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Design Of The Learning Environment For Inclusivity: A Review Of The Literature

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Research on the First Year I

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.362.1 - 15.362.15



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Paper Authors


Chirag Variawa University of Toronto

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Chirag Variawa graduated with a degree in Materials Science Engineering from the University of Toronto in 2009. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto.

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Susan McCahan University of Toronto

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Design of the Learning Environment for Inclusivity: A Review of the Literature


Retention, especially of under-represented populations through the first year university, is an on- going concern in engineering programs. While this is a very complex issue, one of the aspects of retention that is being studied is the barriers to inclusion that some students feel when they enter university. There are many programs aimed at helping freshman acclimatize to the university environment and the issue of inclusivity is becoming more pronounced as we strive to increase and then maintain the diversity of our student population in engineering programs.

There are many ways of approaching issues of student success toward a goal of improving diversity. However, the literature on this subject is highly fragmented. There is a cluster of work on students with learning disabilities, which is found primarily in the equity and disability literature. Then there is a considerable cluster of work on first generation students and minorities and the cultural issues that these students may face when entering university. And in the engineering education literature there is some work on minority student success strategies and a substantial amount of work on improving the retention of women in engineering programs. A fraction of this literature across all of these fields considers the barriers to inclusion that students may encounter in their engineering studies and, in particular, how the design of the learning environment impacts retention. The work in the area of design for retention comes mainly from literature in the field of higher education studies.

In this paper we review the research on this subject, both in the engineering education literature and literature from other disciplines. From this review we have created a framework for understanding different approaches that have been taken to making the learning environment more inclusive for diverse student populations. This research identifies approaches that may be effective and transferable, and a number of open questions that should be investigated further.


A look at current engineering classrooms shows how the demographic composition has diversified, especially in recent years. Most retention programs are aimed at freshman because of the vulnerability of this population, so questions of inclusivity and retention are particularly applicable to freshman programs. With constant change in the learner base, coupled with increasing diversity, one begins to question how engineering education should evolve to meet the needs of the next generation of students, and how this evolution affects the students.

Students with learning disabilities (physical and mental), minority students who are affected by the cultural undertones of contextualization, and gender issues are three major areas of diversity that are affected by inclusivity in the classroom. This paper attempts to review the literature on the subject of inclusivity with respect to these issues, within the context of first year post- secondary education, to create a practical framework that unites the different approaches into an up-to-date resource that is relevant for engineering.

Variawa, C., & McCahan, S. (2010, June), Design Of The Learning Environment For Inclusivity: A Review Of The Literature Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16380

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