USF research conference explores challenges and opportunities for inclusive education
TAMPA, Fla. (December 5, 2018) — Alison Black grew up in Northern Ireland and was educated as part of the country’s grammar school system. While in school, she said she felt she wasn’t always receiving the same treatment as her fellow students.
Grammar schools, like the one she attended, are more academically focused, with higher quality teachers and smaller class sizes. Black said she remembers the exam that 11-year-old students take to determine which type of school they progress into, and how challenging that exam could be.
“I passed the exam when I was age 10 and went to the grammar school, but I feel that I didn’t perform well at all because their academic expectations were so high and because I wasn’t meeting them,” Black said. “I wasn’t treated the same way as some of my more intelligent peers were.”
Black said her own personal experiences with diversity and inclusion are what have led to her career today as a senior lecturer in the graduate school of education at the University of Exeter. Her research looks at what the schools of the future could look like under a more inclusive model of education, a model that Black said can help students access more opportunities later in life.
"There’s something about leveling the playing field and giving everybody similar opportunities to meet their own aspirations,” Black said. “I think thinking about inclusive education and how we can do that for all children is an important step to take.”
This work led Black, alongside her colleagues from the University of Exeter, to join a collaboration with researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) that looks at innovative solutions and research taking place on the topic of inclusive education – a model of education that welcomes all students into the same classroom and general education curriculum, regardless of any disabilities or challenges they may have.
As part of this collaboration, USF hosted a conference this week that brought together experts from both institutions to have conversations about the challenges and opportunities facing inclusive education models within schools across the globe.
Supported by the Research Catalyst Fund, an initiative between USF World and the University of Exeter Global Partnerships team, the event was hosted to encourage collaborative research activity between researchers at both institutions. Attendees from the University of Exeter joined sessions digitally through video conferencing, a set-up that brought together a diverse group of attendees from both countries and educational systems.
The event opened with a panel of researchers who study inclusive education policies and practices in the Tampa Bay area. The research team included Braun, alongside College of Education faculty members Phyllis Jones, PhD; Jennifer Wolgemuth; PhD, Vonzell Agosto, PhD; Zorka Karanxha, Ed.D; Karen Colucci, PhD; post-doctoral scholar David Lamb, PhD and Senior Social & Behavioral Researcher Lodi Rohrer.
Following the presentation, attendees broke out into various roundtable discussion about topics such as how educators can assess their efforts and the roadblocks currently faced by those working to implement more inclusive practices within their classrooms.
“Social justice is definitely a driving force related to (why inclusive education is important),” said Alisha Braun, PhD, an assistant professor of social foundations and the project lead for the program. “We don’t want any student – whether it’s on the basis of their disability, or the color of their skin, or the language that they speak, to ever feel excluded or that they are not a part of their classroom community or their school community.”
Marquis Holley, a doctoral student in the College of Education who attended the conference, said he’s had an interest in diversity and inclusion since he was in high school, and the conversations taking place at this event align well with his studies at USF.
“In my master’s program, we did a lot of synchronous and asynchronous learning, so I can appreciate how we’re doing something with a school from overseas,” Holley said.
To continue research and collaboration following the event, the team at USF plans to continue conversations with the University of Exeter about how both universities can keep moving this research area forward. The goal, Braun said, is to host another conference like this in the future, with the University of Exeter serving as the host location.
“The hope really is, yes, we are presenting our preliminary results, but we really want to try to foster additional collaborations and partnerships with people not only on the research team but outside the research team as well,” Braun said.