Wherever you go, whatever the setting, all academic classes have one thing in common: diversity. Diversity is universal and exists in every classroom, including in the virtual class. The Covid-19 pandemic brought innumerable changes in the academic world. Of marked significance is the shift from the traditional face-to-face classroom to the virtual classroom and a community of online learners. Virtual learning creates classrooms without walls or boundaries. The fact that the learners do not all need to be in one room can create an increase in cultural, language, and learning-style diversity. Indeed, there is often greater diversity in the virtual classroom than in the traditional face to face classroom. It is very similar to a flower bed, with pansies, petunias and poinsettias all exuding different fragrances and blooming different colors at different times. How does an educator cope with such diversity? What are some best practices for handling diversity in a virtual teaching and learning environment?
The diversity of online education calls for application of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). According to Floreta, Universal Design for Learning provides a set of principles to start thinking about how to implement inclusive education practices successfully. It includes using technology to create a curriculum that promotes flexibility in teaching and learning. Ensuring equity and quality in inclusive education benefits not only the students involved, but has a ripple effect that can improve the lives of all people. According to Wells, “If we lose the opportunity to educate the most capable students, we diminish not only their individual opportunities, but also those of the country.” The same is true for students who struggle with academics. For a virtual class to be effective it should be inclusive.
Inclusivity in education means that all children – no matter their background or academic skills – can learn together in the same classroom. As the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization point out, this requires reaching out to all learners and removing the barriers that could limit participation and achievement. As we continue this series, we will look at key strategies for embracing diversity and ensuring inclusivity in a virtual class.
This article is the first part of the series Embracing Diversity in the Virtual Class: Focusing on Learner Differences. The other articles from this series will be published following Mondays.
Watch for Part II next week!