital literacy practitioner fails to embrace diversity and inclusion, this creates barriers which hinder a learner’s progress and potentially deters individuals from continuing with their education.
Not being accepted and treated as an equal can also have an adverse effect on a learner’s self-confidence and self-esteem. They may feel isolated and have difficulty communicating and collaborating with other students. If learners believe that they are being ignored or denigrated, then they will either leave the class or fail to reach their full potential.
Strategies to Ensure Diversity and Inclusion in Digital Literacy Learning Programmes
The most constructive step that any digital literacy practitioner can take, to promote, establish and maintain diversity and inclusion within the digital learning environment, is to lead by example. This includes using non-discriminatory language, not stereotyping and affording all learners an equal opportunity to participate fully, in the digital learning process
Another fundamental strategy that a tutor can undertake, is to build diversity and inclusion into the scheme of work and lesson plans, so that they represent the diverse range of learners who may access the service. This may include acknowledging religious holidays or festivals or even making reference to events such as ‘Mind’ week.
Additionally, when preparing class resources and activities, it is important that due consideration is given to the diverse nature of learners and their differing levels of ability and needs. Resources must be relevant and accessible to all. Font sizes may need to be increased for partially-sighted learners and background colours altered for any learners experiencing visual stress. Any adaptations or devices necessary for the learner to access digital learning, should also be made available.
Teaching resources should also be reviewed and assessed regularly to determine whether or not they may be considered offensive to any particular learner. For example, asking learners to undertake an internet search for a recipe on how to make pork pies may seem fairly innocuous. Nonetheless, as Muslims do not eat pork they may actually find the task extremely offensive. It is also important to ensure that all topics are taught in a manner that is sensitive to equality and diversity.
Tutors should also avoid any colloquialisms or jargon that may not be understood by some learners and they should be prepared to re-phrase any comments.
It is also essential that digital literacy practitioners create a positive learning environment, whereby everyone feels welcome. Tutors should maintain a sense of humour whilst demonstrating consistency and fairness at all times. Nonetheless, learners need to feel safe, secure and comfortable whilst in the learning environment. They should not be bullied or belittled, and should be free from any kind of physical or verbal abuse. To this extent, comments and discussion, within the classroom must be monitored and suitably managed to ensure that no discrimination or prejudice takes place. Confrontations should be avoided and any conflicts should be minimised. If there is a need to speak to individuals about their conduct, this should ideally be undertaken in private.
Another strategy is to re-arrange the classroom layout so that it encourages learners to interact with each other. However, this may not always be possible, especially if learners are using desktop computers. Nonetheless, learners could be asked to move occasionally, in order to encourage them to sit and work with different students.
Learners should be afforded appropriate levels of support and differentiation utilised, as appropriate. A range of teaching styles should be adopted to encompass all preferred learning styles. This will help ensure a greater degree of participation.
Group or pair working can be utilised to promote diversity and inclusion as can the use of icebreakers or energisers.
Finally, any prejudicial or non-inclusive behaviour should always be challenged and eradicated at the earliest opportunity.
1. Tomlinson J. (1996) Inclusive Learning. Further Education Funding Council: HMSO.
2. Equality Act 2010, London: HMSO.
3. Petty, G. (2004) Teaching Today (3rd Edition). Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes Ltd.
3. Maslow, A. H. (1987) Motivation and Personality (3rd Edition). New York: Harper and Row Publishers Inc.