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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

3.12: Inclusive Curriculum Design and Development

1. These guidance notes set out key considerations relating to equality and diversity for staff to take into account when considering how to design and develop an inclusive curriculum. They act as a reference point for processes such as programme approval, annual review and Departmental Review. An inclusive curriculum may be defined as one which provides all students, regardless of background and immutable characteristics, with an equal opportunity to achieve the learning outcomes of their programme.

2. The University’s student body is increasingly diverse, with significant numbers of students with disabilities; of international students from diverse cultural and academic backgrounds, and of other students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds, such as mature students. These students face particular challenges in adapting to study at the University. An inclusive curriculum can help address those challenges at the outset, supporting the University’s objective of helping all students to realise their potential. Whilst different students will face specific challenges, the issues set out below are general ones.

3. Under the Equality Act 2010, the University has a legal duty to avoid policies, practices and criteria that would put students with a range of ‘protected characteristics’ at a disadvantage. These include race (encompassing ethnicity, nationality, and national origin), sex, pregnancy and maternity, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marital status, disability, religion or belief, and age. For disabled students, the Act also establishes an ‘anticipatory duty’ to make adjustments to policies, practices and criteria that might foreseeably disadvantage such students. Designing an inclusive curriculum is one way in which staff can fulfil these legal responsibilities.

4. Whilst these guidance notes have been developed in a context focusing on support for students with protected characteristics, consideration of the factors set out below can sensibly be implemented as good practice for the entire student body.

Key Questions and Considerations

5. In reflecting on how a particular programme (or part of it) might be designed to be inclusive and enable all students to fulfil the intended learning outcomes, staff are encouraged to consider the following issues: 

Teaching – Content and Methods

How will students’ transition to higher education in the UK be supported? 

6. A significant number of students entering the University now come from academic backgrounds that may have left them unfamiliar with, and unprepared for, the teaching and assessment methods used at the University, and an understanding of UK academic practice. Such students face a cultural and academic shock in adapting to learning in a University setting, and supporting their transition is vital. 

7. In view of this fact, Senate has agreed that all programmes must incorporate, into their first term, instruction on disciplinary and generic academic conventions and skills, and an opportunity to work through the assessment criteria used on the programme. This is in line with the Principles for Student Induction. Staff are particularly encouraged to think about how students are prepared to identify and avoid plagiarism.

8. Staff are also encouraged to consider how students will be prepared for the teaching, learning and assessment methods to be used in the programme, so that such methods are not unfamiliar at the point at which students are summatively assessed. Does the programme give an early opportunity for students to experience these methods? 

How will the programme / module accommodate different learning styles?

9. In recognition of the different learning style of students, it is good practice to consider utilising a range of teaching methods (see the indicative list of potential teaching methods). This can be applied not only at module- or programme-level, but also within specific classes (consider, for instance, breaking up lectures or seminars with elements of interactivity, group work; pauses for clarity, emphasis or reflection).

How does information about the module / programme available to students anticipate and provide for a range of student needs?

10. Staff should carefully consider the information supplied to students (and prospective students) about the module / programme, with a view to enabling students to make an informed choice based on a sound understanding of what is involved.

11. It is good practice to provide details of the syllabus (e.g. what will be covered in lectures and seminars; how students should prepare for a particular class) and associated learning materials / resources in advance. This helps clarify what is expected and allows students to prepare, enabling them to get the most out of a particular session.

12. A common adjustment for students with disabilities is for them to be provided with lecture materials and/or a lecture outline in advance of the lecture. Further details can be found in the relevant University policy.

How accessible are teaching methods / materials / content?

13. Considerations here include:

  • Could the learning outcomes act to exclude students with particular protected characteristics? If so, could they be rewritten so as to be more inclusive? 
  • Is there an over-reliance on teaching methods that are likely to engage some students more than others?
  • How readable / understandable are learning materials?
  • Does teaching content rely on culturally-specific background knowledge?
  • Does teaching content avoid stereotypes? 

Assessment and Feedback

How does the nature and timing of assessment help support an equal opportunity for all students to demonstrate the learning outcomes being assessed?

14. In designing a module / programme, assessment tasks need to be selected in relation to the learning outcomes being assessed. In relation to inclusive curriculum design, a key question is therefore whether a particular assessment task provides all students with an equal opportunity to demonstrate the learning outcomes being assessed.

15. Staff are encouraged to think about the timing of assessment, particularly in relation to its impact on student wellbeing. For instance, at programme-level, are there clusters of assessment whereby students would need to complete multiple assignments simultaneously? If so, could these be avoided?

16. Staff are also encouraged to consider using a diverse range of assessment methods. Different students are likely to perform better on one form of assessment than another, whilst certain assessment practices can necessitate adjustments being made for students with particular disabilities. By diversifying assessment, staff can better support inclusion for all students, and reduce the need for multiple ‘adjustments’ to be made for the same student.

  •  Note that consideration of this issue will need to be balanced against the utility of familiarising students with methods under which they will be summatively assessed, which also supports inclusion.

How will formative assessment and feedback be used to support students?

17. Formative assessment and feedback (including feedback on summative assessment) is known to play a valuable role in supporting student success, and is likely to be of particular use to those facing challenges in adapting to UK higher education. Staff should consider:

  • How and at what point will students obtain feedback on their work?  
  • How will this feedback support future assessment? Will the feedback be timely in allowing the student opportunity to reflect and improve prior to doing a relevant future summative assessment?

How will students be clearly informed of what is required of them in assessment tasks?

18. All students benefit from clarity over what is expected of them in relation to assessment. This is particularly important for students with certain disabilities and for international students for whom English is not a first language. Staff should:

  • Consider how and when information about assessment tasks – for instance, questions, assessment criteria, deadlines – will be communicated to students. 
  • Ensure that assessment questions and tasks are clear and free of ambiguity.

Other Considerations

How will technology be used on the module / programme to support inclusivity?

19. Technology can be used to facilitate a more inclusive curriculum. Staff should consider how technology will be / is used on their module / programme, considering particularly the potential to incorporate technology in learning and teaching methods; to support communication (between students and staff, and between students themselves); and to facilitate access to learning resources and materials.

Are there any logistical or cost issues to take into consideration? 

20. Staff are asked to consider if cost or logistical issues might prevent all students from having an equal opportunity to achieve the intended learning outcomes. For instance:

  • Would students be expected to incur significant additional costs to meet the learning outcomes (for instance, in relation to fieldtrips or equipment)? If so, are these necessary? Could the curriculum be revised in such a way as to minimise cost?  
  • How would placements and fieldtrips work for students with disabilities? Are there barriers to accessibility of placements and fieldtrips (see the detailed guidance produced by Disability Support on accessibility of fieldtrips, which sets out issues to consider at the planning stage).

Reasonable Adjustments

21. The University has a process for making reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities. Inclusive curriculum design should pre-empt and reduce the need for such adjustments. In reflecting on their module / programme, staff should consider if the modes of teaching, learning and assessment used have, or are likely to, necessitate reasonable adjustments (noting the resourcing costs this involves). If so, could this be avoided by revisions to the curriculum?

Further Guidance

22. A set of web-resources relating to inclusive curriculum design and development is available in Section 3.12.1 of the learning and teaching handbook. Staff are encouraged to consult these resources to inform their engagement with the key issues outlined above. Many of the resources include practical tips to make teaching and assessment more inclusive.