Across Europe, there has been a significant push toward championing inclusivity and equal opportunities in higher education for under-represented minority groups. This move is supported by the EU and national governments, driven by both social justice and economic considerations.
Aside from elevators, accessible washrooms, assistive technologies and accommodations (such as sign language interpreters), many edtech tools and startups are also democratizing learning and paving the way for a more inclusive future. The latest technologies can foster inclusive learning environments for learners from diverse backgrounds and with particular needs.
As an entrepreneur committed to improving the learning experience for both faculty and students, I’ve realized numerous higher education institutions are yet to fully adopt digital technologies. So, here’s a rundown of the challenges diverse learners face and how three edtech tools can help lead the way to a better future.
Addressing the Overlooked Areas for Diverse Learners
The number of students in higher education with learning difficulties is increasing. And Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, low-income and first-generation students are also not receiving the support they need to succeed. The issue is that, despite educators’ best intentions, they often fail to adequately assist these diverse groups of students and close the systemic performance gap.
Difficulties arise from limited resources, lack of awareness or understanding and one-size-fits-all approaches, which means educators overlook the unique strengths of students with learning difficulties or from varied backgrounds. So, let’s dive in a little further:
Limited Resources or Inefficient Budget Allocation
During a study in 2022, researchers graded accessibility and inclusion at 50 of the top-funded undergraduate programs using an A-F letter scale: Just 6% received an A. This is likely due to the fact that special education at schools and universities is getting more and more expensive.
Online learning resources, specialized software, individualized education plans, and support services are often essential for students with significant learning difficulties or from historically marginalized groups. But offering these services cuts into higher education institutions’ budgets, so they try to reduce expenditures. As a result, resources are often in short supply, restricting hands-on learning experiences for students with specific needs.
Lack of Understanding Among Educators
Many educators are not adequately trained to identify and address the specific learning needs of students from minority groups or with learning difficulties, which leads to delayed interventions or failure to implement appropriate strategies. As a result, students may face further challenges and experience academic setbacks.
Low Student Engagement Levels
Belonging or feeling valued as part of a community plays a role in student motivation, success, engagement and commitment. And despite equitable digital learning being designed to adapt to students’ needs, there are still many barriers: lack of access to technology, misalignment between student and instructor preferences and difficulty assessing course engagement.
When we were assisting a public 2-year college in integrating cutting-edge edtech, the teachers expressed a need to know whether students across the board were really doing the course readings. And if they weren’t engaging or feeling motivated, they wanted to understand why. Was it related to peer relationships, the support they were receiving or the quality of teacher check-ins?
[Related: How Education Technology Calmed the Storm for Students Amid Coronavirus]
Edtech Tools Driving Inclusive Transformation
Higher education institutions are working to accommodate students’ needs in real-time and promote inclusive environments that empower students with diverse learning needs to reach their full potential. To do this, educators must turn to evidence-based teaching practices using the latest edtech tools to boost transparency, active learning, data analytics and a sense of belonging:
Gaining Insights Into Student Engagement With Social Annotation
Student engagement is pivotal to a high-quality learning experience. But with students and teachers using multiple platforms and tools, tracking student engagement — and improving inclusion in the classroom — can be long-winded.
Social annotation is the age-old process of marking up texts — but it’s now in a digital learning space where students can have private conversations about different course readings and resources via their browsers. It’s a sweet spot between innovation and familiarity, helping give a voice to students with diverse needs and providing a mechanism of communication that creates belonging.
With social annotation, the instructor isn’t the sole disseminator of knowledge. Instead, students are invited to take charge and support one another with course content.
For example, at Hypothesis, where I am CEO and founder, the team once worked with a college where many students were still developing their English language skills. Using social annotation helped the students understand diverse perspectives, connect more deeply with course reading and promote a more inclusive learning environment. Seventy-two percent of students said it helped them think critically, and teachers were able to provide faster feedback.
Building Student Confidence With Labster
Students who enter courses as first-year or fully online students often report using digital collaboration tools or study aids to feel engaged. Instructors need to make these resources available to all diverse learners as they provide data analytics to inform ongoing course improvements and give students active learning opportunities to practice skills and receive feedback.
For example, Labster, a leading edtech platform for virtual labs and interactive science education, uses immersive simulations so students can practice lab skills, interact with advanced equipment and visualize theory. The simulations can be in multiple languages and include hearing and visual support.
The gamification techniques and “hint and guidance” system to nudge students in the right direction can increase STEM students’ engagement. Meanwhile, easy integration with popular learning management platforms means educators can grade quizzes efficiently and see dashboards full of student performance data.
Simplifying Sending Assignments
During The Anywhere School 2022 event, Google announced the release of Classroom add-ons. The idea was to allow educators and students (using Google Workplace for Education Plus or Teaching and Learning Upgrade) to use their favorite edtech tools without leaving the Classroom — and with a single login.
Teachers can create engaging assignments, streamline grade entry and gain deep insights from add-ons, providing targeted feedback and identifying areas where students are struggling. At the same time, students can access the tools they need without worrying about remembering passwords.
[Related: Google Updates Classroom Tools for Remote Learning]
By leveraging these technologies, educational institutions can foster an inclusive educational experience that empowers and enables the success of all learners, regardless of their individual needs or backgrounds.