Originally Published 2/6/15/Updated 1/17/17
Beginning to Teach Inclusively
How do I encourage students to bring diverse perspectives to the subject matter I teach? How can I promote inclusive behavior of students working in groups? These were just a few questions posed by approximately 45 doctoral students and postdocs at the “Cultivating an Inclusive Classroom” workshop I ran last year with Dr. Sheila Contreras. To begin answering them, Inside Teaching posts over the next few weeks will address different areas for you to focus on toward a more inclusive classroom. In today’s post, I’ll discuss where to begin: making your curriculum design choices more inclusive.
What Do I Mean By “Inclusive”?
Before I start discussing how your content and curriculum design choices can be more inclusive, let’s start with a working definition for an inclusive classroom. According to the Association of American Colleges & Universities, inclusive classrooms are learning spaces where “active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity” occurs “in ways that increase awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathetic understanding of the complex individuals interact within systems and institutions.” So, as an instructor concerned about inclusive teaching, I encourage you do consider how your course content and assignments both represent a diverse (for example, gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, nationality, epistemological perspectives) set of scholarly voices and how you can hold yourself – and your students—to more inclusive standards of behavior and discourse in the classroom.
Inclusive Classrooms Require Intentional Thought and Not “Extra Work”
Graduate students and other beginning instructors are often overwhelmed by the volume of things they need to learn about teaching in a college classroom or lab. Creating an inclusive environment in your classroom does not require “extra work” – what it requires is “intentional thought” in how you plan and implement your classes. This involves a deliberate awareness of the decisions you’re making and the impact they have on how you represent your discipline and the multiple voices connected to it. I’d argue that this level of intentionality is a key hallmark of curriculum design across disciplines. To help with this intentionality toward more inclusive classrooms, I provide the following four tips below.
Four Tips Toward Inclusive Curriculum Design
(1) Select the work of scholars from different cultural or paradigmatic backgrounds: Make sure you are presenting a variety of voices and perspectives across the course readings, videos and material you select. Additionally important is presenting a full spectrum of disciplinary paradigms in the field so that students have a full picture of disciplinary conversation(s).
(2) Acknowledge the limitations of course material with regards to demographic representation: Frame what you are providing and point out the potential limitations of your materials. This can help students see how and why you have made the decisions you did. This can also help students to get a better window into your teaching decisions and engage alongside you critically.
(3) Pay attention to WHO and HOW you represent in your presentation slides, case studies, videos, and guest panels: As with our tips above, it’s important that the slides, case studies, and videos you use reflect multiple voices and backgrounds. Additionally, it’s important to pay attention to how various individuals and groups are portrayed in these materials. In their portrayals, are you sending the messages you want sent to a diverse group of students?
(4) Maximize the inclusion of all student voices in instructional activities: Make sure you provide multiple opportunities and safe spaces in your classroom for all student voices. Not all students will immediately respond to one way of engaging in the classroom, so make sure your approaches vary and respond to what you have come to know about the different students in class. We will share more specific tips about instructional activities in later posts.
The goal of the Inclusive Teaching Workshop, in addition to soliciting student questions, was to present a Framework for Inclusive Teaching, modified from resources from both a resource from the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning at University of Michigan and a paper produced by the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard. Check these links out for more info.
We’d like to know: What have you done to make your course content and curriculum more inclusive? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below or with us on social media using the hashtag “#iteachmsu.”
Melissa McDaniels, Ph.D. is the Assistant Dean and Director of Teaching Assistant Programs at The Graduate School at Michigan State University. She has over 20 years of experience supporting the efforts of college and universities to create inclusive learning and work environments.