Equitable and Inclusive Teaching and Learning

Designing an equitable and inclusive learning environment for all students.

On this page:

Principles of equity and inclusion

Equity in teaching

There are two approaches for supporting students that are based on whether they promote equality, or equity.

  • Equality: Providing equal support to all students. For example, this support could include the same guided instruction, scaffolded materials or additional time to complete an assignment.
  • Equity: Providing unique support according to individual needs, through a process called differentiation. This support could include a scaffolded worksheet, visual aids, technology support or cooperative learning structures, but differs by student need (George Washington University, 2020).

The goal of equitable teaching is to provide needs-based support to ensure equitable learning opportunities. While the goal of equal support in a classroom is better than providing no support, it does not necessarily provide the support needed for all students to have the opportunity to succeed.

This is a complex and evolving issue. The following link provides several visuals and concerns regarding how equity and equality are represented in education.

Inclusive teaching

The objective of an inclusive classroom is for all students to be valued in the classroom for their diverse abilities, experiences and perspectives. This is accomplished through methods, strategies and materials that are not only diverse (related to race ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, culture, religion, mental and physical ability, and socio-economic status), but also accessible (limiting barriers of access to all students).

In an equitable and inclusive classroom every student has equal access to learning, is treated equitably by the learning community, and feels valued and supported by their instructor and peers. These learning environments emphasize the importance of cultural awareness, value all social identities, and consider the impact of systemic inequities (Thomas, C., 2014). Identifying these important factors shapes the classroom experiences and impacts student learning.

Preparing an equitable and inclusive classroom

When designing courses with inclusivity in mind, they should reflect diversity of varying viewpoints, opinions and perspectives. Further, the classroom must promote and support students in developing the responsibility to understand and value cultural attitudes, including those different from their own. To achieve equity within the classroom and beyond, designing a course that creates an authentic environment and offers autonomy is intended to influence students’ success. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to consider the inclusivity of your learning outcomes, teaching methods, assessments and activities.

Course components

  • Learning outcomes: Learning outcomes should have inclusive elements even if the course has specific restrictions such as accreditation requirements. When developing or revising learning outcomes consider not only student understanding and abilities but also students’ diverse perspectives and unique interests. Design outcomes that encourage students to analyze thoughtfully, think critically and explore new ideas or perspectives.
  • Teaching methods: Approach your instruction by considering the diverse needs and backgrounds of all your students (e.g., situational factors). Take time to reflect on your teaching methods, how they support the diverse needs of students throughout the learning process, and adjust methods as needed. 
  • Assessments: It is important to utilize formative assessments where students can monitor their progress throughout the course, before, during and after learning. Provide students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in different modes and modalities. Doing so enhances the learning experience for all students and may increase their likelihood of success.
  • Activities: There should be variability in activities to support all students. Design activities that encourage autonomy where students can contribute freely. Help students feel that their perspectives are valued and respected. Authentic activities may increase engagement and help students deepen their understanding.

An inclusive classroom also encourages students to become more engaged in authentic experiences that are relevant to their lives and interests. For example, one could design a theater course on August Wilson around a summative project where students work in small groups to modernize a particular scene from a play of their choosing. For guidance, authentic examples from Hamilton or Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom are provided.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a flexible, non-prescriptive framework to increase inclusivity by supporting the learning of all students through variability of methods and modes. The framework is a model of learning intended to improve engagement, representation and action and expression (Center for Applied Special Technology, 2020). All definitions in the following sections are directly from UDL guidelines.

Students differ in motivations, and attending to these motivations can improve overall motivation and achievement. For example, some students may be working towards a professional degree in your specific field, while others may be enrolled to fulfill a requirement and your course is merely their first introduction to the topic. Students with different backgrounds and goals require different approaches to communicate the importance of what they are learning and understand how it applies to their learning goals.

To improve engagement, be flexible with the modes and modalities you use to present information to students. There is not one means of engagement that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts; providing multiple options for engagement is essential. UDL includes three engagement principles. Provide options for:

1. Recruiting interest: How can you get more students engaged and interested in your course? Consider:

  • increasing student autonomy to allow students to make appropriate choices
  • creating relevant and authentic materials that students will value
  • limiting barriers and distractions that can impede student learning

2. Sustaining effort and persistence: How will you help your students’ progress and persist in your course? Consider:

  • motivating and supporting your students to help them attain the learning outcomes
  • designing activities with different levels of complexity, challenge and support
  • providing opportunities for students to work collaboratively
  • offering consistent and constant feedback to help students’ master concepts

3. Self-regulation: How will students set goals, monitor their learning, and self-assess their understanding? Consider:

  • encouraging students to set goals and expectations
  • scaffolding skills and strategies to help support student learning
  • developing students’ self-regulation strategies such as self-assessment and reflection

Students also differ in the ways they communicate their understanding and what they have learned. An effective learning environment is one that is multimodal, allowing for different ways for students to share what they know and what they do not understand.

To support action and expression, be flexible and thoughtful about the variety of strategies you will implement to help your students practice and organize their learning. There is not just one way to present materials, therefore variability is best to support all your students. UDL includes three action and expression principles. Provide options for:

1. Physical action: How will you support and encourage students to share their understanding?

  • offering students a variety of ways to share their understanding
  • ensuring there are multiple means for navigation
  • providing assistive technologies tools and technology

2. Expressive skills and fluency: What media, materials, and tools will you integrate to help support all your students?

  • reducing media and materials barriers
  • designing multiple ways to reach the same outcome
  • allowing students to choose the tools
  • scaffolding to help support all learners practice and master concepts and skills

3. Executive functions: How will you help your students achieve?

  • helping students set goals
  • guiding students to design plans to reach goals
  • supporting students to organize and remember information
  • monitoring progress

Applying UDL principles to your course will increase access and inclusion of all learners.

Identify your equitable and inclusive practices

Using your Course Design Template, complete the following:

  • Step 1: Review your learning outcomes, teaching methods, assessments and activities to determine their equity and inclusivity.
  • Step 2: Identify the course components that need to be revised to increase your course’s equity and inclusivity.

Next steps

Now that you have learned about equitable and inclusive teaching and learning the next step is to learn about accessible design elements.