Accessible Higher Education: How can I influence my course content to be more representative and inclusive?


Have you ever felt your course and curriculum syllabuses don’t always represent the diverse student population here at Warwick? Do you come up against privilege biases in perspectives, theories, models, texts and data that are taught? To think about your role in shaping how your curriculum is developed so that it is more inclusive and representative of genuinely diverse perspectives, Katie considers what is underway at Warwick to “liberate the curriculum”…

In November, I attended a Warwick International Higher Education Academy (WIHEA) panel discussion exploring work being done both at Warwick and nationally, about the Black student experience, in particular with an aim to close the attainment gap that exists between students of colour and their white counterparts in the UK.

The conversation helped me to reflect upon my own experience in the classroom. As a lesbian student at Warwick, I am keen to see the LGBTQ+ perspective included alongside what often feels like a mainstream of white, straight, middle class, privileged perspectives dominating the  content. I studied English Literature as an undergraduate, and am currently undertaking an MA in Writing. I often find that the “established canon” i.e. those texts most often chosen as part of course reading lists, has not yet found its way outside of that mainstream.

I have, however, witnessed pragmatic action being considered to improve the situation. In the English & Comparative Literary Studies Department, there are several modules dedicated to specific underrepresented theories and lenses, and this range changes every year but is reliant on individual academic research interest.

The department students were also recently invited to take part in a range of events designed to broaden the range of text and cultural perspectives available to explore. This is a great starting point and proves there is space in academia for texts, perspectives and data that go beyond pedagogical western-centric traditions. Additionally, I have been able to take part in workshops and meetings where I have been able to voice what I would like to see reflected in the curriculum, starting with gaps in how I feel represented.  I genuinely feel that members of the department want to hear my views and make change happen.

Across the university, I’m aware this thinking does not sit in isolation. For example, the Students’ Union is leading the call for change armed with insights from the real student experience. A recent report (Speak Out, 2018) highlights students’ experiences of racism, and that a proactive cultural transformation needs to take place – the curriculum is one space this can happen.  As a result, a co-delivered review into whether modules sufficiently reflect issues of diversity, equality and inclusion is underway. There is a call on the SU website, under “Liberate my Module”, for students to review peer feedback of diversity and inclusion on existing modules, and add their own examples.

The university is also currently reviewing the Widening Participation Strategy which maps out how underrepresented students will be supported to apply to and study at Warwick, and, ideally, receive a positive education experience. There is a consultation where anyone can voice their view on what else could be done do to ensure a more inclusive and diverse environment.

Other projects such as widening participation and research are investigating more inclusive ways to build co-design and student-driven inquiry-based learning into the curriculum, as the evidence base clearly suggests that these kinds of teaching and learning activities will have a positive impact on underrepresented students’ experience and outcomes at university.

All students can also suggest specific books or access to texts through the library which may be useful in independent study projects that have the scope to go beyond the mainstream curriculum or module syllabus. And there’s always the SSLC for every course as a well-established mechanism to give feedback on course content, teaching and learning.

Whatever the outcome of cross-institutional projects, I feel that the more I invest time in reading beyond my primary text list, and using my own research interests to develop my knowledge, the greater the chance to do better and enjoy the studying experience.

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