Making learning accessible through an inclusive learning community is crucial for all students to feel seen, valued, and to maximize their potential by implementing a safe space.
- CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2
You've taken the self-assessment and decided there is room for more inclusive practices in your teaching, now what? Here are ways you can begin to take action towards a more equitable and inclusive course design and classroom environment.
Inclusive pedagogy is an important part of course design and development and should be considered in the earliest phases and throughout the process. Inclusivity should be proactive and build into all aspects of a course from developing learning outcomes to choosing course materials and writing your syllabus. Here are some strategies to design and develop an inclusive course.
Implicit biases are unconscious attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes about groups of people that can impact other’s understanding and behavior towards individuals in those groups. Consider how your identities, how you see the world and how the world (and students) see you, how you grew up, and where you live may impact your implicit biases. Everyone has implicit bias and as you begin to recognize where it comes up in your teaching you can implement some strategies to minimize and manage it. Self-assess and read up to begin to understand and address your implicit bias.
- Addressing Implicit Bias & its Impact on Teaching & Learning (University of Tennessee Knoxville)
- Awareness of Implicit Bias (Yale University)
- Strategies and Resources About Implicit Bias (Brown University)
It's important to explore and understand the impact of microaggressions and stereotype threat on student learning. Microaggressions are “the everyday slights, indignities, put-downs and insults that members of marginalized groups experience in their day-to-day interactions with individuals who are often unaware that they have engaged in an offensive or demeaning way” (from this NYT article). Stereotype threat is “being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group” (Steele & Aronson, 1995). Prepare yourself to effectively respond to disruptions when they inevitably happen in your class and also to interrupt discussion and behaviors that may be negatively impacting students.
Inclusive learning outcomes should be clear, measurable, and achievable for all students. Each outcome and what is necessary to achieve it should be clearly communicated to students (multiple times and in multiple places/modes). Learn more about developing learning outcomes at our Design Your Course page. CATE staff are happy to consult with you about writing measurable learning outcomes that align with your course assessments.
Consider including an inclusive learning statement in addition to a diversity statement in your syllabus. This helps to show students you value inclusivity and to communicate the learning environment in your class as an inclusive and welcoming place for all students. Use inclusive language to set the warm, inviting tone you wish to convey. Emphasize flexibility, positivity, collaboration, and growth rather than performance and penalties. The CATE team is available to review your syllabus and make recommendations for inclusivity.
It’s important to recognize the variety of challenges that may impact your students during any given semester from working to dealing with mental health issues to lack of experience navigating college to supporting families. Flexible (and well-communicated) policies such as time banks*, flexible deadlines, and dropping the lowest quiz score, can make a big impact on students who are juggling many roles and responsibilities while doing their best to be successful in your class. Invite students to come to you when they’re facing challenges.
*A time bank allows students a two-day extension for one assignment or two one-day extensions for two different assignments.
Plan assessments that are as fair and equitable as possible while considering who your students are, their individual cultural contexts, and their diverse experiences and backgrounds that impact their learning. Ensure all assessments are directly aligned with your learning outcomes and that the connection is clearly articulated to students. Offer multiple ways for students to demonstrate learning, for example an essay, a video, or a piece of artwork. Or allow students to choose which questions on an exam they answer.
When selecting course materials, it’s important to include a broad range of voices and perspectives that reflect our diverse society. Look to vary materials by finding scholarly and creative work by BIPOC, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA people, etc. Mix up your images and examples to be sure they are representative of the diversity in your classroom and in your field. If you haven’t reviewed your materials recently, take a look for opportunities to include more diverse content.
Active learning is “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Active learning promotes higher-order thinking skills and builds connections among students, which improves classroom culture and enhances students’ sense of belonging and motivation. When designing activities, be sure they connect back to your learning outcomes and be transparent with your students about the purpose for each activity. Keep students engaged by planning active learning strategies such as groupwork, polls, brainstorming, case studies, think-pair-share, social annotation, peer review, simulations, discussions, and games. Mix up your activities so that you engage all of your learners and try to give choice in what counts as participation or what the end product can be.
Incorporate opportunities for collaboration in an effort to build community in the classroom and teamwork skills that students will use long after your class. Try including collaborative learning methods such as group projects, jigsaws, concept maps, brainstorming, role playing, collaborative notetaking, and social annotation. It will be important to set community agreements or standards, created collectively, and have the group hold each other accountable.
Be proactive by incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles at the start of your course design and ensuring all course materials are accessible. UDL and accessibility practices benefit ALL students. How can you modify course materials, activities, assignments, and/or exams to be more accessible to all students in your class? Just because there isn't a formally documented accommodation doesn't mean that students won't benefit from things like captions, transcripts, mobile-friendly materials, accessible PDFs, alt text on images, and more. Learn more about creating an accessible classroom.
There are a number of small things you can do to establish an inclusive and welcoming classroom culture where all students feel seen, respected, and valued. If you work to build this type of learning environment from the start, students will be more engaged, feel more motivated, and inevitably be more successful in your course. Here are a few things you can think about:
Consider how the backgrounds and experiences of your students may influence their motivation, engagement, and learning in your classroom. How might your own cultural-bound assumptions influence your interactions with students? Students will come to your class with varying degrees of educational experience, time management, and study skills. Try not to make assumptions about where all of your students should be and learn about where they are, then adjust accordingly so that all students have the opportunity to be successful. In an inclusive and equitable model, some students may require more attention, support, and flexibility.
Start the semester off with a questionnaire that asks student about their preferred names and the pronouns they use, their interest in and expectations for the class, something open-ended about who they are as people, what makes them feel included in a class, and leave a spot for anything they’d like you to know that will help them to be successful. Introduce yourself – perhaps with a video – and share a bit about who you are, your interests, hobbies, background and why you’re excited about this class. Let them see you as more than just an authority at the front of the class.
Share your pronouns in your first-day introduction, on your syllabus, in your Canvas profile, on your Zoom name, and in your email signature and encourage, but never force, students to do the same. Stay current on terminology used by various identity groups and understand that language is fluid and contextual and what one student prefers another may not – when in doubt just ask. Try to use genderless language, when possible, to avoid misgendering anyone and to be more inclusive in your examples and references. “Y’all”, rather than “you guys” is a great example!
In all cases where you are giving instructions be sure that they are as clear as possible. Have a TA, ULA, or former student review, if possible, for clarity. You may need to include these in multiple places (Canvas, syllabus, in-class PowerPoint, etc.) as well as multiple modes (in writing, orally in person, and in a video you share.) This applies to instructions for assessments, clearly defined and explained rubrics for assessments, and especially expectations for participation. Don’t assume students have done it before or will figure it out – it’s an inclusive practice to be as clear and transparent as possible.
Social presence refers to “the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter-personal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities” (Garrison, 2009). You can foster social presence and increase students’ sense of belonging by letting students get to know you a bit, by using icebreakers early and throughout the course, by creating opportunities for informal social interaction either before, after, or even during class, and by incorporating group activities and projects.
An inclusive class requires multiple ways for students to participate and engage with the class. Allow time for students to process by thinking or writing quietly when putting a question out to the class or try the think-pair-share* method. Tell the group you’d like to hear from more voices, rather than calling on the same few people consider adding the technique of not calling on anyone to speak until at least 5 (or 10 or 20) hands are up. Be considerate about putting anyone on the spot, some students will be comfortable speaking in front of the group, others will not so it’s helpful to provide alternative forms of participation, such as online discussion posts.
*Think-pair-share is an active learning strategy where the instructor gives a prompt or poses a question and then provides time to think individually (think), followed by time to discuss with a partner (pair), and finally time for the pairs to share out to the larger group (share). Depending on the prompt this could be just a couple of minutes for each section or it could take longer.
Holding both large and small group discussions is a great way to get students engaged and to be sure that diverse voices are heard and diverse perspectives are shared. It is important, however, to establish some norms around participating in discussions and show students what you expect from them by modeling and using examples. Despite your efforts to build an inclusive classroom climate, some students may experience the space differently than you expect so be flexible and understanding and come up with multiple ways to participate. Prepare for difficult dialogues by setting ground rules for maintaining productive discourse and encouraging students to hold each other accountable. Be prepared to intervene as necessary to minimize harm.
Survey your students, both formally and informally, regularly throughout the semester asking for their ideas and feedback to shape and improve class. Students are more engaged and feel a stronger sense of belonging and motivation when they are involved in how learning is planned, delivered, and executed. Ask for input on activities, materials, assessments, even timelines and due dates. Consider having students facilitate an activity or determine an assessment method for a unit.
Reframe the traditional assumption that office hours are for struggling students to get help for an exam. Encourage students to come to you when they’re facing challenges but let them know that office hours (some prefer “student hours”) aren’t just about getting help, they’re also about building relationships and mentoring. Invite students to come for tea or just to stop by and say “hi.” Some instructors require students to visit office hours at least once or twice, but this can depend on class size. We recommend hosting in person and online office hours, and at varying times (including evening if possible), as this will provide the most access for all students.
Review your grading policies to ensure they are clear and fair and that there is flexibility in assignments for students with limitations to meet expectations. Use grading practices that recognize and reward growth and improvement. Clear rubrics, instructions, and feedback coupled with flexible assignment policies such as time banks* and dropping the lowest quiz score can make grading less punitive and more inclusive. It’s important to minimize implicit bias in grading and feedback – using rubrics, anonymous grading, and grade calibration can help.
*A time bank allows students a two-day extension for one assignment or two one-day extensions for two different assignments.
Teach in ways that challenge students and then support them to meet those challenges. Small acts that show you care and center students make a big difference – for example, including a note about resources such as UT’s Outpost (food pantry and career closet) on your Canvas site to recognize and assist student facing financial hardship or food insecurity. Or giving a small quiz and then sharing the results and saying “I’m going to re-teach this because there’s still confusion here.” Things like this show students that you see them and value their humanity.
Complete the modules at the link below and access resources for maintaining student engagement, dealing with difficult situations in the classroom, and minimizing bias in grading and feedback.
“We don’t learn from experiences…We learn from reflecting on the experience.”
- John Dewey
We encourage you to take some time at the completion of your course, after grades and student evaluations are in, and practice some reflection. How did the course go? What did you try? What worked and what didn’t? What might you try next time? What do you need additional support with?
We encourage you to take the inclusive teaching self-assessment again to see where you've grown and where there is still room to improve.
Inclusive Teaching Video Series
Course Materials & Active Learning
Assessments & Flexible Policies
Teaching teams in Moody College can consist of teaching assistants, assistant instructors, Undergraduate Learning Assistants (ULAs), and/or undergraduate graders.
Incorporating inclusive practices into your work with the teaching team not only benefits current learners in your classroom, but also helps set up the next generation of inclusive teachers for success. Whether you teach a large lecture course or a smaller lab-based class, here are some best practices for working with TAs, AIs, and ULAs. Learn more about working with the teaching team at the button below.
- Bonwell, Charles C., and James A. Eison. 1991. Active Learning; Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.
- Carello, J., & Butler, L. D. (2014). Potentially perilous pedagogies: Teaching trauma is not the same as trauma-informed teaching. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 15(2), 153-168.
- Garrison, D. R. (2009). Communities of inquiry in online learning: Social, teaching and cognitive presence. In C. Howard et al. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of distance and online learning (2nd ed., pp. 352-355). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
- Kang, O., Rubin, D., & Lindemann, S. (2015). Mitigating US undergraduates’ attitudes toward international teaching assistants. TESOL Quarterly, 49(4), 681-706.
- Steele CM, Aronson J. Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1995 Nov;69(5):797-811. doi: 10.1037//0022-35184.108.40.2067. PMID: 7473032.
For more information, resources, or support, please reach out to us at MoodyCATE@austin.utexas.edu. We can review your syllabus, Canvas course, planned activities, and assessments, and we can discuss strategies for course planning and classroom management.
Check out Examples and Resources for more ways to incorporate inclusive teaching into your courses.
Inclusive Teaching Works!
You fostered a collaborative space for sharing our ideas, adjusted our schedule…and provided thoughtful feedback both in discussion and for our research ideas.