Individual-Centric Approaches to Accessibility in Materials Science Education

Theresa Davey1, Rebecca Davenport2

1. School of Engineering, Tohoku University, Japan
2. Max-Born Institute, Germany

MRS Spring 2021, Virtual

Invited oral presentation in Incorporating Sustainability into Materials Science Education, Training and Public Outreach

A significant part of tackling sustainability in education is promoting access to quality education for all communities. Promoting diversity in university admissions is a vast challenge, involving addressing unconscious biases and perceptions of competence, but it doesn’t solve the whole problem. Even if a diverse group of people are accepted to study materials science at university, that doesn’t guarantee equal access to education. Time-pressured academics whose institutions undervalue teaching have an understandable overreliance on outdated teaching methods, which can have the unfortunate consequence of magnifying existing inequalities. This talk will present an discipline-based individual-centric approach to higher education teaching that will provide guidelines for working with students to create an inclusive learning environment.

The aim of this approach is to create an environment that promotes student empathy, self-awareness, and confidence in self-advocacy, while balancing competing needs and working within the limitations of a university environment such as large classrooms and non-ideal teaching spaces. The rapid shift to online learning has also revealed potential positive and negative aspects of out-of-classroom teaching, but has also put a significant strain on the mental health of both students and teachers, and exaggerated accessibility issues. Approaches that promote accessibility in the classroom do not always translate directly to online learning environments, but the key idea of individual-focussed education provides a framework for developing best practices for meeting a diversity of student needs and delivering positive student outcomes.