Issues in Providing Learning Support for Disabled Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

Creating an Inclusive Fieldwork Curriculum

Abstract: This section provides a range of questions for course teams to consider when planning fieldcourses to ensure that issues of disability are centrally addressed with respect to the whole curriculum and with particular respect to fieldwork. It addresses pre-, during, and post-fieldcourse activities.

Planning the whole curriculum

In my view teaching is teaching, regardless of the range or needs of pupils, and an essential prerequisite of integration… is the acquisition of commitment of teachers to work with all (students), whether they have special needs or not. Only when teachers acquire this commitment can integration truly be achieved.
(Oliver, 1996b, p.87)
The curriculum on paper is only a script: the real curriculum is acted out and lived through. Thus, in a sense, we can say that the lecturer is also a kind of content, and so are the methods he or she uses, the department he or she works in and, last but not least, the assessment that is made.
(Squires, 1987, p.10)

In this section we are addressing the responses of individual departments to specific needs of disabled students in relation to fieldwork and related activities. We take as given an encouraging institutional environment that in theory embraces the needs of all students and welcomes their diversity, and we look here specifically only at how those aspects relating to the departmental curriculum can be operationalised. This process ideally has to begin before any individual student presents him or herself.

In considering how the fieldwork curriculum can be 'inclusive' we start by setting out a general model of the curriculum and then address issues of inclusiveness in fieldwork. For some the term 'curriculum' just signifies content - what is to be studied. We take the curriculum at its widest, and we think most useful sense, to mean the way that student learning is structured. So this definition leads to concern not only with content, but also with teaching methods and assessment. It also directs our attention to what some call the 'hidden curriculum', those subtle messages that staff and students send as to what is valued, for example that climbing high mountains in big boots and tee-shirts is a 'good thing', or that exploration of alien cultures and landscapes overseas is inherently of greater value than careful analysis of local and perhaps more familiar and accessible settings. This wider view of the curriculum also directs us to consider the 'co-curriculum', the wider student life and learning outside the formal curriculum — i.e. that students need to earn money may impact on their ability to engage with the fieldwork programme, and the informal curriculum of student behaviour on the fieldcourse, e.g. that evenings are typically spent in the bar. This wide view of the curriculum we believe is valuable to all teaching, but it is particularly pertinent to fieldwork for here the boundaries between the 'formal curriculum' that is written down and the wider, but no less real, 'lived curriculum' are clearly blurred.

There are a number of models of curriculum design, some of which specify a particular approach - for example, starting with the learning outcomes. Jenkins (1998) thinks of the variety of influences on curriculum design as being like a ouija board, where the curriculum is continually shaped and reshaped by a variety of forces, each of which at various times is recognised and prioritised. Student needs, attractiveness to potential applicants, linking teaching and research, professional imperatives, resource constraints, all exert their own influence. Here we are focusing on inclusivity, and the set of questions which need to be asked by the designers of the curriculum when this force is prioritised, but it has to be recognised that the other forces will still be exerting their own influences.

In this and the following sections a number of suggestions are made and a range of questions are posed to stimulate discussion. Inevitably they are not comprehensive and some suggestions are more appropriate for some groups of disabled students than others. More specific advice is given in the other guides on particular types of disability. A key principle is that before any decisions are made the options should be discussed directly with the students involved. After all, many disabled students have lived with their disability for 20 or more years and they are the expert about what it is possible for them to do and how they can best be supported. This principle lies behind the mutual adjustment model discussed in the guide for supporting blind and visually impaired students (Box 17).

Box 17: Some questions about designing the curriculum for the course team to discuss

Page updated 14 December 2001

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