An Inclusive Curriculum
A university that pays attention to diversity not only respects a diverse group of students and staff, but also pays attention to inclusiveness. People at VU Amsterdam should be able to feel part of the VU community. On campus as well as in education. That is why VU Amsterdam is developing a method to support teachers and give them tools to make the curriculum inclusive. Amrita Das, teacher trainer at the Learn!Academy and member of the Mixed Classroom team is working on this method.
What is your experience of inclusivity at VU Amsterdam?
"I came to VU Amsterdam for my Master’s, with a fellowship programme. Then I applied for a PhD position and was able to do my PhD through the Mosaic fellowship, for people from different cultural backgrounds. That fellowship itself was focused on inclusion. I got involved in the Mixed Classroom programme. When I mentioned that I have hearing problems, they – instead of judging me - created room for me, which was a very special experience.
VU Amsterdam has really given me the vocabulary to understand what I want to do. I realise it is also a privilege; I was given room to think. The core values of VU Amsterdam are personal, open and responsible. These values are very important to me. Every person has their own history and so much to add and others can learn from that. I find it very courageous that these values are part of VU Amsterdam’s vision."
You are working on the Curriculum Reflection Tool, what is that?
"Together with the Learn!Academy, the VU Diversity Office is working on making our curricula more inclusive. We use the reflection tool to try to initiate and facilitate the process of critical thinking about the curriculum. We zoom in on teaching materials and pay attention to, for example, decolonisation, gender, accessibility and geography. In doing so, it is important to be mindful not only of what we teach, but also how we teach it. For example, in the BKO (Basic Teaching Qualification), we are now looking at the language used in teaching materials. And last year we conducted a pilot at AUC to examine how we can improve the tool."
Can you tell us more about the method used by the reflection tool?
"The method is based on the VU Mixed Classroom Educational Model. That model assumes several phases: sensitising to the diversity in perspectives present; constructively engaging with those differences; and finally optimising by being able to build on perspectives. There are workshops and trainers are available for guidance. As a teacher, you can set up the process yourself with the method. Ultimately, it is also important to involve students in the process. They are not only recipients of your teaching; they also bring experiences and perspectives.
The aim is to help teachers think about their choices in teaching and learning, the potential impact, and to help make better and more inclusive decisions in higher education."
Can you explain how the model contributes to a better and more inclusive decision?
"Take phase 2, for example: during the introspective process, a teacher may analyse the material used in the course for accessibility, examining the diversity of the material offered, whether textual, technological or otherwise. In the same step, the teacher sets up a strategy to make intentions and expectations explicit in the teaching process."
In what way does this project contribute to our ambition “Diverse”?
"The method can be of interest to different people within education; basically, anyone involved in designing a learning line, course or workshop. Besides teachers, these could be programme directors and programme coordinators. This project contributes very concretely to building an inclusive educational environment. There is a lot of focus on different topics and user needs, and it also fits well with VU Amsterdam's educational vision."
When do you expect the reflection tool to be ready for use at VU Amsterdam?
"Ideally, we will launch as soon as possible, depending on time and resources available to us for development. Besides, it would also be very valuable if individual teachers and departments come to us. It works both ways; if we get enough interest from teachers as well as students, it will definitely promote the success of the project. I really hope 2023 will be our year."