Inclusive education is a topic that has been addressed mostly in recent years worldwide, and in particular in Colombia, and has gained momentum due to its importance and necessity. According to UNESCO, education is a fundamental right, and there is no reason why anyone should feel excluded from learning.
For this reason, RUMBO, Bogota’s university network association, held a Virtual International Summit for Inclusive Education and ICT, that lasted 5 days, in which more than 900 individuals from Bogotá, remote regions in Colombia, and several other Latin American countries participated. The summit, whose main objective is to talk about inclusion in education, took place virtually, in order to achieve greater coverage and to precisely achieve full inclusion for all participants wanting to attend.
Through the Blackboard Open LMS platform, 924 people gathered to talk about inclusion in education and inclusion toward peace, an important topic in Colombia (the host country), since after 60 years of internal war with a guerrilla rebel group, the country has reached peace and the demobilized guerrillas must return to civilian life.
This year’s summit is the third virtual summit ever held. The last two have been led by Professor Sandra Acevedo and have been promoted by the National Open Distance University of Colombia, an institution dedicated to providing virtual education, with the key objective of reaching vulnerable populations in Colombia. The two previous summit meetings were held to discuss inclusion within the university. This year, the university decided to approach RUMBO to host a larger, more inclusive, and completely virtual summit, so vulnerable populations along with universities in other parts of the country and Latin America could participate.
When talking about inclusion in education, it is not just about people with visible disabilities. It also considers everyone involved in education – both students and educators have particular strengths, weaknesses, and unique characteristics. There are seven different types of learning, and everyone learns through a mix of the 7:
1. Visual (spatial): The learner prefers to use drawings, images and spatial understanding
2. Aural (Aural-Musical): Prefers to learn through sound and music
3. Verbal (linguistic): Prefers to use words, both written and spoken
4. Physical (Kinesthetic Intelligence): Prefers to use the body, hands and sense of touch to learn
5. Logic (mathematical): Prefers to use logic, reasoning and systems
6. Social (interpersonal): Prefers to learn in groups or with other people
7. Solitary (intrapersonal): Prefers to work alone and likes self-study
With this in mind, teachers must take into account all learning styles for their students. This is inclusion: to be able to learn and understand material in the best possible way, with the capacity to retain information with each type of learning style.
Technology is also fundamental in the subject of inclusion. Digital and non-digital tools, strategies and resources, are defining for students to have more accessibility to creative processes,. “Technology offers a different way of seeing things and to better understand the educational processes,” says Alejandro Montes, RUMBO’s academic coordinator. Catalina Roldán, RUMBO’s executive director, adds that inclusion is not only about being disabled or about types of learning, but also about remote villages and towns that do not have easy access to education as they could have in big cities. In this case, technology plays a fundamental role because it is one of the ways to be able to reach these people who, for geographical reasons, have difficulty accessing education.
This summit is organized with the aim of coming up with new ideas on the appropriation of technologies in the classroom with the contribution of individuals from varying backgrounds, careers and diverse experiences. One can also learn about new pedagogical and didactic tools that can be used, as there is much to be done in the classroom. All subjects of study have components that can be taken from the blackboard or from the teacher’s discourse, and can be implemented in different ways. The summit’s council seeks to transfer knowledge for others to avoid getting stuck ‘within classroom walls’, and for those venturing out, having this knowledge could generate a huge change; if knowledge is not shared, others can’t take advantage of it. New ideas can really bring value to society and can serve as examples for creating new educational policies in different settings and countries.
A virtual education summit
In a virtual summit, audiovisual material is key. However, it is imperative to avoid any technical problems that may happen during the event. Thus, instead of having live presentations, where the microphone, sound or even internet connection could fail, speakers were asked to record their presentations in advance. Jorge Bustacara, RUMBO’s technical coordinator, decided Blackboard Open LMS would be the best platform to host the event.
Blackboard Open LMS allows you to upload all content before the conference starts, and to stream it through YouTube®. All links, documents and exercises, can be downloaded from the page, and resources and videos are available for review as many times as wanted. Participants may ask questions through the forums tool, so that content may be accessed after the summit is over. Participants also have the option of interacting with each other through the forums.
This year’s summit was divided into seminars, each with different themes that sought to have a range of inclusion scenarios, so that each guest could choose the most appealing to them. The themes were:
• Challenges for the social inclusion of diverse populations in the knowledge-based society
• Gender inclusion in education
• Digital narrative in higher education
• Inclusion of at-risk populations
• Learning from a diversity point of view and communication technologies
• Instructional design experiences for the inclusion of diverse populations
• Inclusive learning and teaching technologies
• Accessibility and pedagogical design for diverse populations
The educational summit counted with the participation of 8 international guest speakers, whose main theme was about inclusive learning, and how to address the challenges faced by teachers on a daily basis to achieve an inclusive classroom.
From a technology perspective, there were talks about how to design an interactive classroom to achieve inclusive education, as well as presentations on assistive tools available to identify flaws within an inclusive classroom environment. Additionally, there were presentations, for instance, from La Salle University – a private university that is raising funds for demobilized guerrillas to go to Yopal, a municipality in central Colombia, to study agricultural engineering and return to conflict areas bringing back something positive with them.
This summit was an important space to generate ideas and new practices, and to become aware about inclusion within the academic environment. In Colombia, there is still a long way to go from a governmental, institutional and general awareness level, to becoming a country with inclusive education. However, the subject is now being discussed more regularly, without the need of governmental requirements or interference. That is why, this type of educational summit is essential to achieving change, raising awareness, sharing efforts and slowly creating a more educated, united and inclusive society.
* Catalina Roldán, RUMBO’s Executive Director; Alejandro Montes, RUMBO’s Academic Coordinator; and Jorge Bustacara, RUMBO’s Technical Coordinator.
* Illustration: TriiBU.