A guide to inclusive teaching online.
Inclusive teaching can be defined as “a set of practices which actively engage with the diversity of a group in ways that increase awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication and emphatic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions” (Association of American Colleges and Universities, n.d.).
Inclusive teaching practices, whatever your mode of teaching, are essential for fostering and sustaining a classroom environment in which all students can engage and feel like valued members of the classroom community. In fact, many studies have tied students’ academic success including persistence, grades, and academic motivation, as well as students’ emotional wellbeing to inclusive teaching practices which give students a positive sense of belonging. In short, college students who recognize their educational environments as supportive and positive are more likely to be successful in college, while students who feel excluded, marginalized, and/or devalued are less likely to persist through educational challenges.
Many key factors in making your courses more inclusive and helping all of your students develop a sense of belonging in in-person classes become even more essential for those teaching in online and hybrid contexts where face-to-face interactions and opportunities to build connections among students are limited. Below you’ll find some key practices that will help your students feel supported and included in their online, hybrid, or hyflex courses.
Fostering Inclusive Instructor-Student Interactions Online
- Create opportunities for students to engage with you (office hours, comments section in documents turned in through SpeedGrader, emails, chats etc.)
- Communicate your belief that all students can succeed (be mindful of low-ability cues or throwaway comments that can send an unintentionally powerful message).
- Communicate your concern for student wellbeing beyond your course and actively share information about university resources that can support students.
- Connect with students frequently. Make time to check in with students whom you haven’t heard from recently. Reach out early and often if students disappear from your synchronous sessions or stop completing asynchronous coursework. If students miss a deadline, start the email with asking how they are doing.
- Make your feedback timely and effective. Make sure students have a clear sense of what they need to do to improve for next time.
- Provide built-in opportunities for students to check in (e.g. Along with content questions, ask a question on a quiz about how students are doing or how they are feeling about the class.).
- Address students by their preferred names and stated personal pronoun. Learn to pronounce students’ names correctly.
Facilitating Positive Student Interactions by Developing and Sustaining an Inclusive Classroom Community
Help Counter Feelings of Social Isolation:
- Start any communication by asking how everyone is doing.
- Use the whiteboard function in Zoom, polling software, or a discussion thread to ask students to describe how they are feeling today.
- Encourage students to check in with you and with each other.
- Offer to start the Zoom session early so that students can pop in to chat informally before class starts.
- Encourage students to choose an “online buddy”—someone else in the course that they’ll chat with about the course on a regular basis.
- Start a discussion thread online for students to discuss things beyond course content.
Develop & Lean on Clear Community Guidelines:
- Survey students about whether they have microphones (or headphones they can plug in with) or cameras (e.g. web cameras on a laptop) that are comfortable using.
- Discuss with students what active participation looks like in synchronous online, asynchronous online, or hyflex course spaces and what your expectations are for them in each of these modes (if applicable).
- Develop and use discussion guidelines and community agreements about synchronous and asynchronous student interactions.
- Respectfully challenge student comments when they marginalize or devalue another student or group’s perspective or experience.
Use Tools Creatively to Get Students to Engage with Each Other:
- Think about how you might use features in Zoom (chat, breakout rooms, whiteboard, polling, annotation during screen share) to encourage engagement among students.
- Consider options like asking students to post videos, links, and audio recordings in Canvas discussion boards to make them more engaging/interactive.
- Give students a chance to talk through ideas in small groups (synchronously or asynchronously), this is especially important in large courses where students may be feeling even more isolated. Give specific directions for breakout rooms and discussions so that students can get the most out of those conversations.
Include Some Low-Stakes, “Crisis-Free” Conversation or Activities During Synchronous Meetings:
- Theme your class time (silly hat day, pet show-and-tell, favorite drinking mug day, snack day, silly sweater day, 2-minute round up: find something where you are sheltering in place that tells us more about you to share, etc.).
- Engage students in a brief conversational icebreaker each week: Share something we wouldn’t know by looking at you; Share something unique about yourself; What would your superpower be; If you could create a holiday what would it be; etc.
- “Share something good” conversation as a way to start class: Ask students to share something good that’s happened this week—something they’ve tried, something they’ve accomplished, or something positive that’s happened.
- Ask students to share links in chat: a school-appropriate meme that’s made them laugh recently, an image that tells others something about themselves, their “theme song” for the day.
- In small group breakouts, make the first task to find something that they all have in common.
- Play Zoom bingo (Have students make a grid with likely Zoom situations: pet walked by, family member asks a question in the background, houseplant is visible, cool poster or painting on the wall etc.).
- Play music before the official beginning of the session, have students trade-off on DJ duties.
- Encourage students to put up a fun Zoom virtual background.
Design Your Course with Accessibility & Equity in Mind
Do a Student Needs Assessment & Follow Up:
- Survey students early on about what they have access to and what their concerns are for learning in a hybrid or online environment.
- Follow up with them to make sure that they can access materials as expected.
- Offer flexibility for students who may not have reliable technology.
Bridge the Gap between Remote and Local Student Learners:
- Offer opportunities for asynchronous learning and engagement for students who cannot participate in synchronous sessions:
- Ask asynchronous remote learners to post questions for the synchronous session and then to reflect on their classmates’ ideas after viewing the recording of the synchronous session.
- Follow the synchronous session up with a Canvas discussion board chat where remote and local students can interact. Ask students to reflect on their key takeaways from the week.
- Record and post links to synchronous meetings or have designated student notetakers for synchronous sessions, so that students who are absent from the initial meeting can still engage with the content.
- Assign students to work in groups that mix remote and local students for online discussions or group assignments.
Make Your Asynchronous Content Accessible to Everyone:
- Consider accessibility issues that might pop up with asynchronous content: Are students having internet or computer difficulties that are making it challenging to watch videos? Are handouts that you post accessible (do images include alt-text and headings, is font easily readable?)?
- Provide captions on all recordings (Learn more about Kaltura’s closed captioning service).
- Use the Canvas accessibility diagnostic tool to make sure that your pages and modules meet accessibility standards. Use headings (don’t just make the font bigger) so that screen readers can read the page properly. Use alt text for any imagines that you include that are not just decorative. Make sure any color contrast you use in pages or slides is adequate.
Make Your Synchronous Content Accessible to Everyone:
- Consider accessibility issues that might pop up with synchronous online or hyflex sessions: Are students having trouble with computers or bandwidth? Are your slides accessible (think color choices, font size, etc.)? Can students who are on their phones rather than a computer participate in activities? How are students who can’t make it to class able to catch up?
- Use a microphone to make sure that your voice is clear to all participants.
- Make sure anything you are doing in the classroom is clearly visible to students who are participating remotely. For example, make sure font is big enough to read, that video is positioned carefully, that you repeat questions from students in class who don’t have a microphone, etc.
Consider Universal Design for Learning Guidelines
UDL, or Universal Design for Learning, is a framework for improving and optimizing teaching and learning that aims to meet the needs of all student learners and make learning environments accessible and challenging for all students. The framework was originally developed by CAST, a nonprofit education research and development organization with close ties to Harvard University, in the early 1900s. Since then, it has become a widely used framework for designing equitable courses, and for reflecting on and reframing conversations around classroom accessibility. The three main tenants of this framework are: multiple means of representation, multiple means of expression, and multiple means of engagement.
Harris, F. & Wood, J.L. (May 27 2020). Webinar: Employing Equity-Minded & Culturally-Affirming Teaching Practices in Virtual Learning Communities.
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Poll, K, Widen, J, Weller, S. (2014). Six Instructional Best Practices for Online Engagement and Retention. Journal of Online Education 1(1).
Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence (March 13 2020). Inclusion, Equity, and Access While Teaching Remotely.
Richardson, J. C., & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction.
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