Inclusive Design, Design Justice, and Striving for Equity
How can we strive for equity, access, and inclusion in our learning spaces, in our institutional designs, and in our everyday decisions? Inclusive design and design justice, as taught through the Digital Pedagogy Lab, encourage us to ask questions such as this — and then work together to make it happen.
While providing a contextual overview of Digital Pedagogy Lab’s Inclusive Design and Design Justice track, I also outline key takeaways of inclusive design and design justice as well as opportunities for library and classroom implementation.
Context + Summary
Digital pedagogy, collaboration, and learning through doing
Digital Pedagogy Lab, a week-long summer learning intensive experience, focuses on providing formative pedagogical and learning shifts — ranging from focusing on identity, equitable design, data bias, and more. Regardless of the specific track subject, participants are provided with the time, space, and support to explore better and more just teaching, global citizenship, and equity.
As a graduate student, instructor of record, and library employee of NC State University, I participated in the Inclusive Design and Design Justice in Practice track of DPL with the hope of learning more about equitable design implementation that I could bring back to my classroom teaching and own personal learning — aligning pointedly with the track description:
Inclusive design is intentional and iterative design work aimed at supporting a range of human diversity. In education, inclusive design focuses on the creation of learning spaces and materials that support diverse learners and that help to counteract biased and exclusionary designs that pervade education. Inclusive design can be a collaborative process through which teachers thoughtfully re-imagine their classrooms, sparking creativity and inspiration in teaching and learning. Using design justice and critical race design lenses, inclusive design can (and should) also be a way for teachers and learners to embrace anti-racist principles and actively work against systemic racism and other entrenched inequities in education and in our society.
This track will offer a chance to learn about and work on inclusive design, design justice, and anti-racist/critical race design through a project-based approach. Project work begins on Day 1, and is woven throughout the course. Through a variety of formats, including whole group sessions, small group sessions, individual project work, consultation with facilitators, and optional just-in-time workshops, participants will be able to tackle a real inclusive design challenge from their own contexts. This track is ideal for anyone who sees themselves as a designer of learning experiences (faculty, instructional designers, technologists) and people looking to connect their design work to action and change in the current educational, social, and political context.
Over the course of the week, the DPL community operated in two permeable tracks: the overarching community, and then our own individual tracks that we enrolled in (in my case, Inclusive Design and Design Justice in Practice). In the broad DPL community, all participants and instructors communicated via Yellowdig and also through Zoom — the latter of which was centralized around the keynote speakers and their subsequent live Q&A sessions. The keynotes included: “The Eurocolonial Constructs of Race and Intelligence: An Essay with Excerpts from ‘Read this to Get Smarter’” by Blair Imani (note: this keynote converted into an opening conversation with the DPL instructors), “Revolution to Evolution: On Curiosity and Humility as Our Return to Humanity’’ by Ashley McCall, and “The Color of Mirrors: An Equity-Based Approach to Teaching and Learning” by Matthew R. Morris.
Within the Inclusive Design and Design Justice in Practice track, we followed the pattern of daily videos and daily provocation reflections shared communally and openly. Over the course of the week, the daily content gradually shifted from specifics of the corresponding frameworks (definitions, principles, strategies) to more abstract considerations (limits of application, challenges in context, steps forward).
In addition to our learning (through the process of reading, consuming videos, and then writing), we simultaneously created independent projects to practice and explore inclusive design and design justice frameworks and principles ourselves. For this week, I was greatly inspired by the Design Justice Network zines, and my project took the form of a digital zine to document what I learned and produced during the week. The intention of this zine was to document and share the handwritten notes I was taking during the week in a more accessible form while also constructing and prioritizing an avenue for reflection and collaboration by publicly and openly sharing the zine document (this means that even you can go in and add to it now!).
Beyond this zine, the track participants constructed a collaboratively edited Google doc with resources from the track. Explore this document to find more resources, tool, and media to help expand your own learning.
Design, impact, and the ongoing process of striving for equity
A significant lesson that I gained from this experience with DPL is that any action led with intention is an act of design; therefore, we are all designers. And at the same time, it is ever important to remember that the impact of a design is more important than the intention of the designer — and, significantly, a just design is more necessary, more valuable, and more equitable than a good design. With this in mind, the responsibilities lie with instructors, librarians, authority figures, and decision makers to enact just practices — practices that prioritize equity and anti-exclusion.
Moreover, these practices must be ongoing. While inclusive design and design justice are iterative processes — as is exclusion. We need to practice identifying instances and patterns of exclusion — which can be difficult for those that are not excluded. Therefore, we must assess our daily choices and actions through a critical lens, practice critical care, and lead through listening.
going beyond DPL
The wonderful thing about DPL is that you are saturated in a community of learners, instructors, librarians, and policy makers that are learning alongside you — and learning about justice, equity, and the power these have in our communities beyond DPL. Yet, DPL is just a week. While the connections and relationships we create during this time live long past this week, the saturation bubble does come to an end. But perhaps this is when the real work and the real challenges begin.
One of the biggest challenges I foresee in bringing inclusive design and design justice values back to our home institutions may arise when these principles bring about misalignment within the broader university policies and infrastructures — especially when these policies are regulated by politicized decisions that more often than not operate in opposition to the principles explored with DPL. However, because inclusive design and design justice are both iterative and focus on challenging the status quo, there will be many opportunities to lay the groundwork for a different and more fair world. As Ashley McCall expressed during her keynote: “Lift while you climb.”
Suggestions + Strategies
for classrooms, libraries, and myself
Lastly, I want to offer and outline flexible ideas, suggestions, and avenues for others to incorporate inclusive design and design justice into their own work, and more specifically for instructors and librarians.
How to bring inclusive design and design justice into a library
INVITING COLLABORATION — First and foremost, a library can practice inclusive design by inviting collaboration from students, faculty, staff, and community members. As libraries currently and most predominantly operate, most collaboration takes the form of service and support for learning, researching, and publishing. Yet, what would collaboration look like beyond these three forms? For example, a library could invite students to collaborate with librarians on author talk series and budget prioritizations and invite community members to collaborate on architectural plans and space utilization.
SURVEYS — By implementing and placing great value in surveys, a library can aggregate suggestions and opportunities for growth, improvement, and equitable development. A potential model may be the Dorothea Dix Park Planning — which prioritizes open community-led design.
REFLECTING — A library can publicly and continually reflect on the successes, failures, and opportunities for growth through concrete moments for dialogue and a metric measure to evaluate effectiveness of prioritizing equity.
LISTENING — Most importantly, libraries need to practice listening; listening to the concerns, ideas, and visions presented and shared by all. Even more, all libraries need to evaluate who they are not hearing — and strive to welcome and empower these voices.
WORKING OPENLY — Lastly, a library can support inclusive design and design justice by working openly, publicly, and visibly through prioritizing the sharing of workflows, brainstorms, project proposals, and other works-in-progress to aid others in learning these skills — but to also invite others to contribute to these processes and designs. This practice is demonstrated in Data Feminism’s open and public community review. Beyond this, working openly may take the form of blogs, publicly accessible google docs, social media sharing, and collaborating with programs like the Open Knowledge Center.
How to bring inclusive design and design justice into a classroom
INVITING COLLABORATION — Teachers can invite students to help collaborate on classroom policies and community expectations to reflect the diverse needs of a class’s various learners. The Delftia Project is a valuable example of invitational collaboration that is striving for a diverse community of contributors.
CO-DESIGN — Educators and teachers can invite students to co-design curriculum, projects, and events that the students can then engage in collectively throughout the duration of the course. With such co-designing efforts, the teacher can fulfil the role of a facilitator and encourage students to take the lead. An excellent model of such efforts is seen with the Open Pedagogy Incubator.
FEEDBACK — Often in higher education, instructors are provided with feedback through the form of anonymous course evaluations. Yet, what if teachers sought out more frequent feedback directly from students? To do so, teachers could engage students in a dialogue following, or as a precursor to, large or significant assignments/assessments about what the students have found to be going well, what they are confused about, and what they think could change. Then the responsibility falls on the teacher to respond to and act upon this feedback.
REFLECTING — In addition to feedback, teachers should practice reflexivity in relation to their teaching, their learning, as well as their positionalities.
STORYTELLING — Teachers can prioritize the voices and stories of students, staff members, employees, and community members and strive to empower and amplify them their chosen means and methods. An excellent model of this practice is seen with the Literacy and Community Initiative’s process of publishing student-centered and student-authored writing.
LISTENING — By listening, teachers can empower students as they use their voice and express their expertise in their own lived experiences. All the more, through listening teachers are able to learn from and with their students.
For myself and my own plans for growth
- I will strive to maintain and employ openness and transparency by sharing my learning journey with others (through conversations, my teaching/learning, my work outputs, the projects I choose to be part of, and beyond).
- I will bring and retain inclusive design and design justice principles and strategies into my classroom pedagogy.
- I will practice reflexivity and assessment of self and stay critically aware of my positionality and impact.
- I will listen.