Breaking barriers

Hazel Marzetti 

‘The Student Experience’ is a hot topic in 2013.  But what is it?  Is there a single student experience?  And if not, are there any threads which can in any way unify the many diverse experiences?

Working on the Accessible and Inclusive Learning Project at the University of Edinburgh has enabled me to talk to a range of students in different disciplines.  Talking to them about their learner journeys, their experiences and the positive and negative influences along the way, has made me realise that whilst I think that the student experience might look like this…


… actually, every student’s experience will draw on a varied range of components which will change and flex across their learner journey.  One constant component will be the experience of learning and teaching, although these experiences differ depending on the student, the other components of their lives and the courses which they are studying.  It’s all very granular.

When we enter the University for the first time, whether as an undergraduate or a postgraduate, we must negotiate how we integrate with the University community.  So imagine that your greeting was a classroom you couldn’t get into because the lift was broken, a lecture you couldn’t hear because the lecturer wasn’t using a microphone, or a seminar you struggled to follow because your slides weren’t uploaded to your Virtual Learning Environment the day before.

Disability isn’t something you have.  It’s what happens when one group of people create barriers by designing the world only for their style of living.

– Vic Finklestein, Disability Activist

Today, with the publication of the University’s Accessible and Inclusive Learning Policy, we stop creating barriers.  We work in one of the UK’s oldest institutions where some of the building regulations mean that we cannot embed accessibility in all of our physical learning and teaching environments, but we can embed it in the curriculum and there is a wealth of resources out there which support us to do so.

Talking to disabled students reveals time and time again that it is attitudes and behaviours which change a student’s experience.  The kind words, the understanding and the positivity that improves a student experience, stops students from dropping out and makes them feel genuinely welcome in the academic community.  Not every student will spend a lifetime in academia, but we can make their stop-over as enjoyable as it can be.

Further resources:

For the University of Edinburgh’s Accessible and Inclusive Learning Policy:

For further staff guidance on the Accessible and Inclusive Learning Policy:

For equality and diversity in the curriculum see:

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