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Inclusive Teaching During COVID-19

Mon Apr 27, 2020 at 07:30 AM

Inclusive teaching during COVID-19 is many things: in addition to general principles of inclusive teaching that call for access, transparency, and belonging, teaching in the current context also throws into the mix online teaching, trauma-informed pedagogy, and resource-strained learning. This pandemic has exacerbated barriers to inclusion imposed on historically marginalized populations, so inclusive practices are more important than ever.

These recommendations offer practical ways to structure a more inclusive course, but perhaps the most important inclusive teaching strategy you could employ is communicating care and connecting with your students. If you listen to students nonjudgmentally, show students you trust them, and communicate compassionate expectations, you are giving students what they need most to survive and thrive. 

Get to know students’ learning context as early as possible.

Teaching online has helped me question my assumptions of students’ experiences, intentions, and preparedness to learn online. I start online classes with an anonymous online survey that asks basic questions about students’ context such as:

  • Timezone
  • Technology, connectivity
  • Schedule (Could be multiple questions such as when they normally work on class material and best times for office hours)
  • Experience with online courses
  • General concerns
Based on responses, I would determine at what time activities are due, on which days of the week, when I hold office hours, and whatever else comes to mind that I didn’t anticipate. Dr. Danya Glabau (NYU Tandon School of Engineering) and Dr. Lance Gravlee (University of Florida, Department of Anthropology) have made similar surveys used with their students publicly available and free to duplicate (as referred to by Rice University’s Center for Teaching Excellence ). As these surveys were created right as courses were moving fully online, some questions might be different as we start full semesters online.

Encourage rather than require synchronous sessions.

Synchronous sessions can provide a sense of community and shared understanding that is familiar to those used to a face-to-face course structure. But attending an online session is not the same as a face-to-face session. Synchronous sessions can pose many issues for students with unpredictable schedules, spotty internet access, and unreliable technology. If you want to use synchronous sessions, tell students why synchronous sessions best serve learning goals.
As STEM instructors highly committed to inclusive teaching and who teach large classes, Drs. Kelly Hogan and Viji Sathy are proponents of high structure and learning transparency (more on that in No. 5). Their recent Chronicle guide on 8 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Zoom Teaching includes giving students time and structure to learn about how students can present themselves and engage in a live online session.

Encourage rather than require video and audio during a live online session.

In times of social distancing, seeing your students’ faces and them seeing your face can build community and communicate more. Hogan and Sathy (2020) invite their students to turn on cameras, explaining their rationale for encouraging this practice. While they report that most students turn on their cameras, they do not require that all students turn on their cameras, and some do not. Video input requires a lot more internet bandwidth than attending a live session via audio alone. Plus, students may not want to share specifics about their location and setup. We should respect this choice and offer multiple ways to participate.

Hogan and Sathy remind us that, just like any face-to-face class, interaction happens on different levels, and we should encourage those different levels. Allow students to use the Zoom chat during a session (this setting is put in place by default). See our Tips for Synchronous Online Sessions for more engagement suggestions. A Twitter thread from an academic technology specialist provides many options for interaction beyond requiring turning on the web cam.

Open course content as early as possible.

Sometimes it’s only a week ahead; other times you’ll have most of the course content ready from Day 1. OU’s Phyllis White (most recent recipient of the Online Teaching Excellence Award) opens access to the whole course to allow busy students to make a plan for success. Giving students access to course content within a clear course structure let’s students plan ahead, make sure they can access and download videos (helpful for those with precarious internet) or print articles.

Keep course structure simple and transparent.

This is a general good practice offered in our general Tips for Online Teaching, but it is particularly important for students with many barriers to online learning, whether that is unfamiliarity and unreliable technology, among others. What is the weekly or biweekly routine for your course, and how can that be reflected in Moodle? Regarding student learning activities, reflect on your expectations and communicate them early: 

  • What should a student do if they have tech issues during a quiz?
  • How often should they be checking their email? What is the best way to reach out to you?
  • What constitutes a “good”discussion forum post? What is expected as far as replies to fellow students? 
  • What aspects of the course can be accessed from a smartphone?

Additionally, many instructors put time estimates directly into Moodle links so that students can quickly assess how much they can do in one sitting and how much time they will need to budget for the week.

Plan intentional interaction.

Educator Sherri Spelic explains this as intentional listening: “Listening through social distance takes more intent and effort. We need to create opportunities to listen—opportunities that may have occurred incidentally before.” Planning various ways for students to interact with you and one another creates more opportunities for connection and inclusion. 

  • Plan individual and small group virtual office hours on Zoom or Google Meet to review concepts. (OU faculty can see how their colleagues have managed this in the OU Teaching eSpace Teaching Discussion.) See our Students Sign Up with Google Appointments Teaching Tip for options connected to the OU email account.
  • Offer asynchronous modes that are more immediate and mobile-friendly than email (Slack, Moodle Messages). Set boundaries or modify notifications so that you are not on demand all of the time.

Make web content clear and easy to access.

Course design that is web accessible makes web content clearer for everyone and easier to access on multiple devices. Favor tools that add little to no extra work for you, and be mindful of access with each instructional material decision you make. CETL’s Digital Accessibility Checklist is a good place to start. A few ideas to get you started:

  • Offer course documents in an editable format.
  • Point out captioning capability during Google Meet sessions.
  • Favor videos that are mobile-friendly and provide captions.
  • Use an audio transcription tool like to record audio from live presentations.

Be as flexible as possible with due dates.

COVID-19 struggles near and far will persist for a long time to come, and the stress students face may ebb and flow at different rates. Due dates can help build accountability and structure, but be as flexible as possible if students ask for a few more days. Plan due dates that allow cushion for students as needed. This flexibility could be the difference between a students staying or dropping your course.

Remind students of OU support.

It is important to not take on all of the needs of your students. OU’s Student Support and Engagement page provides a list of services and supports available, such as tech support, equipment, counseling, advising, and more. If you’re not sure who to contact or how OU resources can meet student needs, contact the Dean of Students or anyone list on the student support page.

Critical tech thought leader Audrey Watters (2020) reminds us that even if both instructor and student has all the tech, time, and know-how to engage in online courses, “this is not going to be a great time for teaching and learning, no matter how carefully you’ve orchestrated your online courses” because of the context of COVID-19. So while careful planning may help remove barriers for students, we need to be ready for students to struggle and to practice empathy, flexibility, and care. Even seemingly small efforts to reach out to students and inquiries about their well-being can make all the difference.

References and Resources

Jungels, A. (2020 March 13). Inclusion, Equity, and Access While Teaching Remotely. Reflections on Teaching and Learning: The CTE Blog. Center For Teaching Excellence at Rice University. 

Hogan, K. & Sathy, V. (2020 April 8). 8 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Zoom Teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education. (Also their Chronicle Guide on inclusive teaching.)

Spelic, S. (2020 March 20). Smooshed: Labor, Boundaries, and Roles Under COVID-19

Watters, A. (2020 March 14). Hack Education Weekly Newsletter, No. 345

White, P. (2020 April 9). Oakland University Professor shares online learning tips, OaklandU Online Blog.

More Resources

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About the Author

Written by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.

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