Introduction to Inclusive Communities

Isobel Gowers and Matt Parkman

There is increasing importance placed on developing inclusive communities within higher education institutions (Smith et al., 2020; Williams et al., 2020) for several reasons. Feeling part of a community and a sense of belonging aids both learning and retention. Through communities, peer learning develops, as well as a social network that allows students to support one another. Diversity within the student population, as well as a history of those from under-represented groups not achieving the same outcomes as others has been a driver to develop more inclusive communities. The chapters within this section provide a range of active learning ideas that will create and strengthen inclusive communities. There is a focus on supporting international students but the ideas provided will help improve the learning and sense of belonging of all students.

Inclusive Practice

Zhuo Li looks at activities to encourage Chinese students to get involved in discussions. Empowering the students to get the most out of their learning by joining in verbal discussions whilst recognising that an expectation of their culture is for them to be reserved and quiet. The opposite take on this is provided by Spowart, who provides an idea at using discussions via writing rather than verbally to ensure that all students have a chance to participate, even if they are quiet and do not like to talk in class. It is suggested that these silent discussions can work well in both face to face and online environments.

Of course many discussions that students have will require them to gain a consensus and Tzoumaka provides an idea where students need to gain consensus whilst maintaining mutual respect. She highlights the importance of this skill for team work and collaborative work and undoubtedly this is an important skill for the workplace. As well as the skills needed for collaborative work, scaffolding of student learning is important for allowing students to develop agency in their learning and this is the idea explored by Harvey. Agency can empower students to feel included. Students can often find active learning challenging and scaffolding is invaluable for allowing students to develop their own ideas, which often reflects their own experiences and culture rather than lecturers prescribing their ideas.

Moving away from just using activities that ensure students are included in the learning, Kyparissiadis goes beyond that and uses active learning to encourage empathy by challenging students to walk in the shoes of others. The example given is from advertising but this activity could be related to how we see individuals from our own and other disciplines. The activity can encourage empathy but also provides students with an awareness of inclusivity that will be invaluable as a graduate. Taking a different approach Hancock looks at using a problem based learning approach using student characters to help develop an understanding of support and guidance a student needs through transitions in their education. Although this example is focused on an educational setting, it could be amended to problems that occur in a variety of different settings.

Building Communities

Wilson-Crane provides an idea to support international students building networks through interdisciplinary active learning. By working together to apply knowledge and create some point of collaborative output allows the students to build a network with students across different subjects as well as between undergraduate and postgraduate students. This working together helps students to feel part of the wider university community.

Trivedy takes a different approach to developing a sense of community and that is using Microsoft Teams to develop a community of practice, social and collaborative space. This chapter provides details on how to scaffold the development of the community, to encourage students to share their successes, knowledge and also their challenges removing that sense of isolation.

In the idea from Trela and Rutschmann an activity using mind mapping to build a peer learning community highlights how important developing trust and building a community allows active learning to flourish. Rather than just expecting peers to be able to trust and support each other in their learning, this idea presents something that both encourages exploration of content knowledge but in parallel starts to build a community that will allow peer learning to develop effectively.

Empowering Learners

Here, we will focus on the process of democratising the learning process. Ensuring that learners are involved in the learning process from end to end is a sure way to drive engagement.

Finn explores the idea of learners selecting their own paths to enlightenment, taking the flipped learning approach and empowering students to apply this to administrative aspects of education, such as curriculum unit selection. Fin further explores the interpersonal benefits of encouraging learners to take ownership of their learning journey, as well as highlighting the benefits to teaching teams.

Pedersen shares a practical approach, aiding in the development of a learners Zone of Proximal Development, encouraging learners to learn most actively, through the creation of their own materials. This section explores the benefits of creation, including increased confidence, self-efficacy, and resource banks within learner groups.

Steinberg focuses on a more pastoral approach, incorporating personal experiences into the learning experience. This idea explores the advantages of reflection, timeline production and critical evaluation of a learner’s understanding and expectations on any given project. This section provides further application of a highly adaptable concept.

Wellbeing, Humour and Mindfulness

This section focuses on wellbeing in both teacher and learner communities, achieved through mindfulness, preparedness techniques. There is further distinction on the role of humour and humility when facilitating active learning.

Johnston explores the role of fear and how this can be positively met with humour as a pedagogical tool, enabling learners to reflect positively on learning experiences, and innovatively relieve stress and anxiety often associated with presentation delivery.

Edwards-Smith considers the impact of mindfulness of active learning, demonstrating how embracing the moment can allow learners to develop their critical thinking skills, with open minds in safe environments. This section provides practical steps to facilitating mindfulness in learner environments, well supported with literature.


In summary, although this section on inclusive communities is built up of three parts, it is very hard to disentangle the content within. For example, peer learning occurs best when a community has developed with the participants trusting and respecting each other. To develop a community you need to ensure that all participants are included. And finally learning will not happen if students are stressed. This means that the ideas from the chapters in this section not only provide some excellent stand alone ideas but can also be used as a mix and match to promote an exciting inclusive community.


Smith, S., Pickford, R., Sellers, R., Priestley, J., Edwards, L. & Sinclair, G. (2020). Building a sense of belonging in students: Using a participatory approach with staff to share academic practice. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 9(1), 44-53.

Williams, S.A.S., Hanssen, D. V., Rinke. C. R., & Kinlaw, C. R. (2020). Promoting race pedagogy in higher education: Creating an inclusive community. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 30(3), 369-393.

About the authors

Throughout Dr Isobel Gowers’ teaching career, she has been interested in active learning. Initially using techniques such as problem based learning in her teaching but gradually increasing her repertoire of active learning methods. After 10 years as a lecturer Isobel shifted to educational management and currently works to promote active learning at ARU.

Matt Parkman is an Instructional Designer who aims to create fun and interactive educational content, with the learner at heart. He found himself drawn to learning technology and instructional design to create content learners wanted to engage with, rather than feeling they had to.


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100 Ideas for Active Learning Copyright © 2022 by Isobel Gowers and Matt Parkman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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