Maintaining Equity and Inclusion in Virtual Learning Environments

As SDSU strives to keep our students, faculty and staff safe in these unusual times, many faculty are wondering how they can ensure that they continue to serve ALL of their students. This guide provides suggestions and resources to help faculty continue teaching in ways that are equitable and inclusive as they move to teach face-to-face classes remotely. 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.

Also be sure to see Instructional Technology Services' many resources for more immediate training and support!

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 Student Ability Success Center
  • Check whether content is mobile-friendly
  • Consider variation in students’ access to computers and stable internet service

Be Flexible and Open. A key aspect of equitable and inclusive teaching, in general, is recognizing and working with the diversity of our students, along multiple dimensions. As you move your course into a different modality, try to stay open to trying a few new things; you may find that one silver lining to this situation is 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 acknowledgement 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 acknowledgement 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 and Intrusive. 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 all-digital learning

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 under-represented 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. Being 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
  • Create transparent assignments

NOTE: Although the advice here is all consistent with best practices for distance learning and for inclusive teaching in general, this guide was created specifically to help faculty who must move face-to-face courses to a different modality as quickly as possible. This is not the time to be completely re-designing your course; however, it is an ideal time to consider simple changes that can make your course more inclusive even when you return to a regular classroom.

Additional resources: