Simulations for the future: Reflecting on new directions for INCLUDE

Dr Sean Bracken, the University of Worcester

Co Founder of INCLUDE, reflects on possible futures for the Collaboratory.

Recently, Britain experienced an unusually prolonged period of bitterly cold weather. Temperatures in Worcester struggled to get above -5 degrees Celsius (or 23 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day and fell to about -10 during the night. Still, the days were clear and bright and made for wonderous walking to work. During the week, as I sauntered through the main gates of the University, I noticed some activity at ‘Forensics House,’ a simulating learning space used by CSI teams and paramedics to provide a sense of real-life authenticity to learning. A training ambulance had its signalling lights flashing, indicating that something dramatic was afoot.

Noticing my interest, one of the paramedics teaching staff beckoned me over and took me behind Forensics House where a lifelike mannequin lay lifeless in the cold. “So”, my paramedic colleague entreatied me, “What would you do as a paramedic, if you were to come across this unfortunate man?” “Well, I’d check his pulse first to see if he may be alive”? With sunken eyes and cheeks, and with hands that were tinged purple, the unfortunate looking mannequin certainly didn’t seem to be blossoming in life. “Not a bad response, I can share that he’s met his demise,” my paramedic colleague replied with a wry smile, “and next what”? “Well, I presume CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) would be the next step,” I ventured, rather enjoying the challenge. “Ah but where”? My colleague countered, “right here, I presume,” “And why, try to resuscitate someone right here in the freezing cold when you have a warm ambulance only metres away? Remember, you need to take care of yourself as well as your patient”, came the enlightening retort from my more experienced paramedic friend. The pivotal learning point here is that in real life we need to think differently to secure the best outcomes for all concerned, and whilst doing so, we need to be mindful of ourselves and what is best for us. This critical insight provided a good analogy for reflecting about the future potential trajectories for the International Collaboratory for Leadership in Universally Designed Education (INCLUDE).

The potential applications for UDL are multifarious, cross disciplinary, and geo culturally unpredictable, so the nature of how INCLUDE charts its future must incorporate a level of creative flexibility to facilitate meaningful growth that is sustainable for all concerned in the busy lives of practitioners. Having put in place sound foundations for INCLUDE that have served colleagues well over the past three years, we now need to develop imaginative scenarios that will maximise the potential of collegiate learning that moves beyond a classroom mindset and takes learning into authentic, or virtually simulated spaces.

Further, building on our action-oriented values, we need to create ways to facilitate exchanges of ideas, insights and research that encourage shared learning activities as a community habit. Our professional development sessions, choreographed in a masterly way by Betsy Dalton and Linda Plantin Ewe, have gone a long way towards realising that goal and the challenge is to grow the learning from these insightful learning sessions. Ironically, it may be helpful to rely on some tried and trusted means to make our goals somewhat more tangible. For instance, recent discussions among the steering group of INCLUDE have identified that setting up the International Journal for Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning will provide a mechanism for a growing number of colleagues across the world to have a shared space where learning based on premises of equality, diversity and inclusion can be exchanged within and beyond disciplines and where researched insights can also be tested across borders and in a diversity of socio-cultural contexts. But if the journal is a proposed output, and a worthy one at that, the process of getting to that output and the nature of the research it might feature is also worthwhile exploring.

To date, INCLUDE has featured in-depth insights from individual settings and this has altered our learning gaze from the internal to the external. It has prompted learning from ‘the other’ so our next step might be to learn with and learn from ‘the other.’ Karin Muff (2014) has defined a Collaboratory as, ‘an open space for all stakeholders where action learning and action research join forces, and students, educators and researchers work with members of all facets of society to address current dilemmas.’ This then is the challenge for INCLUDE, to enable facilitative ways to connect networks of educators, students, and researchers within differing global contexts so that the potentials for universal design and universal design for learning can be more fully realised. It would seem practical to have home based productive networks that conjoin colleagues and learners together and to then create a virtual space where these networks can be linked together with like minded research networks in other settings. That is one of the ideal next steps for INCLUDE. We also need to provide those colleagues with a venue for disseminating their ideas, for example by providing an international conference where ideas from differing cultural contexts can be shared and exchanged.

The steps taken in our first three years have been fruitful. They are emergent towards a more inclusive and dynamic networked interaction of learners and educators where learning from grappling with complex questions regarding accessibility for all can then be applied in a diversity of settings.  This is not merely a theoretical conundrum, but one with meaningful applications for learning across the globe. For example, to return to the initial mannequin scenario, educators in medical, forensic, paramedic and pedagogic sciences can all potentially learn from a shared application of UDL to explore how best to apply simulated learning in a diversity of resource based and culturally differing contexts. The emerging journal will provide a shared space where these insights can be shared.

However, to realise this potential, an investment of time and energy by a more diffuse group of agents will be required. Over the past three years, INCLUDE has been energised by monthly meetings of a select group of 6 colleagues. These productive sessions have been organised by our tireless colleague Dr Aiysha Abdool Satar from UNISA in South Africa. Over the next three years, if the true dynamic potential of a collaboratory is to be realised, differing ways of governing and sustaining the network will need to be realised.  To be honest, as one of the co-founders of INCLUDE, I am not entirely sure what such a systems-based approach may ultimately look like, but I do know that there may be some insightful ideas and suggestions regarding how it could emerge when we are provided with creative space to explore how INCLUDE will best serve the needs of its constituents.

Signpost with signs reading "this way", "that way", and "another way"

For this reason, the steering group have suggested that Dr Richard Jackson and I provide an initial overview of ‘where things are at’ for INCLUDE. This session will take place on the 11th January, 2023. Following that event, under the careful stewardship of thought maestro David Stinson, INCLUDE will turn things over to YOU, our source of energy and future hope, to determine how best INCLUDE might fashion itself going forward as a cohort of educators, researchers, students and wider communities who are motivated to overcome barriers to learning and social engagement. That futures-oriented strategic development session takes place on the 18th January. For the latter workshop, rather akin to my paramedic mentor, we invite you to think creatively and differently, so that we take the next seps in developing a more sustainable and meaningful INCLUDE collaboratory, one that is networked to address shared problems through identification of shared solutions.

Stay tuned to our INCLUDE website and social media outlets for additional information on these important sessions, and how YOU can take part.

Muff, K. (Ed.). (2017). The collaboratory: a co-creative stakeholder engagement process for solving complex problems. London: Routledge.