Jennifer Harley is the University of Law’s teacher of the year 2018. As the University’s disability support service manager, she is responsible for ensuring that the students needing additional help feel welcome and supported at the university’s campuses.
As she prepares to receive her award for excellence in teaching and support for student learning, Jennifer shares some best practice on inclusivity for those working in the higher education sector.
Making enrolment and induction easier
University induction and enrolment can be quite a complicated, daunting and busy process, so we offer an early induction for anyone who, for example, might have mental health conditions, anxiety, autism, mobility or physical disabilities. It means the student gets more one-to-one time and it helps the transition into university life. Student Support Services, who are ultimately responsible for ensuring inclusion for disabled students, give a talk at every induction session in our London Campuses and a video is of the talk is shown at non-London Campuses.
Designing courses with inclusivity in mind
When courses are at design stage, we are clear that they should be created with inclusive principles. For example, consideration is given to the profile of our students with Disability Support Agreements to anticipate their needs, along with the needs of all students studying at the University of Law, to create an equitable learning environment. A practical example of this would be designing coursework tasks with enough time for most of the students to incorporate varying adjustments. We ask what activities and learning outcomes are being proposed and whether these consider a wide range of people with a range of abilities and needs. We follow the universal design for learning approach.
More options to learn and help with learning
We offer materials in a variety of different ways. We use online videos, feedback quizzes and interactive demonstrations. In house study skills videos are available which help to tackle the process of organising and taking in new information, retaining information, or dealing with assessments in a number of different ways. They include mnemonics, which helps with memory, effective reading and concentration techniques and VARK learning styles.
Attention to detail can make a lot of difference
We are conscious of the little things. For example, we have lecture capture for all our courses (this records the slides and the lecturer’s voice, plus optionally, a video of them speaking). We alter the colour of these documents/ videos from automatically having a gold colour background and black text, which is a difficult colour contrast for various groups of people - including those who are colour-blind and suffer with visual stress. Ultimately everyone is able to see the page more clearly with adjusted colours.
More flexibility in assessment methods
Law has traditionally involved exams, which don’t suit everyone. There have been some coursework tasks brought in instead, where possible, and we give everyone enough time to complete this work while meeting the learning outcomes set by our professional regulatory bodies.
Supporting staff to support students with disabilities
We’ve developed a lot of online resources for academic staff, particularly with regard to supporting students with specific learning difficulties or those who are blind or have anxiety - many of those who require additional support are in these categories. We offer guides on how difficulties might manifest for these students and what staff can do to help and be more inclusive. We follow pedagogy best practice (pedaogy = interactions between teachers, students, and the learning environment and the learning tasks) and have also trained staff in best practice on inclusivity.
We have a student feedback survey at the end of year and have an annual conference where there is a student voice, looking at what has and hasn’t been helpful. We also have disability liaison officers at each campus and this helps staff understand more, particularly about hidden disabilities.
Working with professional bodies and employers
I sometimes meet with law firms if a disabled graduate is due to start work there. We try to help with the transition into work, which can be harder for disabled students. Promisingly, we are starting to see more diversity and inclusion in the law industry. Managers at law firms want a diverse work force and we look for disability confident employers. We run a Disability Mentoring Scheme where we pair lawyers with students to help them navigate their journey into law. And, many law firms are actively recruiting Diversity and Inclusion Managers, demonstrating a commitment to a diverse future in law.