Creating Inclusive Learning and Research Environments: Key Concepts and Recommendations
University of Cincinnati, Diversity and Inclusion in the Curriculum
Creating the Inclusive Classroom Subcommittee
Co-Chairs and Editors: Vignesh Subbian, Robin Selzer, and Jennifer Malat
Contributors: Pam Bach, Helene Hart, Nzingha Dalila, Ainsley Lambert, Brad Mallory, Beth Faller
Background and Motivation
Our subcommittee is part of a larger university initiative to improve inclusion in the classroom and curriculum. Our charge was to collect key concepts and make recommendations to other subcommittees charged with implementing programs.
Engaging Diversity in Learning Environments is defined as “active, intentional, and ongoing, engagement with differences – in people, in the curriculum, in research, and in the communities in ways that increase one’s awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact with the system and institutions” (adapted from Clayton-Pederson, O’Neill, and Musil, 2009, p.6). See also Faculty Focus Special Report on Diversity & Inclusion in the Classroom: http://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/diversity-and-inclusion-in-the-college-classroom/
We encourage everyone to reflect on their current teaching and learning practices using the checklist in Appendix A. Then, use this Master document to adopt strategies that will help you achieve your goals.
Faculty D&I Learning Outcomes
- Explain stereotype threat and how to avoid it in the classroom and other student environments
- Identify and implement evidence-based strategies for improving all students’ success in the classroom, lab, etc.
- Articulate differences and similarities among multiple social groups’ experiences, including dominant group members, at UC and in society
- Understand the global social justice perspective
Statements of Inclusion for Course Syllabi
1. Educators should be encouraged and allowed to develop their own statements of inclusion. Course approval committees should not mandate such a statement or the language for the statement (Rationale: Statements developed through self-interest are likely to be personalized and tailored closely to the course and participants’ backgrounds, and translated to practice).
2. Explicitly discuss and interpret statements on the first day of class.
3. Remind students about these statements during situations such as team conflicts, crisis, grievances etc. For example, when a student (or student teams) express discomfort or conflicts, in addition to providing recommendations to resolve the problem, include “please see statement of inclusion in the course syllabus”.
4. Make note of reactions to statements throughout the term and use the information for reflection post-term and next offering of the course. Rationale: Might potentially help educators identify their biases.
5. Discuss (or promote) statements during curriculum committee meetings and other formal/informal faculty meetings, as appropriate.
6. The statements may be used as tool for personal accountability. Please see subsequent sections for inclusive practices.
Example from UC
The following is a record of implementing statements of inclusion and preferences in courses in the software engineering curriculum (EECE 3093C – Software Engineering; EECE 6032 – Software Testing and Quality Assurance) in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at UC. Key diversity aspects that are important to the course are highlighted in red.
Statement of Inclusion:
The diversity** of the participants in this course is a valuable source of ideas, problem solving/programming strategies, and software engineering creativity. If you feel that your contribution is not being valued for any reason, please speak with me privately. If you wish to communicate anonymously, you may do so in writing or speak with an academic advisor. As members of the UC academic community, it is our shared responsibility to cultivate a climate where all students/individuals are valued and where both they and their ideas are treated with respect.
**includes every participant's identity, personal and academic/professional background (includes technical/programming experience, co-op/research experience), interests, and expertise.
Statement of Personal Challenges and Preferences:
If you have personal challenges such as health issues that might affect your ability to perform in this class, please let me know as soon as possible so that we can work together to make appropriate accommodations.
Also, I will gladly honor any request to address you by a preferred name or gender pronoun. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.
Students may send an email like this, which you must honor according to Title IX.
Dear Professor [name],
My name is [Preferred name], and I will be attending your course [blank] on [days] at [time] this [term]. I have not yet legally changed my name. On your roster is my legal name, [Legal name]. I would greatly appreciate it if you refer to me as [Preferred name] and use [pronouns] when referring to me. Thank you for your understanding, and I look forward to starting your course next week.
Examples from Other Universities
- Diversity Statement (Respect): Students in this class are encouraged to speak up and participate during class meetings. Because the class will represent a diversity of individual beliefs, backgrounds, and experiences, every member of this class must show respect for every other member of this class.
- Safe Zone Statement: I am part of the Safe Zone Ally community network of trained Chico State faculty/staff/students who are available to listen and support you in a safe and confidential manner. As a Safe Zone Ally, I can help you connect with resources on campus to address problems you may face that interfere with your academic and social success on campus as it relates to issues surrounding sexual orientation/gender identity. My goal is to help you be successful and to maintain a safe and equitable campus.
- Every student in this class will be honored and respected as an individual with distinct experiences, talents, and backgrounds. Students will be treated fairly regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, disability, socio-economic status, or national identity. Issues of diversity may be a part of class discussion, assigned material, and projects. The instructor will make every effort to ensure that an inclusive environment exists for all students. If you have any concerns or suggestions for improving the classroom climate, please do not hesitate to speak with the course instructor or to contact the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at 617-824-8528.
- Equity and Diversity Statement: Chapman University is committed to ensuring equality and valuing diversity. Students and professors are reminded to show respect at all times as outlined in Chapman’s Harassment and Discrimination Policy. Any violations of this policy should be discussed with the professor, the Dean of Students and/or otherwise reported in accordance with this policy.
- Stonehill College embraces the diversity of students, faculty, and staff, honors the inherent dignity of each individual, and welcomes their unique cultural and religious experiences, beliefs, and perspectives. We all benefit from a diverse living and learning environment, and the sharing of differences in ideas, experiences, and beliefs help us shape our own perspectives. Course content and campus discussions will heighten your awareness to these differences...
- Inclusive Syllabi Project
Inclusive Practices for In-Class Activities
ROPES. General guidelines for group discussions.
- R = Respect: Treat each other with respect, even if you disagree. Only one person speaks at a time. Listen carefully to each other without interruptions.
- O = Openness: Speak honestly. The most respectful thing we can do together is to be real. Be willing to say what you really think about each topic. If you hold back, we cannot learn from you.
- P = Participation: Speak briefly so everyone has a chance to participate. Stay on the topic at hand.
- E = Education: The facilitators are not experts. They are here to help facilitate the process. Everyone has come to the table to learn, grow, and share.
- S = Sensitivity: Use “I” Statements. Speak only for yourself, rather than as a representative for any group. Remember the others are only speaking for themselves.
How to establish an inclusive classroom learning environment.
- Use your syllabus to establish inclusiveness (see Section 2).
- Build comfort and community through thoughtfully designed activities (see case studies in Section 3.1-3.3).
- Arrange your classroom so that it invites equal discussion participation.
How to maintain an inclusive classroom learning environment.
- Regularly return to and reaffirm guidelines of respectful conduct and inclusiveness.
- As the professor/educator, set an example of the climate you desire through your responses to student contributions and design assignments that reaffirm that atmosphere. Include empirical facts. Pause discussions when more information is needed.
- Engage in exercises that entail representing viewpoints different from those held by individual students.
- Watch out for racial spotlighting or gender inequality in classroom participation.
- Learn key phrases for welcoming student participation and for delicately responding to controversial moments or students who dominate in class.
- Discuss the limits of confidentiality in your course.
How to close/wrap-up an inclusive classroom learning environment.
- Unite new student knowledge to original questions students had at the beginning of the course.
- Show students how their self-defined learning goals have been met.
- Invite students to reflect on their learning experiences (see examples in Section 3.4)
Social Construction of Identity
Goal: View the short film Underground (Dehnert and Lagos, 2003), which is intentionally provocative in its depiction of race, gender, and class. Reflection, pair & share, active listening, guided dialog/discussion.
Methods: “An example from a class taught by Robert Poch, one of the authors of this monograph, offers another illustration of how time can be purposefully allocated to balance the presentation of content, opportunity for students to engage with complex core concepts, and the practice of intercultural skills and behaviors.
- First, students viewed the short film Underground (Dehnert and Lagos, 2003). Because the film is intentionally provocative in its depiction of race, gender, and class, students often form immediate and fixed opinions about what is happening in the film and find it challenging to consider alternative interpretations.
- Second, students were asked to take brief reflective notes to document their perceptions of what was happening in the film.
- Third, students were asked to pair off with a student that they do not know and to participate in several exercises. They began by taking turns listening to their partner’s interpretation of the film without interrupting except to ask clarifying questions. Then, the students who listened repeated to their partner what they heard their partner say, checking if their interpretation of that person’s comments and observations was accurate without expressing evaluative judgments about the partner’s views.
From this activity, students were led through the difficult process of truly listening to another individual—a vital skill to understanding and relating to diverse others. To be able to truly listen to another individual involves several subskills, such as suspending judgment and listening without interrupting. The activity broke down the process into several manageable and explicit steps: (1) listen without speaking; (2) respond without inserting one’s opinion, just what they heard; (3) offer one’s own thoughts and perspectives; and (4) reflect upon the process and how it added to one’s own interpretation and perspectives on the topic. The last guided step, reflection upon the skill being developed in relation to the topic, is critical to a student’s cognitive development (that is, complexity of thought or critical thinking).” Engaging Diversity in Undergraduate Classrooms: A Pedagogy for Developing Intercultural Competence by Amy Lee, Robert Poch, Marta Shaw, and Rhiannon Williams.
Goal: The following is a case study of UnLecture, an activity to meaningfully integrate students’ real-world experiences (industry/research/field) into classroom learning (Subbian and Purdy 2014)
Inclusive features: The UnLecture technique is inclusive because it (1) directly connects classroom learning to “practice” by integrating students’ professional experience (cooperative education, internship, or research) into their education, (2) promotes critical thinking of discipline-specific concepts and issues through active learning and reflection, and (3) allows for the development of new or improved perspectives on the topic at hand.
Methods: The UnLecture technique is built on a themed, participant-driven discussion session along with reflective writing components before and after the session. The central element that facilitates both the writing and active-learning components is the UnLecture rubric. The rubric is a set of carefully designed questions based on the discussion theme, usually provided to students a week before the session. It should be noted that the UnLecture rubric is not necessarily a grading rubric. It is rather intended to serve as a “blueprint” to define learning outcomes and guide students and instructors in executing activities involved in a session. The instructional model of UnLecture, as shown in Figure 1, consists of three phases: Retrospection, Examination, and Reflection.
- Before the session, students retrospect their past co-op/internship assignments, recollect details that are related to the session theme, and document some fine points based on the questions in the rubric. Note: Undergraduate students in most colleges at UC complete either mandatory (e.g., CEAS and COB) or optional (e.g., A&S) cooperative education, completing up to five rotations (20 months) in industry and/or research positions.
- During the session, students share their retrospective thoughts and learn from fellow students’ cooperative education experiences. They also examine practices that were realized in various course projects and assignments, and analyze the differences and similarities between their experiences in industry and their learning experience from the course.
- After the session, the students combine their perspectives from both retrospection and examination to reflect on how they will perform differently in their next co-op rotation or work assignment. Further details and rubric examples can be found here.
- “All of my experience has been in very small teams and it was interesting to hear about teams that were 25+ people …and about teams that were international and the benefits and difficulties of having people working at different time zones across the world.”
- “It was interesting to see how their [fellow students'] co-ops were different from mine, especially those who worked on _____. I hope to gain experience doing/learning _____ in this course that I will be able to take back to my next co-op.”
- “…because I have not yet completed a co-op, I do not have a good idea of what a co-op entails. Listening to my classmates talk about [co-ops]… has given me more insight and confidence that material learned in this class will be relevant and useful for my first co-op.”
Examples of Inclusive Teaching in STEM
See this excellent workbook for facilitating discussions about diversity among faculty, administrators and students (Source: CIRTL Network). The workbook is series of one-page case studies of discussions surrounding challenging educational situations such as learning styles, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, academic preparation, nationality, religion, and gender.
Examples of Other In-Class Activities
Combatting Biases and Stereotypes Threats in the Classroom
Biases can be implicit or explicit. Explicit biases are often accessible through introspection. Implicit biases, on the other hand, “unconscious biases that affect the way we perceive, evaluate, or interact with people from the groups our biases target.” Problems with biases in the classroom include the following:
- Evaluation bias
- Bias in classroom discussion or reaction to authors
- Bias in syllabus/curriculum design
- Behavior that triggers poor performance from students.
Guidelines and Tools
- Anonymous grading: Unconscious biases can shape our evaluations of others. If possible, remove information about the identity of the student when evaluating their work.
- Have students write their names on the back page of the exam/assignment.
- Learn management systems such as Blackboard have features that allow for anonymous grading.
- Connect with and proactively learn about your students.
- Learn students’ names and if possible their correct pronunciations. This will enable you to engage all students equally.
- At the beginning of the course, invite students to share preferred gender pronouns when introducing themselves.
- Assess the classroom climate periodically through anonymous surveys.
- Be reflective and assess your own biases.
- Ask yourself how your experiences, values, beliefs, and stereotypes might (1) influence your knowledge and understanding of groups/individuals that are different from you (e.g., racially), (2) inform the way you interact with individuals, and (3) the way you behave in the classroom.
- Take the Implicit Association Test (IAT)
- Review this information to change task descriptions/language to promote student success in the face of negative stereotypes.
- Examples of microaggressions.
- Quick reference to the types of microaggressions experienced by college students
- The Microaggressions Project. This site is devoted to showing how microaggressions “create and enforce uncomfortable, violent and unsafe realities onto peoples’ workplace, home, school, childhood/ adolescence/ adulthood, and public transportation/space environments.”
- Tools for interrupting microaggressions.
- Minikel-Lacocque, Julie. 2013. "Racism, College, and the Power of Words: Racial Microaggressions Reconsidered." American Educational Research Journal 50(3): 432-465.
- Excerpt: "Thus, I propose the creation of a program on our campuses that directly addresses racism. Specifically, this program would have as its central goals: (a) raising awareness and understanding of racism among majority students, (b) offering a common language with which to talk about racism, and (c) providing a support system to empower students to contest racial microaggressions when they do occur. In essence, I am arguing for an infrastructure to be built on college campuses as common practice. The infrastructure would include regular, visible classes and forums on race and racism; some required, some optional. Also included would be required, in-depth trainings for faculty and staff members to increase their sensitivity to and awareness of racism and its far-reaching effects. These trainings would enable them to successfully facilitate conversations in the classroom, whether these conversations be planned by the instructor or initiated by students. Additionally, new student orientations would consistently include open, direct conversations about racism on college campuses." (p. 461).
Stereotype threats refer to the risk of confirming a negative stereotype about one’s group (such as race or gender).
- Empirically Validated Strategies to Reduce Stereotype Threat
- Excellent scholarly online resource that addresses:
- What is stereotype threat?
- What are the consequences of stereotype threat?
- Who is vulnerable to stereotype threat?
- What situations lead to stereotype threat?
- What are the mechanisms behind stereotype threat?
- What can be done to reduce stereotype threat?
- Access to empirical work on stereotype threat.
- Example: Women's experiences in math. Good, Catherine, Aronson, Joshua and Jayne Ann Harder. 2008. "Problems in the pipeline: Stereotype threat and women's achievement in high-level math courses." Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 29: 17-28.
- Vanderbilt’s site, see section on Reducing Stereotype Threat
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Definition: UDL is defined as “a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that: (1) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged and (2) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for ALL students/learners” (Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008).
The three guiding principles of UDL, based on neuroscientific research are:
- Provide Multiple Means of Representation (the “what” of learning)
- Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression (the “how” of learning)
- Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (the “why” of learning)
CAST has some good “UDL on Campus” resources geared to a higher education audience.
UDL case studies can be found here. Consider exploring freely available tools for UDL.
Implementation examples of UDL can be found here.
Global Social Justice and International Students
Global social justice perspective is to have an expectation of teaching that:
- The dominant perspective is one of many perspectives
- The perspective of other groups can be of equal value to the perspective of the dominant group
- The dominant perspective may, in certain situations, undermine the growth and stability of other groups, and
- In some cases, other perspectives may be preferred over that of the dominant group
The following are use cases/examples of some global social justice issues:
- Global governance (war, corruption, terrorism)
- Environment/sustainable development
- Human rights inequalities on a global scale (access to education/healthcare, death penalty)
- World poverty and global health
- Working with international students (deferred action for childhood arrivals, citizenship, immigration/treatment of refugees)
Example Activity: 100 Villages
Goal: (1) To check and challenge our assumptions about our highly complex, globalized, evolving, and multicultural world and (2) To communicate effectively to create consensus. This group activity (2 to 4 members per group) is taken from 100villages.org.
Overview: Let’s imagine that we could shrink the Earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people – such that all existing human ratios remain the same. Your task is to come to a group consensus before recording your answers to questions on worksheet. If a term is a little too ambiguous on the worksheet, work with your group to arrive at mutually agreed upon concept/term. Dialogue is critical for this activity.
International and Linguistically Diverse Students
- Advising International Students: see page 6-7 for “Aiming for Excellence” for recommendations
- Understanding Linguistic Variation
- Language and language variation are connected in important ways to students’ educational development and later job opportunities. From a linguistic perspective, no language or language variety is inherently better or more correct than another. However, postsecondary students need to understand and produce complex written, oral, and multimodal academic texts to be successful. In order to fully participate in a course, they must also learn the instructor’s (or discipline’s) preferred norms and routines for communication, interaction, and the presentation of information.
- International, new immigrant and Generation 1.5 immigrant students can face challenges stemming from social, cultural, linguistic, and educational differences between prior and current educational settings. For example, such students might struggle to understand cultural references, complex academic vocabulary, or the expectations for audience engagement during a presentation. Native English-speaking students who speak a stigmatized language variety may experience some of these same challenges, either because their language isn't valued in the classroom or because the language used on assessments is more difficult for them, given their own language background.
- Best Practices to Support Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Students
- Explicitly teach the norms and conventions of the language you expect in your classroom.
- Explicitly teach norms and routines for communication, interaction, and the presentation of information.
- Advertise available supports and resources and recommend or require that all students use them (e.g., one required visit to office hours).
- Learn about your students’ linguistic backgrounds and preferred communication styles.
- Provide opportunities for students to explore differences between the preferred language in your classroom and the language varieties with which they are most comfortable.
- Provide frequent feedback (written and oral) that positions students as emerging scholars who are adding to their linguistic repertoires rather than deficient language users.
- To increase oral participation during class, try one or more of the following: (a) Distribute problems or discussion questions ahead of time, (b) Allow students to think or write and speak with a partner before speaking to the whole class (Think-Pair-Share), (c) Provide at least 20 seconds of “wait time” before taking the first response, (d) Ask to hear from someone who has not yet spoken, or (e) Allow students to respond using pictures/diagrams/their most comfortable language or language variety and then explain or translate when necessary.
- Explore opportunities to build your own, and your students’, positive attitudes about language and linguistic variation.
- See more at, and adapted from, Charity Hudley and Mallinson (2014, p. 35). Citation: Charity Hudley, A.H. & Mallinson, C. (2014). We do language: English language variation in the secondary classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.
Inclusive Practices for Mentorship in Research Settings
As a public institution of higher learning with the Carnegie designation of “very high research activity”, UC is home to several thousand students, scholars, and faculty who are heavily involved in research. This section discusses inclusive practices for mentorship in research settings.
Category 1: Faculty Mentor and Mentee
(Assumption: Mentor is predominantly a research faculty and the mentee is a graduate student)
- Jointly develop an individual development plan (IDP): Consider using the IDP tool, which may be required if the research is federally-supported.
- See checklist in Appendix.
Category 2: Staff Advisor and Advisee
(Assumption: Advisor is a predominantly a staff academic advisor and the advisee is an undergraduate student)
Recommendations for D&I Transformation
- Promote a peer-reviewed version of this document on the UC D&I office website, CET&L, and UC LEAF
- Develop “sustainable” workshops. A few venues for integration include:
- New faculty orientation
- Annual diversity conference
- Deans and department chair meetings
- Learning communities such as the UC Blue Ash Cultural Diversity Learning Community.
- Recognize and incentivize D&I work in annual performance reviews, reappointment, promotion, and tenure policies. For example, the University of Washington Faculty Code states, "In accord with the University's expressed commitment to excellence and equity, contributions in scholarship and research, teaching, and service that address diversity and equal opportunity may be included among the professional and scholarly qualifications for appointment and promotion outlined below." From the Faculty Code, Volume II, Part II, Chapter 24, Section 24-34)
- Examples of commitment to excellence and equity though contributions in scholarship and research, teaching, and service that address diversity and equal opportunity that may be found in the CV and other materials. For example, from the University of Washington, Director of the Office for Faculty Advancement (source UC Berkeley)
- Engaged in service to increase participation in science, education, humanities, fine arts, or social sciences by groups historically underrepresented in higher education.
- Contributed to pedagogies addressing different learning styles.
- Significant experience in teaching students who are underrepresented in higher education.
- Research interests in subjects that will contribute to diversity and equal opportunity in higher education.