Inclusion in experiential learning (EL) opportunities is achieved when an experience supports learning for all students, and accounts for their differing needs. This involves being mindful of intersectionality as it relates to students’ identities, and intentionally designing the opportunity in ways that value and recognize a diversity of lived experiences. Therefore, whether you are designing a new opportunity or reviewing an existing one, it is important to embed equity, diversity, inclusion and access (EDIA) in the design and development process to ensure students feel supported when engaging in EL.
Without self-reported equity data, it can be difficult to know who is and is not accessing EL opportunities. Additionally, without data, assumptions may be made about students, how they learn, what motivates them and what their attitudes might be towards learning. It is important to recognize that students come to you with an array of experiences which may impact how they view and engage with an EL opportunity. When designing an EL opportunity, it is critical to gain insights into your intended student population’s interests, needs and motivations, as well as contextual factors that may impact their participation and success. For instance, consider who you are developing this EL opportunity for — is it for a group of first-year or fourth-year students? Are you focusing on women in STEM? By developing a strong understanding of your intended student population and addressing their needs through your design and delivery process, you will be better positioned to develop an EL opportunity that reflects, supports and engages students.
- Conduct a learner analysis and context analysis to understand your intended student population’s variability, the contextual/situational factors that might impact them and what implications these factors might hold for your EL opportunity. You can source this information by engaging directly with students themselves and/or by leveraging institutional reports (e.g., National Survey of Student Engagement, University of Toronto Student Equity Census data [when available], etc.), or academic studies relating to specific student populations.
- Connect with your intended population directly, such as through a survey or focus groups, to better understand their experiences, motivations and needs.
- Co-create with students in your intended population, where appropriate, to identify how they can be best supported in your EL opportunity. Where possible, include students who bring a diversity of lived experiences in the co-creation process.
- Reach out to other faculty or staff in your department/unit, or those who work in spaces relevant to your intended population, to discuss any insights and/or ideas they might have in relation to your EL opportunity.
A sense of belonging and inclusion is essential for full and meaningful student engagement. Whether you engage students in a physical or virtual space, it is important to work towards building a space that is accessible and feels welcoming to a diversity of students. While you may not be able to change or influence aspects of the space (e.g., assigned classrooms, partner office environments, field site, etc.) where possible, consider making changes that are physical or digital to foster an inclusive environment.
- Where relevant, liaise with any internal (e.g., Information & Instructional Technology, Facilities and Services, etc.) and/or external partners to assess the accessibility of the space. Strategize solutions to physical and/or virtual space challenges to help ensure the learning spaces, resources, supports, technology and delivery are inclusive and accessible.
- Include welcoming signage (e.g., Positive Space signs) in spaces where you may be interacting with students, both virtually and in person, and consider where you can incorporate intentional Land Acknowledgement statements.
- Share your own pronouns and name pronunciation in your email signature, as well as an invitation for students to easily make accessibility or accommodation requests when booking meetings with you.
- Incorporate accessibility principles into all digital and physical spaces and processes (e.g., allow for closed captioning in virtual meeting spaces).
Your experiential-learning-related curriculum can be broadly defined as encompassing the learning experiences that occur over the course of your EL opportunity (curricular or co-curricular). What is included (and not included) in your EL-related curriculum can potentially exacerbate systems of inequity. For example, curriculum that relies exclusively on Eurocentric and western ways of knowing may ignore, deny or exclude the diversity of students’ identities and lived experiences (Mitchell, Donahue & Young-Law, 2012). Inclusive EL-related curriculum should support students to better understand and question the culture of the workplaces and/or learning environments they are entering (Cockayne, 2018; Winchester-Seeto et al., 2015).
- Develop learning outcomes that incorporate inclusive elements. Select outcomes that target the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (i.e., Analyze, Evaluate, Create) to encourage thoughtful analysis, critical thinking and the exploration of diverse perspectives. For work-integrated learning opportunities, consider identifying learning outcomes that reflect workplace EDIA skills (e.g., systems thinking, active listening, perspective-taking, etc.)
- Include content that is varied, informed by multiple perspectives and that strives to connect with and build on students’ own interests, knowledge, goals and experiences. Review your learning materials to determine which voices are included (and excluded) in your curriculum. It can be helpful to consider whether authors in your course readings or training materials reflect the diversity of your students and the communities your opportunity aims to serve, where applicable.
- Integrate and adapt content and activities to encourage reflection on systemic issues and EDIA considerations in relation to the EL opportunity. Use a variety of identities in examples and case studies, from simple changes like including gender diverse pronouns, to considering how different identities are represented in your examples (e.g., Who is successful? Who needs help? Who is a leader?).
- Learn to facilitate spaces where students feel comfortable sharing their experiences and identities and be prepared to acknowledge and respond to what has been shared. You can encourage braver spaces that are empathy-driven by sharing your own experiences, identities or learning journey where relevant; for example, one way that settlers can position their identity and recognize the ongoing impacts of colonialism can be through a personalized land acknowledgment. Additionally, when opening spaces for discussion, make sure that confidentiality, transparency and privacy are built into the parameters of the curriculum and the EL opportunity.
- Ensure that your learning materials are accessible for programs delivered online. Subsidizing or providing free materials, supplies or technology (e.g., specialized software) can help to ensure equitable access for all students.
- Be mindful if you are requesting students to use their webcams when participating virtually or when working remotely; students may be reluctant to show their personal spaces on camera, and/or may have limited internet bandwidth.
- Review the accessibility features and standards of any digital tools and technology (e.g., Canvas LMS [Quercus] accessibility standards) used to engage with your curriculum and avoid using elements that may be inaccessible. For support with institutionally or divisionally supported tools and technology, consider contacting the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation.
Reflection and assessment are critical elements of experiential learning. Incorporating principles of UDL can help support the development of inclusive reflection and assessment activities. Consider the variety of ways students will interact with the learning materials, their peers, relevant technology and/or partner organizations; how might UDL be leveraged to enhance the overall learning experience? While UDL does not eliminate the need for accommodations, it can pre-empt the need for many accommodations by addressing common accommodation requests (e.g., alternate forms of assessment).
- Make assessment processes clear, transparent and available in advance. Integrate sufficient flexibility into assessment procedures.
- If group work is part of your assessment plan, share instructions on how to clearly set roles and guidelines for group members so that students understand what is expected of them and are better positioned to contribute. Where appropriate or relevant, share group guidelines with your external partner(s) so they can effectively support student activities.
- Develop assignments that are equitable, unbiased and leverage plain language. Consider including early low-stakes formative assessments that allow for experimentation and risk-taking, and offer timely, accessible and constructive feedback.
- Provide a range of assessment and feedback approaches that are accessible, inclusive and timely, and allow for student choice in EL assessment. For example, when providing options for how students may engage with learning materials, you could let students choose between uploading a video, audio or written reflection. If you are planning to incorporate online synchronous reflection sessions with students, consider providing them with the option to use audio-only when participating remotely.
- Explain to students that EL assessment, unlike the typical assessment practices they may be familiar with, is based on how they demonstrate learning from experiences, rather than only performance related to the activity. Prompt students to reflect on deeper changes in knowledge and attitudes, as opposed to simply reflecting on the tasks they accomplished per day.
- While writing is a common mode of reflection, this is not an ideal medium of reflection for everyone. Consider alternative ways of reflecting, such as arts-based reflection methods (i.e., drawings, music, photos, etc.), paired with scholarly explanations to deepen their understanding and construct new knowledge. You may also consider giving students the opportunity to verbalize their experiences through a voice memo, podcast or video.
- Where relevant, integrate opportunities for students to engage and critically reflect on themes relating to EDIA.
- Provide opportunities for students to act as partners throughout the assessment and feedback process (e.g., via peer review), and opportunities for students to engage in formative dialogue with faculty/staff regarding their assessed work.
Be mindful of how experiential learning program or opportunity prerequisites might pose a barrier to student participation in EL. For instance, when EL opportunities require grade minimums, they risk excluding students who may have lower grade point averages (GPAs). There can also be barriers for equity-deserving students to secure certain prerequisites for EL programs (such as vulnerable sector checks, first aid training, immunizations, etc.), which may hinder some students from participating.
- Communicate EL requirements well in advance so students have time to take the actions needed to meet the requirements, if necessary.
- Provide information on what might be involved in navigating accommodation requests. If a student knows they will require accommodations, but are not clear on the essential requirements for participation or the process for requesting accommodations, they may not feel confident in whether to proceed with the opportunity, or when, whether or how to disclose their needs, and to whom.
- If taking a full course load in a term that precedes an EL opportunity is a prerequisite (e.g., in co-op programs), it should be clearly outlined how students with course-load-related accommodations can navigate this prerequisite, so that they do not self-select themselves out of EL participation.
- Think through the costs of meeting certain requirements (e.g., vulnerable sector checks, vaccinations, etc.) in terms of finances, time and energy, and whether those requirements are necessary for participation. If the requirements are necessary (e.g., a vulnerable sector check is necessary for working with children) and involve a fee, provide students with potential funding options to help alleviate the cost. Students with financial need may connect with their College Registrar to inquire about support.
- Reflect on whether a minimum GPA is an essential qualification for participation in the EL opportunity, particularly as it can risk excluding some students. Consider how a student’s candidacy might be demonstrated more holistically, in equivalent and alternative ways (e.g., community involvement, lived experience or other experience). The Arts & Science Internship Program (ASIP) offers an example of an EL opportunity that leverages holistic admission criteria.
Students may have concerns about participating in EL opportunities. Some might be related to their comfort in engaging; for example, students may be hesitant to participate in an EL opportunity if they do not see their identity reflected in the possible program partners and opportunities, or if these opportunities are not typically available within their academic program (Phillips-Davis, 2021). Other challenges may present themselves during the application processes for EL opportunities. For instance, inequitable selection processes (e.g., hiring practices, program applications) continue to persist in many organizations, which can disadvantage and discourage some students (Mackaway & Winchester-Seeto, 2018). By collaboratively working with partners, you will improve students’ sense of belonging and increase the likelihood of retention.
- Ensure that partners are aware of and adhere to appropriate employment standards and practices generally consistent with those applicable in Ontario. Some relevant pieces of legislation and guidelines that may apply include: Ontario Employment Standards Act; Ontario Ministry of Labour Guidelines; Ontario Human Rights Code; Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act; and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. You can also educate partners about U of T’s statements on Equity, Diversity and Excellence and Human Rights, and consider disengaging with partners who demonstrate resistance to EDIA values and practices.
- Reflect on the expectations you have of EL partners, and what their roles and responsibilities are when engaging with students, then discuss this with students’ prospective supervisor at the partner organization. If possible, consider engaging in conversations at the organizational level to strategize proactive solutions for addressing and reducing potential barriers.
- For work-integrated learning, rigid recruiting windows or approaches can disproportionally impact an employer’s ability to recruit equity-deserving students. For example, international students, who may be abroad during the recruiting window, will be unable to attend in-person interviews with partner organizations. Discuss alternative timelines with employers to explore opportunities to recruit students at different times, as well as ensuring flexibility in the recruitment process (e.g., virtual interviews).
- Consider providing onboarding materials and resources to partners. Onboarding resources can include information regarding best practices on hiring, the importance of pay transparency, the impacts of GPA requirements on equity-deserving students, resources about microaggressions, inquiring if there is a private space for prayer if needed and/or recommending that partners ask students if they have a preferred name and/or would like to share their pronoun(s).