Equity and Inclusion in the Online Learning Environment

Equity and Inclusion in Any Learning Environment

This guide provides suggestions and resources to help faculty continue teaching in ways that are equitable and inclusive in an any environment. There is a lot of information here, not all of which you should even try to implement immediately; however, having this information in the background as you plan your course will help ensure that what you do implement will follow best practices. The outline on this page has the high-level bullets while the specific sections provide much more explanation and links to additional resources. Feel free to skim through and digest a little at a time.

Also, be sure to see the many resources, strategies, and more on the Engaging Students Online page, and the Teaching with Technology at ISU page!

There are three aspects of accessibility that are key here – 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 Student Accessibility Services
  • Check whether the content is mobile-friendly

Use the Accessible Course Design page.

A key aspect of equitable and inclusive teaching, in general, is recognizing and working with the diversity of our students, along multiple dimensions. Stay open to trying a few new things; you may find that one silver lining that you 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)
See the Be Flexible page.
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 materials
  • Be aware of how the current situation is impacting different communities
See the Be Identity-Conscious page.
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
Read through the Be Proactive page.
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
Review the Be Relational page.
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
  • Use the must-have Online Course Essentials (ONCE)
  • Create transparent assignments
See the Be Transparent page.

Online Learning: Self-paced training and resources

Webinar, Create an inclusive learning environment

The teaching-learning process is an inherently social act. Students interact with the instructor, their peers, and the course content throughout the learning process, often simultaneously in a learning environment. All of these interactions help shape their success in the course. Explore ways to create a welcoming learning environment, brainstorm what we can do to build an inclusive environment, share campus resources and programs, and extend your learning about teaching inclusively.

View the condensed webinar Create an inclusive online learning environment video (12m 12s).


Inclusion in the Online Learning Environment, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Inclusion in the Online Learning Environment, is a derivative of Maintaining Equity and Inclusion in Virtual Learning Environments developed by San Diego State University Diversity and Innovation (retrieved on May 13, 2020) from https://diversity.sdsu.edu/resources/inclusive-pedagogy.