March 18, 2020

Design-based research draws on experiences of inclusion

Werklund grad student Chris Ostrowdun wins award for his study on inclusion in the classroom

How do you draw “inclusion”? That’s the challenge that Chris Ostrowdun puts forward to pre-service teachers when he steps into their classrooms.

Ostrowdun is a PhD candidate in the Werklund School of Education, and he has created an activity where pre-service teachers are asked to draw their individual understandings of inclusion, and then collaborate to arrive at a shared understanding of the concept.

This thought-provoking research program has earned Ostrowdun the 2019 EdCan Network Pat Clifford Award for Early Career Research in Education. We asked him about his research.

Q: What teaching challenge does your research address?

A: My research investigates how pre-service teachers understand disability and inclusion. As well, the work aims to support pre-service teachers in surfacing their assumptions and perspectives about inclusion, how their perspectives relate to their teacher training, and to consider how these intertwine and shape their teaching practices. 

Q: What’s your approach to your research?

A: I’m using a design-based research approach, which combines theory and practice with iterative design to study learning innovations in natural settings. Specifically, as part of a Bachelor of Education course, pre-service teachers were asked to create drawings in response to “What is inclusion within a learning context?” Students then share/explain their drawings to peers.

Next, I scan all drawings from the course (~300+) and make them available online to students. A few weeks later, students are asked to browse their peers' drawings and discuss what strikes them and what themes they notice. Students are again asked to create a drawing about an inclusive environment, but this time collaboratively in small groups.

The idea is for them to engage in discussion and negotiate a shared understanding of inclusion. They are also encouraged to share how they arrived at their perspectives and consider implications for their future teaching practices.

Sample drawing from the research study.

Sample drawing from the research study. Shared with permission from the researcher.

Courtesy Chris Ostrowdun

Q: How do people take a broad concept like inclusion and translate it onto paper?

A: The drawing prompt was intentionally open-ended to allow the pre-service teachers to share any number of perspectives that were relevant to them. For example, some focused heavily on the in-class inclusion of disabilities via accommodations, while others addressed cultural/racial inclusion.

From the drawings, some of the high-level trends I’ve noticed include:

  • Many pre-service teachers associated accommodations with inclusion to address the needs of students with disabilities.
  • Unity, community, or togetherness among students was often represented through circles or students holding hands.
  • Collaboration and the notion of students being and working together as beneficial for learning and inclusion.
  • Giving students agency and choices in how they learn and offering an array of resources to use.

Q: Why do you care about this project? What inspires you?

A: With upwards of 25 per cent of K-12 students requiring significant learning supports, inclusion and disability impact all teachers. Getting pre-service teachers to reflect on their beliefs and perspectives contributes to developing their overall teaching philosophy, which sets the foundation for teaching practices.

Q: What was your best moment?

A: The thoughtfulness and compassion conveyed by pre-service teachers in how they think about inclusion. It is heartwarming to know how much pre-service teachers care about these issues and it’s encouraging to know K-12 students will be in good hands regardless of their needs or circumstances.

Q: What’s next?

A: Within the pre-service education course, we continue trying to find ways to help pre-service teachers think about inclusion holistically to consider social interactions, students’ lives outside of schools, and classrooms and schools as a complex system that goes beyond just homework and grades. Personally, I plan to complete my PhD this year and pursue a career in academia to continue understanding ways to make education more inclusive, robust, and responsive to diverse learners.

Ostrowdun's work is supervised by Dr. Jennifer Lock, PhD, and Dr. Miwa Takeuchi, PhD, of the Werklund School of Education. His research is supported by a University of Calgary Teaching and Learning Grant and SSHRC. The course co-ordinator is Dr. Man-Wai Chu, PhD. 

Sample drawing from the research study.

Sample drawing from the research study. Shared with permission from the researcher.

Courtesy Chris Ostrowdun