Can Technology Make Education Inclusive?

The short answer is no. The long answer goes something like this: technology could and does play a role in realising certain inclusive pedagogical aims, but do not drive radical change in and by themselves. And while technology can be designed with inclusion in mind, what inclusion entails vary: inclusion might refer to equal treatment, equal achievement; prioritize collaboration or personalisation; to schools as internally inclusive or as motors of inclusion for the wider society, correcting inequalities. Education can’t be made inclusive just with technology – and school can’t be inclusive in a society that isn’t.

I’ll first contextualise the history of inclusion as a guiding principle in educational policy, first for disabled children then as a cultural and social goal for schools, and its various interpretations for pedagogy and didactics. I’ll then focus on the promises of technologies for inclusive schooling, arguing they usually center just one aspect of inclusion, flexibility. This framing has limited potential, which

Inclusive schooling as a policy

Inclusive schooling becomes a key principle for the education of disabled children in the 1990s in the United States, following the Civil Rights movement and the desinstitutionalisation efforts. It referred to including disabled pupils alongside their non-disabled peers in the classroom, by contrast to other approoaches such as special education classrooms within mainstream schools or special education organisations. For some disabled children this mostly reflected changes that had long been underway. In France, for instance, there is good evidence visually impaired children had been attending mainstream schools in increasing numbers before inclusive schooling was codified in law in 2005.

The notion of inclusion in education however rapidly expanded. The 2000 OECD report on inclusive education focuses on disability, while their more recent reports emphasize students of different backgrounds and diversity more generally. Inclusion became a new available framing for educational policy and schools, justifying a wide range of policies centering schools as a means to address social and cultural inequalities in the broaden anxiety – often without given schools the means to pursue these expanded goals – and as economic inequalities increased. It also likely reflects concerns about observed ways schooling produces inequalities, running contrary to discourses about education as a meritocracy. It is worth noting that meritocracy itself is a fairly recent idea in education – one that had been criticized for introducing new forms of competition and undermining collective action.

Inclusion can be used as a motivation for a wide varieties of policies and pedagogies. At its most basic, educating children in diverse groups reflecting the wider society can bring benefits on its own. Many studies show that children participate in reproducing social inequalities in their interpersonal relationships. Inclusion needs scaffolding. But that scaffolding can’t happen in segregated settings.

How to scaffolds this inclusion (and the roles of technologies in doing so) is another matter. The wider availability of assistive technologies such as braille keyboards and screen readers or automatic captions has certainly played an important role in enabling (easier) access to learning materials. But technologies have also long been framed as opening new horizons for education, making it more inclusive by making it more flexible (and vice-versa). In turn, models of the learning process underpins the development of certain technologies, such as AI.

The promises of computers in education

Children and schools have long been an idea target for technology developers, framed by advocates across industry, policy and academia as a solution to schools’ ills, an opportunity to improve learning, shape better citizens and a more inclusive society. First, children are idealised as intuitive, naturally curious and prone to learning if only they were given the right tools. Long before personal computers, scientists framed computers as the perfect tool to develop learning personalisation at scale, encourage active exploration across media and even new literacies encouraging citizenship and participation. Whether this is true in practice is highly debatable – for instance, Failure to Disrupt explores the reasons behing the small to moderate learning gains made using intelligent tutoring systems, Disruptive Fixation shows the pitfalls of a school focused on gamification and digital literacies, while The Promise of Access examines how a school’s efforts to provide a computer to every student to encourage independent learning failed to achieve its objectives.

Second, children serve as metaphors for learning machines, with models of children’s learning process inspiring the design of artificial intelligence and vice-versa. For instance, constructivist pedagogy which posits the active construction (through trials and errors) of mental representations and errors was an inspiration for both the design of educational technologies and artificial intelligence.

Finally, children cristallize fears of a technological future in which those who won’t adapt to technology present and future will suffer. In The Code, Margaret O’Mara describes how Steve Jobs framed the Macintosh as indispensable for schools, opening a very lucrative market for Apple. If they are indispensable to schools, they become indispensable to families, as a way to keep up with expectations or to give an edge to their children. It is possible for instance that women were driven out of computer sciences in the 1980s in part because boys, more likely to be owning personal computers, changed teachers’ expectations of beginners. Today, parents are often caught between injunctions to support their children’s digital fluency while restricting use.

Flexibility, cooperation, collaboration?

Multiple theories of cognition and perspectives on improving education can be called upon to justify a focus on flexibility. A widely discarded (but still used) theory is that of learning styles . The core principle is that some people learn better aurally, visually, through physical manipulation, etc. A more promising approach is to consider multiple ways of presenting and interacting with representations and information, depending on the goal and the setting.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework emphasizing three aspects of learning design: different means of engagement, representation and expression. With regards to designing for accessibility, Universal Design more broadly was an invitation to account for ergonomic variability and to shift designers’ focus on fixing disable bodies, and instead design environments practicable for as many people as possible. The difficulty of suchh approach is to handle the complexity it introduces – and this might as well be true for the teacher and the pupils. The preparation of materials is costly in time and may demand abilities to use a variety of media tools making their preparation more complex for teachers than, for instance, activity sheets. In addition, inclusive content is concerned with not making assumptions about children’s experiences that would impact their ability to understand a problem and be evaluated on the right skills.

But UDL too emphasizes individual learners and their needs, rather than collaborative and collective approaches to learning. There again interpretations and implementations differ: what should be the goal of collaboration? When collaborating with peers, grouping by ability may lead to implicit tracking, but groups that are too heterogeneous might have difficulty collaborating.

Returning to defining inclusive technologies, collaboration in groups of mixed abilities has been a significant focus for research. One strategy is to design technologies for activities inspired by the education of disabled children. My Ph for instance looked at how special education teachers build lessons and activities involving all senses and making sense of their physical environment through diverse sounds, smells and more. They can then leverage that understanding in social sciences lessons. We could design technologies centering the use of all senses in learning, including collaborating to make sense of a situation.

Inclusion is a process, and shifting the perspective this way may help us finding ways forward. But inclusive technologies as personal tools rather than supporting collective organization will necessarily be too limited for the goals at hand.

Comparing Approaches to Assessment Fairness (and Deadline Extensions)

Exam arrangements have eaten a lot of my time this year: guiding a record number of students through deadline extensions processes; adapting exam modalities to make sure student with technical or broadband issues are able to present their work; encouraging students to seek assessment and exam arrangements to compensate for the toll the pandemic is having on their mental health or the abuse they face at home; and generally feeling that exam arrangements and deadline extensions processes are not up to the task of ensuring assessment fairness.

(I’m pretty sure I should state here that these views do not represent University of Sussex, the teaching team I am part of or my department and school, and that my examples are drawn from personal, colleagues’ and friends’ experiences that occur regularly and do not describe individual students)

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Choses à considérer avant un doctorat (en design)

De la direction de thèse à l’environnement de travail, un aperçu des bonnes conditions pour faire un doctorat.

On commence trop souvent une thèse sans avoir une idée réaliste du travail à fournir ou du système universitaire. C’est particulièrement le cas pour les domaines dans lesquels les personnes voulant faire un doctorat n’ont pas fait leur master à l’université – par exemple les diplômé-e-s d’école de design.

Les situations varient, et la liste ci-dessous ne reflète que mon expérience directe et indirecte en France depuis 2014. Ce sont toutes les questions auxquelles il me semble important d’avoir une réponse claire et les conditions qui doivent être réunies avant de s’engager, pour minimiser les risques de burnout, harcèlement, thèse prenant bien plus longtemps qu’annoncée, fortes désillusions sur les débouchés professionnels, etc. Faire une thèse est difficile dans les meilleures circonstances. Cela n’est ni censé être une torture ni un chemin de martyr. Et si le doctorat est un diplôme, faire une thèse est un travail, qui ne peut s’effectuer convenablement que dans des conditions dignes.

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Meanings of ‘Accessibility’ in Museum Studies

What makes a museum accessible? To me accessibility refers to the architecture and content accessibility of exhibitions for disabled people. But halfway through a systematic literature review on museum, accessibility and disability, I’m finding accessibility has become a polysemous term in this context, referring both to (1) the accessibility of the whole collection to a larger public and worldwide experts, (2) accessibility to racial minorities and economically underprivileged groups and (3) accessibility to disabled visitors. This is worth exploring as it can both support the convergence between the concerns of different communities; or lead to a confusion between availability and accessibility.

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Listening to the city

Soundscape refers to how we perceive our acoustic environment, with and without instruments other than our ears. City soundscapes are of interest to Science and Technology or Sound Studies scholars, historians, geographers and sociologists; a matter of public health and road safety; regulated by laws; shaped by urban planners and architects.

What can we hear? When should we listen? How do we sound? A selection of open tabs.

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Evaluating technologies with and for visually impaired people

30 years of evaluating innovative accessible or assistive technology in Human-Computer Interaction research and how we could do better

Quantitative, if possible experimental, studies and evaluations are central in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and to motivate policy initiatives. Yet, few technologies for children with visual impairments have been evaluated this way in education research; it is also an issue in research on technology for locomotion and mobility. Even if they were evaluated: the current replication crisis calls for revisiting our practices, and standards for quantitative evaluations have changed through time. We set to investigate how quantitative empirical evaluations of technology for visually impaired people are conducted in papers published by top HCI venues in this area (CHI, Tochi, Assets, Taccess), and to identify areas of improvements. We suggest that single subject experiment designs might be more adequate with this group. We also outline practical steps for authors and reviewers to improve their evaluation practices.

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Thematic analysis in HCI

Braun and Clarke’s thematic analysis have become a staple of qualitative HCI research. Here’s why themes don’t emerge and how to get started with reflexive Thematic Analysis

Braun and Clarke’s thematic analysis has become a staple of qualitative HCI research. Here’s how to get started with their reflexive Thematic Analysis method and why themes don’t emerge.

In 2015 at the very beginning of my PhD, my advisor gave me a simple yet essential advice for academic writing: look at papers similar to what you want to achieve. New to qualitative methods, I analyzed a sample of qualitative papers published at CHI that year. Qualitative analysis either referenced Grounded Theory by Charmaz, thematic analysis by Braun and Clarke (B&C), or simply stated using open coding. During CHI reviewing this year, Samantha and I noticed many references to thematic analysis used language and concepts Braun and Clarke have often disavowed. They have in face expressed frustrations regarding how their paper is interpreted and used. We thought it would be helpful to summarize their recent writings on the methods, in hope it would be helpful to researchers new to thematic analysis as we were.

These past few years, their 2006 paper took off, reaching 71 739 citations according to Google Scholar at the time we write this article. Some time last year, they even gave their approach a new name: reflexive thematic analysis. They’ve also vigorously opposed that ‘themes emerge from the data’. As junior researchers, we found applying thematic analysis both easy (a way to annotate data) and difficult (there are theoretical and methodological ramifications we don’t have a clear grasp on). We’ve also kept up with discussions on thematic analysis in psychology and social sciences. Here’s a summary of Braun and Clarke’s concerns regarding uses of their approach to TA and how it applies to HCI research.

Before we continue, let’s just note this article will not get into the matter of Grounded Theory and how to do it. We’ve included more resources at the end of this article.

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Classroom Policy for Inclusion

Many discussions about making our classrooms more inclusive in higher education revolve around our attitude as teachers. This post summarises them, then presents my classroom policy to encourage inclusive behavior between students, even outside of the learning contexts.

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UX + Disability: A Syllabus

This article follows two posts on how to make disability a focus in the design curriculum: the first discussed my own experiments (and partial failures); the second outlined Cynthia Bennett’s advice for teaching disability design. She is a blind scholar specialist of participatory design with disabled people. Benjamin Gorman asked me if I had thoughts about the coursework and design of a computer sciences unit on Accessibility and Assistive Technologies. This is the curriculum I developed for such a unit for post-graduate students in UX design – but this could arguably be used or adapted to other courses on disability and design, or students of other levels. This is a course that was workshop intensive, and about 30 hours long. In terms of philosophy, I know well that I won’t be able to turn them into accessibility or disability experts. I thus aim at making them aware of the resources available, their moral duty to implement accessibility standards in any work they do and to equip them with the basic design and research skills needed.

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The History of Special Education (with a Focus on the United States)

Margret A. Winzer is a scholar specialised in the history of education, with a focus on special education. She has written two landmarks books on this topic: The History of Special Education: From Isolation to Integration, which begins with a discussion of understandings of disability during Antiquity, and concludes in the XXth century; and
From Integration to Inclusion: A History of Special Education in the 20th Century
, which looks more closely at the second half of the XIXth century, and until the new inclusion policies of the XXIst century. The two books overlaps in themes and periods examined, and tie together a history of labor, of ideas, of education, and of disability rights – not directly the material and design history of special education, but it can help shedding light on innovations in this area. I’ve compiled the timelines included in these books in a spreadsheet and started a visual and sortable timeline using

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Our Lives and the Design of the Kitchen

Exploring how kitchen design shapes women’s and the family life (and how men strategically avoided to be expected to spend time there).

There are a number of topics I don’t research systematically but that come up regularly during my readings. I am trying a new post category, for now called Bites of Reading. These posts collects quotes or excerpts from different sources about a particular topic.

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Reading Notes: the History of Blind People in France

This post is a summary of a book by Zina Weygand, The Blind in French Society from the Middle Ages to the Century of Louis Braille, with notes from Mark Peterson’s book Seeing with the hands.

Why focus on this history? 
There are many laws for the inclusion of disabled (or more specifically, blind and Deaf people), but they have not achieved their aims. Pierre Henri and Pierre Villey, both XXth century scholars, explain it by prejudice against blindness. This book explores how individual and collective perceptions of blindness shaped state actions and the social organisations supporting and teaching blind people, to understand contemporary treatment of blind subjects (p.6). So the book covers shifts in these representations over a lengthy period of time, the XIIIth century to XIXth century, citing Le Goff as the inspiration for covering an extended period of time.

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Advice for Teaching Disability in Design

A few weeks ago, I published a few reflections on teaching disability design through design projects, as a teacher in both UX and product design degrees.

Folks from the disability design community took the time to discuss, comment and add to this discussion, for which I am very grateful. Cynthia Bennett (@clb5590) made further recommendations on Twitter. I thus invited her to write them up on this blog, so as to ease archiving and to dive a bit deeper in the issue.

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How I learned Design Research and How I Teach it (Part 2: Becoming an Ethnographer)

There is a very simple answer to this question: in the night train before my first week of observations, I read a book recommended by Dr François Huguet, who was then about to finish his PhD: The tricks of the Trade, by Howard Becker. Though I probably have read about methods more than any other research topic during my PhD (to compensate for having no formal training in this area), this is the book that stuck. It also felt similar to design in the ways it described tagging along to understand what’s going on or being able to see a different pattern by talking to all actors separately. But the full answer is not as easy.

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How I learned Design Research and How I Teach it (Part 1)

There are countless articles and mailing lists debates about what is design and what is design research out there. This will not summarize these debates, nor is it an attempt to reconcile these views. It is a couple of observations on how I turned to ethnography, preparing a design research course at University of Sussex, my experiences as a designer turned academic and as committee member of a support and networking group for French design PhD students. I have read and taken part to many epistemological, etymological, historical and methodological debates about design research, but I am simply hoping this can provide some insights on design research as people and practices, a world, in reference to Howard Becker, as I have experienced it.

Part 1: A path from designer to academic;
Part 2: Becoming an ethnographer;
Part 3: A network for French Design PhD students: sticking together through diverse PhD program requirements;
Part 4: Establishing a design research course at University of Sussex.

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