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Strategies for inclusive teaching

Student in a wheelchair

Inclusive teaching combines attention to what is being taught with attention to who is being taught–with the goal of engaging the greatest number of students in the greatest amount of learning. Research shows that inclusive teaching approaches result in better academic outcomes for everyone, while producing outsized benefits for those who face systemic or individual barriers to academic success. By creating inclusive class environments, designing supportive course structures, and taking a holistic view of learning, instructors can create optimal conditions for every student and contribute to building a more diverse, dynamic, and rigorous academic culture.

Inclusive Class Climate

While disciplinary knowledge and skills remain the focus of university classrooms, research demonstrates that extra-disciplinary factors such as class climate can affect student success in significant ways. These factors can have an especially powerful influence on students who already feel out of place in academic settings for a variety of social and psychological reasons. By fostering a sense of belonging, communicating high expectations paired with clear pathways to success, normalizing struggles and setbacks, and addressing systemic barriers faced by students, we can mitigate educational alienation and maximize student success.

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Structure and Transparency

Students as a whole benefit from highly-structured learning environments, but students most likely to experience educational alienation benefit the most. The same is true for transparency: lifting the veil to explain the mechanisms of academia, of individual disciplines, and of the learning process itself allows learners to take control of their academic experience, build self-efficacy, and develop strategies for successful lifelong learning. By adding more structure and transparency to learning environments, we can help close academic achievement gaps and create conditions for academic success for every student.

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Teaching the Whole Student

The main focus of academic education is intellectual development, but a growing body of research reveals how extensively cognitive processes depend on affective, physical, and social wellbeing. Harnessing this knowledge to create classrooms where students are seen as complex, feeling, embodied human beings (rather than “brains on sticks”) can help increase belonging and motivation.

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