Episode One, Inclusive Education

In this Episode Jutta Treviranus talks about inclusive education by viewing learning as life long process, empowering learners to assess and guide their own learning, recognizing a diversity of skills between learners, and supporting collaboration and collective production over competition.

Jutta Treviranus in the Quantization studio

Jutta Treviranus on Inclusive Education


This is Quantization!

Hi, we are Arezoo Talebzadeh and Kaveh Ashourinia and this is our podcast on inclusion.

Arezoo: Quantization is an independent project with support of inclusive Design Research centre at OCAD University.

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Jutta: Hi I am Jutta Treviranus and I am the director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre.


Kaveh: This is season one, called Signal. Episode one, Inclusive Education.

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Kaveh: Jutta established the inclusive design research centre in 1993 to help insure that emerging connected systems and practices are designed for the full range of human diversity.

Arezoo: Jutta believes that a human difference is our greatest asset, but our current designs are a miss-match for all but the average or typical person.

Kaveh: Jutta and her global team pioneer strategies that leverage networks and digital responsiveness to create systems and practices that are personalized to each diverse users and their diverse context. The team has received global recognition for the many applied innovations in inclusive design.


Jutta: I’ve started the IDRC back in 1993 and the purpose of it was to ensure that emerging information and communication systems, policies, practices, the web, mobile systems, the Internet, all of these things that are disrupting our social fabric are designed so that they work for everyone, that they are inclusively designed. Another way of stating it is that it is about digital inclusion and designing for diversity.

The intent right from the beginning was that we would make everything we do as openly available as possible; so everything we do is open source, open access, open standards, open data. And we have, or we’ve created since then, this hub of amazing global and growing community with members in almost every continent. Associated with it as well we have something called the Inclusive Design Institute, which provides the infrastructure for this large global community.

In 2010, we’ve moved to OCAD University and one of the main reasons for doing this is to start a Master’s in Inclusive Design and in this Master’s we intended to be a bold experiment in an alternative form of education. Unlike many other graduate programs we recruit as diverse cohort as possible rather than the same cohort or the students with the same skills, and these students become co-creators in their own educational experience. So in the process of designing their own education inclusively, they not only learn about inclusive design, but practice inclusive design. And this of course the Master’s program also adds to this growing, global learning community.


Today I want to talk a little bit about that topic of learning because, at the heart of what I do, “I am a teacher, but I am also a learner.”

And the primary assignment that I’ve given myself is to create a system and compel our systems of education to enable all students to reach their diverseful potential, so that they can be prosperous, self-guided contributors to our global community. And I am old enough and I’ve made enough mistakes to know that I have to recognize that education is a complex adaptive system, and it is entangled and it’s nested in politics and regulation and economics and families and communities and media and in private enterprises.

So the challenge and the assignment that I have given myself and I’ve given the education system I am embedded in, I recognize, is not an easy one and at the pinch point of all of these complex things, there are students. And so I recognize that, that assignment is or can be called a wicked problem or problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.

And one of the things I need to prevent is this idea of a cobra effect. And what is a cobra effect; basically a cobra effect is an unintended consequence of over-simplistic solutions to complex problems. And the reason it is called cobra effect is anecdotally what happened was … well, it was first identified by a German economist who was observing a situation in India where the colonialist British Empire decided that they wanted to eliminate cobra from I believe it was the city of Delhi and so they put a bounty on cobra. And of course enterprising Indians decided that this was a wonderful way to make money, so they created farms in which they raised cobra, so that they could have turned in more cobras for bounty. When the British colonialists recognized what was happening, they cut the bounty and of course the farmers decided that the cobras were no longer a value, so they released them back in to the city. The consequence of which was that there were more cobra that there were in the beginning, and so this is one of the things that I want to prevent and of course the way to do that is to recognize the complexity of things and not come up with over-simplistic solutions.

And I fear that quite frequently what happens with the education and within accessibility and within inclusion, people think that they have found a very simple and rational solution to something, but what happen is it causes an unintended impact because we haven’t recognize the complexity.


And the other thing that I am struggling with is that it is not just over-simplistic interpretations that happen in this space, but what I characterized as backwards thinking. We tend to treat diversity as an issue not an asset in education. But human diversity is not something that we need to deal with, it is – I believe quite passionately – what will save us as a civilization, as a society. We understand this in economics and in biology, but why don’t we understand this in our social systems? And this is one of the challenges that I’ve put forward for myself: how do we persuade people, how do we get individuals, our society, our politicians, our media to understand the value in human diversity? And the critical, critical importance of creating an inclusive system and a system where everyone can thrive, so, with respect to education and accessibility, education needs to change and I believe that this change will benefit learners with disabilities.

Education needs to change, whether or not we have individuals who are currently excluded, because society is changing and inclusive design I think also, to some extent, needs to help in that change. And we need to look at how the two are entangled and how the two can influence each other.

What do we need to change in education?

There’s four things. I don’t like lists, but if I had to boil it down to a short list, it would be the following:

  • We need to view learning as lifelong and not a stage set of age-link-grades or degrees.
  • We need to empower learners to assess and guide their own learning.
  • We need to value and recognize a diversity of skills and competencies that is potentially as diverse as the diversity of learners.
  • We need to support collaboration and collective production over competition with others.

But we have a bit of a problem here in that when we talk about educational change, especially formal education, it is very change-resistant. Education grew up to resist a variety of changes and influences. We created education as a stronghold against things like paralogism and superstition. We built it to resist transitory political forces, not to mention Trump and other things that are happening at the moment. We tried to make education such that it doesn’t have to respond to the whims of popular ideologies. We’ve created these protected silos of expertise and we very, very diligently defend accepted values and proven knowledge from upstarts and purist notions, so talking about education and change is a bit antithetical to each other. We also create education to support conformance, whenever … especially whenever we try to educate at scale and we try to make education more inclusive and more equal, we bring in greater numbers and unfortunately that leads to mass education. Industrial demands also mean that we try to create interchangeable workers that we try to educate not for diversity but educate for conformity and standards.

And that standardization is used in the interest of both control and to sustain quality, to sustain equality across the education system, but what happens there is we create this centralized authority of education and every time we do that, we unintentionally confiscate self-determination from our teachers and our students and that takes away from this notion of designing education for diversity and making it more inclusive.


Another sort of critical thing that happens within education is it has become all about competition, sorting the undeserving from the deserving, privileging things that we feel are more important or that are of priority, like hard science at the expense of arts and humanities, formula over play, sequential competencies over discovery and creativity. And each of these means that we are winnowing away the environments that are supportive of a particular type of learner and it decreases the diversity that we can have within our systems.

Education has also become elite and judgmental, where many of the practices that we have within education boaster elitism, competition, and exclusion. We sort and filter before students are fully formed. Our tests are deterministic, our results are sticky, and we ignore the wisdom that we know of self-fulfilling prophecies that if you predict a student is going to not do well, they won’t do well; if we predict they will do well, they will do well. And we don’t seem to – as learners, as educators, as someone involved in education – learn from those lessons that we continuously have to relearn.

So, embedded in this challenge that or getting back to complexity, the challenge of creating an inclusive education system is very complex because we’ve got this change-resistant education system, a goal that is very counter to much of the directions and the presets and the way that education is designed. But all of this existing within today’s reality and today’s reality is very different from the reality within which we created our institutions of formal learning.

We are moving into a knowledge economy, we are moving into a creative economy and, as a result, we don’t need a whole bunch of things that we set out to produce when we began. We no longer need things like human calculators, human hard drives, or human worker clones. And if we think about how we designed our instruction, that’s a large part of what we are trying to produce at that time. What we do need is diverse perspectives, diverse learners, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, collaboration, navigators of complexity.


We designed our system for scarcity, for a time when knowledge was scarce, knowledge storage and access was constrained, only selected members could arbitrate and bequeath knowledge, authority structures were centralized to guard the castle and only the elite few could compete to climb the ladder to the higher knowledge. And now we need to rethink that; we need to design for abundance.

Knowledge is there for the taking. We are connected to a bounty of experts through the web, through the Internet. There are no constrains on how much knowledge we can store.

We have tools that can help us self-monitor and self-regulate our progress; we don’t need other people to arbitrate that necessarily. And especially given our current economy, everyone must climb the ladder to participate productively in our society. So another thing that I think we really need to deconstruct and counter is this notion of cheating and competition. It’s collaboration that’s essential to deal with a complexity of our connected world. And we really require diversity and creativity, not conformity.

And lastly, the thing that I think it is something that is beginning to dawn on everybody: there is no end to learning. I always cringe whenever we talk about a terminal degree or when will you be finished your education – it never ends. The world is changing. Learning is never complete. Truths we learn one year are no longer true the next year. And there are new forms of work each year. There is this current churn and toil that is happening within our society that require a response.


So, where does inclusive design come in? How can inclusive design help? First of all, what is inclusive design? We define inclusive design as design that considers the full range of human diversity, with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age, and other forms of human difference or it’s designing for diversity. And our particular version of inclusive design has arisen out of the digital space – this notion that the digital can allow us or provide additional powers to inclusive design because we don’t need to design in an static way. We have a number of dynamic elements that we can use in our design.

Back when we started to use the term inclusive design for what we were doing, several people approached us and said, “Well, universal design has the seven principles of universal design and that how people can remember it how they can apply it. Can you please come up with some principles of inclusive design?” And I was always resistant to coming up with principles because, of course, inclusive design is relative and so static principles or numbered principles or a numbered list of what you need to do doesn’t really work because you have to think about the context, you have to think about the individual that you are designing for, and you have to think about the goal that you are designing for – and all of those draw upon different principles. So finally what I came up with were the three dimensions of inclusive design and the notion that these dimensions are not separate; they are entangled and you need to consider all three of these dimensions.


The first is inclusive design is personal. Recognizing we’re all diverse and we need to design such that we are designing system that are one-size-fits-one and not one-size-fits-all because, well for various of reasons which I’ll talk about, part of that principle is that we need to foster self-knowledge. It’s not just about recognizing diversity as designers, but the users, the end individuals that we are designing for, need to be supported and understanding that diversity and understanding what they require and what their strengths are. And we need to integrate whatever designs we have – not segregate them – because what we don’t want to do is isolate people within their diversity.

The second principle, or the second dimension (not a principle), is that we need inclusively designed processes and tools. This supports that saying nothing about us without us. We want individuals to be co-designers in our designs and co-create those designs, so that means that our tools need to be as inclusive as possible – our authoring environments, our design processes. We need to make it possible for people with disabilities, people that are currently excluded to be at the table in creating our designs.

The last dimension is recognizing that this context, the fact that we’re part of this complex contextual environment, that everything we do is systemic. No design is done in isolation. And what we want to create are virtuous cycles.


So just going quickly through those: the first dimension that it is personal, the one thing that we try to recognize here is that the only communality and the centrally-defining characteristic of things like the category of disability is that it is difference. So we are dealing with difference; we are all unique, we all can experience a disability. And what we’ve done in this area of inclusive design is to reformulate our notion of disability. Disability and accessibility are relative, not absolute. Disability is not a personal trait. It’s not a binary; it’s a jagged spectrum. And we think of disability as a mismatch between the needs of the individuals and the learning experience offered. Accessibility is there for the ability of the learning system, because we are talking about education, to match the needs of each individual learner.

And we can all experience an educational mismatch. Any time that the environment, the learning environment, doesn’t match our particular requirements, we are experiencing a disability within learning. If I am a learner that is blind and I am sitting in a lecture that is completely audio-delivered, I am not experiencing a disability. But the person beside me that might’ve been up all night, that doesn’t understand the language well, or that is worried about sick kids at home is experiencing a disability. So how do we design a learning environment that it accommodates the needs of each of these learners?

The best outcomes are individualized instruction, impersonalized learning, and the interesting thing is we have this notion of the curb-cut advantage. The minute we start to think about designing for individuals that are in some way marginalize by our current design, we all of the sudden make it better for everyone. The common anecdote that’s given is this notion of the curb-cut, the little ramps that are built into sidewalks that were intended for people with wheelchairs, but work for anyone rolling luggage, for baby carriages, and whole host of other things. But there are many, many of these examples.

One of the insights that feed into this is this notion that there is no average or typical. We have been designing our systems, our learning systems, everything for this idea of the typical or average whatever, CEO, housewife, young person, older person, but there are no typical or average people. And a really great book that brings that home is a book by Todd Rose called ‘The End of Average’. It shows that not only is there is no average person, but there is no average us. We change from one context to another, from one goal to another. We don’t have an average trait. Our traits change, as well. There is no way to simplify the complex system that we ourselves are.


And another piece of this diversity that we are looking at, or another thing that we need to deconstruct within education, is this notion of isolated learning – the learning as an individual. Most of our learning happens within a system of peers. Yes, there’s self-directed learning, but we’re learning within a context and within a community. And so what we need is we need personalized learning that is challenging, that is not necessarily comfortable, but that provide us with an optimal challenge.

So talking further about learning and moving on to the next dimension, which is the inclusive process. One of the things that we need to change within our educational system is this notion that the marks are for just one person, that we need to judge everyone as an isolated learner, when in fact what we need are multiple perspectives. We need multiple diverse perspectives. We need to make it possible for learners to interact and to collaborate and to value how they orchestrate their various individual strengths with other individuals.

We need to make sure that our tools of education are such that the learner can contribute to creating curriculum, to creating learning tools. We need to get rid of this notion that learning curriculum, the education environment, needs to be perfect right from the start because, in fact, it’s the imperfect, the impermanent, and the incomplete that invite learning more than a perfect curriculum that you can’t change. And we need to pool our resources. We need to invite the connected systems that we’ve created globally to contribute to the educational materials, so that we have as rich and large pool of resources as possible so that we can provide an individualized, personalized learning experience for each learner.


One of the things that frequently comes up here is the ‘but’s, like “But wait a sec, doesn’t this contradict a lot of what we know about learning and a lot of the values that we have worked so hard to uphold? You’ve talked a lot about diversity. You’ve talked about the uniqueness, how we are all very different, but what about commonality? Isn’t the human condition also about communality?” And that is true, but I think we need to distinguish between false and imposed communalities and the real communalities. What do I mean by false and imposed communalities? I am sure we’ve all experienced or cringed at statements where people talk about all women, all men, all people from the Middle East, and we say, “Wait a sec, that’s not me! Yes, I do belong to that category, but I don’t share that communality.” And one of the things that we find when we explore inclusive design, and we explore inclusive education, is that only when we respect and support diversity do we find meaningful and deeper communalities.

The other ‘but’ that frequently comes up is, “But what about standards? Isn’t that … Aren’t standards important? Isn’t accessibility about standards?” And I agree that standards are important and they are necessary – believe it or not, for diversity – because standards provide us with a common meeting place, so that we can diverge, but they need to be transparent and open. It’s those common meeting places where we have the standards, but they allow us to diverge. I use an anecdote that when my family goes shopping, say for the holidays, we can only all go to our individual places because we have a common meeting place to meet again. And that allows us to each follow our own pursuits, but come again to a common meeting place so we can find each other again.

The other ‘but’ that frequently comes up: “But isn’t competition good? What happens to competition? Isn’t life and organics and biodiversity all about survival-of-the-fittest and this notion of competition? Well even that, to some extent, is being deconstructed if you look at an author called Terrence Deacon. He is investigating what really happened through evolution and one of the notions that he has put forward, that is proven quite well in many of his writings, is that it’s only when we relax that competition, when there is relax selection that allows for diversification, that we actually advance as a species. It was only through relax selection that we actually developed language.


So, what we want, in fact, is to harness diversity, to bring together that communality, to allow for collective production, to allow the connected, complex, unpredictable, transformative systems that will support an inclusive education system.

We talked at the beginning of this long talk about complex systems and the complex challenge of making sure that we accommodate all learners, that we support all learners within our education system. And the only way that we’re going to do this is by releasing our hold on conformity, releasing our hold on this notion of elitism, by collaborating, by allowing diversity, by relaxing our notions of perfection. And what we want to ultimately do is to reverse this vicious cycle that we have, where people are excluded because their perspectives are excluded. We have a poor, less-rich view of what is possible and what we need to do as a society. And that means that we have a lack of inclusive design, we have a lack of a diversity of approaches, which again excludes. And that feeds into education, it feeds into employment and it feeds into our design. It feeds into our economic systems. We need that diversity and so what we want to do, we want to create a virtuous cycle of digital, economic, and educational inclusion, where we invite as many diverse perspectives to the table, so that they can help us to expand and stretch our perception of what is education and what do we need to learn and how do we need to survive as a society and support each other.


Just last week I gave a talk and I called it by a very strange title I called it “Salad dressing, pendula, navel, scraped knees and future-friendly learning”


People were thinking what on earth that is title about, one of the things that we found quite often in accessibility or inclusive design is that accessibility and inclusive design is a precarious value it is something that everybody admits that really critical and important but boys are boring and boy does it scare away people because it is often the first thing that falls of the table when other priorities come into play, so for that reason I sometimes come up with these very strange titles to talk to attract people to come to it so they become curious about what is about, so why did I used the title “Salad dressing, pendula, navel, scraped knees and future-friendly learning” what on earth does that have to do with inclusive education?

Well I’ll tell you, the first part why Navels and here I am referring to naval gazing and this notion of metacognition, we need to encourage learners to be investigated scientist in their own learning. We need them to navel gaze we need to create systems where they can learn about their own learning because they are going to be the individuals that drive their learning as they move through a complex and often paralyses life they need to optimize their own learning for themselves.

Scrape knees, well of course that has to do with learning trough failures and mistakes, the mistakes are one of the most valuable lessons that we have within education and for whatever reason we’ve devaluate them. Mistakes and failures give us an opportunity to reflect on what we are learning to re-evaluate our path and they are the places where we make the lips forward.

And pendulum and polarization are all about dynamic balanced the dynamic equilibrium that we create through diverse perspectives unfortunately right now we are in a number of political pendula where we create these binaries the positive and the negative, but what diversity allows us to do is to create a balance out of to rebalance the things by stretching things not in to polarities or to binaries, but in a variety of different directions.

And then the last the salad dressing, salad dressing is about social cohesion is about keeping oil, water and spices in suspension and the way we do that is through the organic interaction and collaboration mixing up all the time constantly re-evaluating and thinking about the various perspectives that are there.

So, what we want to do and how we are going to achieve this inclusive learning experience, education that optimize learning for everyone is to create this connected global learning community that everyone’s contribution is valued.

We need to create an inclusive education system and we need to recognize that diversity is really our biggest asset and not an issue.



Arezoo: This talk recorded on may 6, 2016. Hopefully you enjoyed the talk. We would like to hear your thoughts on this, so don’t hesitate to be in touch. You can find us at quantization.ca

Next episode is a conversation between Richard Fung and Jess Mitchel on Gender. Please come back to find out!

We want to thank all who support us on doing this podcast, you can check our advisory committee and friends on our website.
Kaveh: and special thank to Marshall Bureau who composed all scores for our podcast.

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