Skip to Main ContentSearch Site

The Power of Inclusive Learning Online

The Power of Inclusive Learning OnlineThe Power of Inclusive Learning Online

by Iryna Ashby, Online Learning and Technology

Picture a learning environment where every student feels recognized and valued, where diversity isn't just acknowledged and celebrated. As educators, you have the power to create this transformative space, where each student's unique identity and experiences are integral to their academic journey. Let’s explore several examples and potential strategies. 

  • Maria, a first-generation Portuguese American student, has recently begun her undergraduate journey in Environmental Science. As she navigates her first semester, Maria faces several challenges. She struggles with some of the technical jargon in her textbooks, which is compounded because English is not her native language. Additionally, Maria often feels out of place in group discussions, as her perspectives, shaped by her unique cultural background, seem different from those of her classmates. 
  • Ahmed has impaired vision and majors in Chemistry. Despite his passion for the subject, he faces significant challenges in a predominantly visual learning environment. In lectures, he struggles to keep up with visual content like slides and diagrams. In labs, the hands-on activities are often not accessible to him. Moreover, Ahmed feels isolated, as group activities are rarely adapted to include him fully. 
  • Jordan, an African American student in his second year of an undergraduate business program, finds himself struggling academically. Despite his interest in the subject, he feels disconnected from the course material and often hesitates to participate in class discussions. Coming from a high school with limited resources, he lacks some foundational skills that his peers seem to have. Additionally, Jordan feels a lack of representation in both the faculty and the course content, which adds to his sense of isolation. 

While these students may experience different challenges, there are strategies that can help all your students feel welcomed and included: 

Strategy 1: Culturally Relevant Curriculum

Integrate case studies, examples, and readings that reflect diverse cultures and perspectives relevant to African American experiences, Hispanic heritage, visual impairment, etc. This will make the curriculum more relatable and engaging for historically-minoritized students and students with disabilities. When students see their culture and experiences reflected in the learning material, it can boost their interest and participation. This strategy also enriches the learning for all students by providing a broader range of perspectives. 

Strategy 2: Peer Learning, Inclusive Participation, and Peer Support System

Implement structured group work that intentionally mixes students from diverse backgrounds, abilities, and experiences. Use activities like 'think-pair-share' or small group discussions, ensuring that each group has a mix of cultural perspectives. This approach encourages students to share their unique perspectives and learn from each other. It creates a safe space for historically-minoritized and/or quieter students to voice their views and experiences. All students can develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of different cultural contexts through this inclusion of diverse viewpoints. As needed, encourage students to assign roles within groups that play to each member's strengths and promote peer support systems. This will help promote a collaborative learning environment where diversity is seen as a strength.  

Strategy 3: Adaptive Hands-On Experiences

Modify lab/hands-on activities to be more inclusive. This could involve using “Check Accessibility” in MS PowerPoint, adding alt-text to images, or creating hands-on activities which does not rely solely on visual input. Adapting lab activities ensures that students with visual impairments can participate fully and benefit from hands-on learning experiences. This approach recognizes the importance of experiential learning and ensures that all students have the opportunity to engage with the material in a meaningful way. This will also introduce others in the class to different ways of interacting with the environment, thus building their understanding and empathy. 

Strategy 4: Formative Assessments with Constructive Feedback

Implement regular, low-stakes formative assessments that provide feedback on students' understanding of the material without significantly impacting their grades. Formative assessments will allow students with diverse needs and abilities to gauge their understanding of the course material and identify areas that need improvement. Providing constructive feedback will help them learn from mistakes and improve, rather than merely feeling penalized for what they did not know. This approach encourages learning as a process and can help build their academic confidence. 

By implementing these strategies, you can create a more equitable and inclusive learning environment that supports students like Jordan, Maria, Ahmed, and all others, in overcoming their academic challenges and contributes to their overall growth and success. 

If you are looking for more professional development on the topic of inclusive teaching, we encourage you to check out the Inclusive Syllabus Design training. 

Share on Social Media