Inclusive practice for learning and teaching in the Department of Chemistry

Report from Alex Reid – Department of Psychology, University of York

Link to session recording (UoY log-in required)

On November the 27th 2020 Dr Julia Sarju and Dr Leonie Jones from the Department of Chemistry ran a workshop for the Learning and Teaching forum which focussed on sharing a number of successful inclusive practices adopted by their Department. Recognising and accommodating inclusivity and diversity remains essential for developing a sufficiently supportive learning and teaching environment. While this can span a number of potential factors good inclusive practice, as defined in this workshop, can include targeted adjustments to standard practice alongside broader cultural-level adjustments to prevailing attitudes. To support their case Julia and Leonie included a number of case studies and specific examples drawn from their Department that highlight good practice.

In terms of specific changes that can be instigated as part of inclusive policies it was recognised that the ‘devil is often in the details’ when providing an adequately supportive environment. It is recommended that individuals from a range of demographics are actually directly consulted with regards to what they might actually need to feel sufficient accommodated. This removes an element of guesswork and, in itself, is an inclusive mindset.

Inclusive design was broached as an area that needs careful consideration in this regard as good practice necessitates the inclusion of a range of different individuals and, subsequently, learning styles. For the Chemistry Department this has been fostered in numerous ways, such as developing audio guides for field work, tactile maps, 3D molecules and bespoke inductions to teaching labs. Providing materials in advance for students is also highly recommended, as are online 3D lab maps (think Google Maps for learning spaces!), which are also particularly useful for remote inductions following COVID-19.

Following a discussion a number of excellent resources were flagged up for establishing inclusive learning and design:

This tree has been made to help focus people on the important and inclusive aspects of good design (further information is provided in the link toi Virna Rossi's work).

A ‘design tree’ for inclusive practice developed by Virna Rossi 

At a cultural level the Department of Chemistry has made several important steps in fostering inclusivity and diversity. With respect to the LGBT+ community this includes hosting an LGBT+ STEMinar alongside recognising and consulting high profile LGBT+ members of staff and undergraduate course representatives. Appropriate policies have been put in place to promote a caring and inclusive environment, including trans awareness training, pronoun stickers available at reception, and asking undergraduates what pronouns they would like on their lab coats during their first supervision meeting.

Other miscellaneous but important case studies mentioned in this workshop include factoring in scheduled toilet stops for menstruating students during field trips – a straightforward provision designed to avoid embarrassment and stress. Another example includes ‘baking in’ flexibility to standard systems in place for students to ensure they are sufficiently accommodated. In Chemistry this includes the option for more breaks during labs, alongside the explicit recognition that some students might require more breaks, or specialist equipment, to complete the equivalent task as others.

Overall this workshop was highly informative and it is recommended that the full slides are consulted (which can be found here) to fully appreciate some of the excellent initiatives that have been implemented by the Chemistry Department.

To round things off some other useful resources highlighted by Julia and Leonie include:

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