Equity and Inclusion in the Online Learning Environment

Equity and Inclusion in the Online Learning Environment

This guide provides suggestions and resources to help faculty continue teaching in ways that are equitable and inclusive in an online 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.

Download the handout for the webinar, Create an inclusive learning environment (no matter the modality) (PDF)

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!

Be Accessible

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 content is mobile-friendly
  • Consider variation in students’ access to computers and stable internet service

Use the Accessibility in Your Course page.

Be Flexible

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 in order to accommodate this transition
  • 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)

Be Identity-Conscious

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.

  • Address microaggressions in discussion boards, chats and other places where students interact
  • Consider integrating culturally-relevant materials
  • Be aware of variation in students’ capacity to manage remote learning
  • Be aware of how the current situation is impacting different communities

Be Proactive

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
  • Prepare your students for the varying modes of course delivery (in-person, blended/hybrid, online)

Be Relational

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

Be Transparent

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

NOTE: The advice here is consistent with best practices for distance learning and inclusive teaching in general.

As CELT starts to build information about inclusive online course delivery, we are sharing key resources:

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.