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Faculty awarded for inclusive classrooms

  • Szymon Machajewski (left) accepting his
  • Cheryl Kautz (right) accepting her "Most Inclusive Classrooms" award from JoAnna Hunt, Accessibility Manager for Blackboard, Inc. Photo courtesy BbWorld16.

Posted on July 21, 2016

Two Grand Valley faculty members were honored at the annual BbWorld conference July 14 for their efforts toward creating and maintaining inclusive classrooms.

Cheryl Kautz and Szymon Machajewski, both affiliate instructors in the School of Computing and Information Systems, were selected as winners of the "Most Inclusive Classrooms in the United States" contest in June—organized by Blackboard, Inc., a virtual learning environment and course management system. The contest was held in recognition of Global Accessibility Day, which took place in May.

The contest judged educators who strive to ensure their pedagogy, content and classroom technology enables all students to learn and be successful without complex accommodations.

An inclusive classroom is generally defined as a general education classroom in which students with and without disabilities learn together.

Machajewski said he believes inclusive classrooms go beyond accessibility and need to focus on providing a variety of activities. To create this type of learning environment, he treats his classroom like a game.

"I strive to make my teaching a game worth playing," Machajewski said. "This means clear communication of rules, inviting as many students to play as possible and creating conditions where students aim for a well-played game, not just a win or a grade. The culture of gaming resonates with students and provides a metaphor for the necessary grunt work, demonstration of skills and inclusivity."

Creating the metaphor of a game is only one method of developing and sustaining an inclusive classroom. Kautz said that regardless of the model, inclusive classrooms allows everyone to achieve the same learning objectives.

"Collaborative and hands-on group activities, clearly written and detailed assignments that are flexible enough to allow for creativity, discussions and interactive videos are a few ways I try to create an inclusive learning environment," Kautz said.

Machajewski said that ultimately, being exposed to inclusive classrooms will help students succeed after leaving Grand Valley.

"Today, our classrooms focus on compliance and extrinsic rewards," Machajewski said. "This does not promote the necessary creativity and productivity of the new workforce. Creating new paradigms of cooperation and mutual respect in the classroom will have a deep impact on future work environments."