An inclusive classroom gives all learners a chance to succeed and fosters an environment, whether face-to-face or online, that helps students build healthy relationships with their classmates. There are a variety of strategies you can use to ensure that all students feel equally valued.
There are three key aspects of accessibility – accessibility for students with physical impairments that may create challenges for reading/seeing/hearing digital files and content, accessibility for students with psychological and/or learning differences that require certain accommodations such as extra time to process materials or additional exam time, and accessibility for students with limited access to computers or stable internet service.
- Ensure all files, images, videos and other posted content are accessible (i.e., visual content can be clearly translated by a screen reader and audio content has visual captions)
- Provide approved accommodations for students who present accommodation letters from the Office of Disability Services
- Check whether the content is mobile-friendly
A key aspect of equitable and inclusive teaching is recognizing and working with the diversity of our students along multiple dimensions. Stay open to trying a few new things; you may discover new ways of teaching that are both better for your students and more enjoyable for you!
- Have flexible policies: Review your syllabus and consider what changes might be needed to your grading weights, late policies and other course policies
- Think about alternative ways that students can engage with your course (flexible activities)
- Think about alternative ways that students can show you what they have learned (flexible assessments)
A critical feature of equity-minded teaching is the acknowledgment that our students are NOT all the same, that they come to us with sometimes vastly different experiences and those experiences are often tied to their social identities (i.e., race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, first-gen status, etc.). In the virtual environment, and at this particular moment, there are several ways that you can incorporate that acknowledgment into your course in meaningful ways.
- Consider integrating culturally relevant material
- Be aware of how the current situation is impacting different communities
A well-designed virtual course will build in a great deal of structure and accountability. In addition, designing for equity and inclusion means being particularly proactive about supporting students who may need some extra attention.
- Pay attention to early warning signs that students may be struggling and reach out proactively
- Use more formative assessment and make completion mandatory
- Know what resources are available for students
While establishing supportive interpersonal relationships with students is one of the most fundamental tenets of effective teaching, it can be particularly important for students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.
- Continue to have opportunities for live, synchronous engagement
- Talk to your students about what is happening
- Build/maintain community among students
- Provide students with support and resources
To be inclusive means being mindful that not all of our students are well-versed in the hidden curriculum that faculty may take for granted. When we throw in the additional challenges of distance learning, we must work even harder to ensure that we are not making any unnecessary assumptions about what our students know and are able to do.
- Structure, structure, structure
- Be mindful of online course design essentials, including “Start Here” instructions, transparent communication and feedback policies, clear guidance and expectations, and accessible design
- Create transparent assignments
The advice here is consistent with best practices for distance learning and inclusive teaching in general. As we build information about inclusive online course delivery, we are sharing key resources:
- Building Inclusive Virtual Classrooms: Use the Four Cs Model to Encourage Tough Yet Necessary Discussions Among Students (Harvard Business Publishing)
- Inclusive Remote Classroom Practices (NYU)
The Inclusive Online Classroom, by the Office of Teaching Innovation and Digital Education at The University of Alabama, is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work is a derivative of Equity and Inclusion in the Online Learning Environment developed by Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University (retrieved on August 1, 2022) from https://diversity.sdsu.edu/resources/inclusive-pedagogy.