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How can I make my classroom more inclusive?

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How can I make my classroom more inclusive?

In recent decades we have really come to understand that learning can look a lot of different ways, and to accept more responsibility as instructors for making our teaching work for all of our students. It can be difficult even for seasoned and thoughtful professors to anticipate all of the differing needs that your students bring to the classroom. Below are collected some techniques and considerations to serve as starting points for thinking about how to make your classroom a more inclusive environment.

At Pacific, students’ needs are supported by the Office of Accessibility and Accommodations (OAA), and when students have specific accommodations they will be the ones to contact you by email with details. Many more students do not have accommodations in place and will still learn better in a classroom designed with inclusion in mind. The OAA website also offers resources such as information on text-to-speech tools and more.

Thinking inclusively also means taking into account much broader aspects of students’ experience, such as race, ethnicity, identity, and so forth. A well designed class can take into account not only the needs but also the identities of all of the participating students, such that each of them feels invited and welcomed in, and secure enough to participate fully.

CETCI ran a book club working with What Inclusive Instructors Do, by Tracie Marcella Addy, Derek Dube, Khadijah A. Mitchell, and Mallory SoRelle. The book is available through the library as an ebook.

Table of contents

A few techniques
The “Who’s in Class?” form
Collaborative learning contract
Working with diverse materials
Multiple means of engagement and participation
Multiple methods of assessment
Inclusive and student-centered syllabi
Frameworks
Universal Design for Learning
Transparency in Learning and Teaching

Techniques

The “Who’s in Class?” form

When you begin a new class, it can be really helpful to have your class fill out a very short questionnaire to give you a clearer picture of your students’ diverse attributes and identities. This can give you the resources to improve your classroom climate and ensure that you are using teaching practices that work for everybody. You can read more about the effects of implementation and see an example questionnaire in this paper from Tracie Marcella Addy, Khadijah A. Mitchell and Derek Dube.

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Collaborative learning contract

At the beginning of the semester, another helpful activity can be to work with your students on developing a learning contract. This collaborative activity also allows you to learn more about who your students are, while inviting them to help to shape shared expectations for both their and your participation in the class.

This exercise begins with a discussion in which students are prompted to consider what their needs are, what works for them, and what they need to commit to. You can start with a class discussion, and collect thoughts in a collaborative space like a Google Doc, before producing a final version that the class agrees to, or integrating the outcomes from the discussion into your syllabus.

This conversation can provide a place for students to share particular teaching methods that have worked well or not worked well for them in the past, requests for break spacings, let you know about sensitivity to noise, and much more. It is important to make a space for students to share this information privately rather than publicly if they prefer, such as suggesting that they speak to you after class or by email if there’s anything they want you to know that they’re not comfortable sharing in class.

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Working with diverse materials

A student’s experience in higher education can be greatly affected by the extent to which they see themselves reflected in the discipline, in examples, in readings, and so forth, and ensuring that all students see themselves represented can be a great way to combat imposter syndrome and foster a sense of belonging. Which voices are you foregrounding in your class, and which experiences are you holding up as exemplars?

When designing your class, give thought to working with examples, sources and scholarship from a range of perspectives and cultures, and ensuring that minority voices are represented. Where possible, try to include multiple perspectives, and be mindful of recognising and balancing any power relations or implicit narratives with contrasting material. Teaches critical thinking and creates more of a sense of belonging.

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Multiple means of engagement and participation

Students excel in very different ways, and offering multiple methods of participation can help all of your students to find their strengths in the classroom.

It’s possible to foster class discussions in a way that provides multiple methods of participation, either by including an online forum option on Moodle, or setting up a Google Doc ‘back channel,’ such that students can contribute to discussions in either spoken or written form. If the classroom has two displays, this channel can even be publicly displayed such that it is just another part of the classroom environment. Another nice method is to ask students to work in small groups and document their discussions in a Google Jamboard or similar, which lowers social pressure, creates a record of discussions, and makes efficient use of class time. If you would like support setting up any of these in your classroom, please contact Kate McCallum on k.mccallum@pacificu.edu.

These approaches can also help to mitigate some of the problems of student participation, such as the inherent difficulty of hearing from all students in limited class time, and the difficulty of accurately tracking participation. Using more diverse methods of participation can offer students opportunities to document their engagement with your content, which then gives you clearer data about students’ engagement and preparation.

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Multiple methods of assessment

You might consider building a diverse set of assignments over the semester, including elements such as journal entries, reading logs, reflective pieces, and multimedia assignments. Creating multiple means of participation is a foundational principle of Universal Design for Learning , and you will find further concrete suggestions for assignments under What are some alternative formats for assignments?.

When it comes to assessment, it is helpful to keep in mind the learning behavior that you are looking for, and to consider different ways that this could be demonstrated and documented. Also consider that assessment can be either formative, i.e. provide guidance as a student goes along, or summative, i.e. serve to chart a student’s achievement against some standard or benchmark. A good structure can be to build in a lot of small formative assessments all the way through a class, and then give students a choice of summative assessments, such that they can play to their strengths.

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Inclusive and student-centered syllabi

Educators are exploring alternative formats for syllabi that use interactive elements, collect resources, and favor non-threatening student-facing language, in order to create documents that are welcoming and helpful to all students regardless of background.

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Frameworks

Universal Design for Learning

The basic principle of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is that we can design learning experiences and interactions that anticipate diverse needs from the beginning, rather than trying to accommodate them after the fact. UDL suggests that the teacher should provide multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression in order to design learning experiences that are accessible and effective for any student, regardless of need or ability. The strength of frameworks like this one is that they provide structures that will not only help students who have particular, acute needs, but also improve student experience across the board.

In his Faculty Teaching Profile and YouTube channel, Bryan Cichy-Parker describes a broad variety of techniques that he uses to help his students stay engaged and achieve their goals.

Further resources and guidelines for UDL can be found on the website of CAST (formerly the Center for Applied Special Technology), the nonprofit education research and development organization that created the framework.

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Transparency in Learning and Teaching

The Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) approach is based on a principle of promoting students’ conscious understanding of how they learn and how higher education works. When expectations are transparent, all students, regardless of background or prior experience, have a better understanding of what is required of them. This clarity reduces ambiguity and helps students focus their efforts effectively.

The TILT approach recommends that, in communicating with students about some activity or set of activities, you take care to address with them the following: the purpose of what you’re doing (what knowledge or skills they are to get out of it), exactly what are the tasks to be completed (giving a detailed account of all of the steps, and perhaps covering any common mistakes), and what are the criteria for success (communicated using a rubric and/or examples). You can see a template for applying this framework to assignments here.

Many more resources for applying TILT, including small teaching changes that can enhance students’ learning, can be found on the TILT website. Helpful methods include using a rubric, using Eric Mazur’s Peer Instruction method with Poll Everywhere or Plickers, or inviting students to participate in class planning via a Google Doc. For support setting any of these up in your classroom, please reach out to Kate McCallum on k.mccallum@pacificu.edu.

Since spring 2021, CETCI has facilitated an annual institute working with the TILT framework. To know more, reach out to Robbie Pock on pockr@pacificu.edu.

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Interested in thinking more about ways to enhance independent and group work in your class? Reach out to us at edtech@pacificu.edu, and we can suggest more resources or schedule a one-on-one.

We are also always looking for more answers to this question, so if you have one that’s worked for you, please let us know!

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