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Making course content inclusive

Course content choices can have an enormous impact on how students perceive a class, a discipline, and to a larger extent, a university. Curriculum choices – even in ostensibly “objective” disciplines – implicitly signal what and whose knowledge has value. The decisions an instructor makes when choosing content for their online, in-person, or hybrid course can contribute to the development of a more inclusive learning environment for all students, regardless of discipline.

Asking questions about your existing course content

The first step in developing more inclusive course content is to reflect on how you select content. Below are some questions to help you assess your current course content:

  • Whose perspectives are represented in my course content? Which people and/or perspectives are underrepresented or absent?
  • Is my course content relevant to the lived experiences and experiential knowledge of the diversity of students I teach?
  • Do I acknowledge and/or discuss the relevant socio-cultural factors present in my data/models/examples?
  • Does my course content unintentionally draw on or reinforce stereotypes?
  • Does my choice of topics, assignments, and/or discussions include culturally-relevant and inclusive topics?
  • Are the problem sets and examples I use relevant to my students’ lives and do they reflect diverse populations?
  • How does my positionality affect my course content choices?

Strategies to make your course content more inclusive

Choose topics that allow students to explore the experiences and perspectives of a variety of people

Consider who is visible (and invisible) in your current course content and critically examine why some people and perspectives are more prevalent. For example, if you teach a course on Early American History and you notice that your course content does not include any indigenous perspectives, critically examine why those perspectives are absent from your course content. Adjust accordingly and/or be prepared to share your reasoning with students.

Choose and assign course materials produced by a diverse range of scholars and authors

Reflect on what you are assigning students to read and view. Are your materials produced by scholars and authors from the same background and/or demographic group? Would your students be able to see people who share their background and experiences in your reading list or video library? Do your assignments limit students’ ability to use culturally-relevant sources of knowledge? For example, do you prohibit students from drawing on indigenous knowledge bases to complete assignments by requiring them to reference only peer-reviewed articles?

Discuss the sociocultural factors that inform scientific inquiry, data collection/visualization, and modeling

All disciplines, including STEM fields, are influenced by cultural expectations and historical context. Discussing the social dimensions of scientific inquiry and data collection/visualization positions students to critically question data and the foundations of disciplinary knowledge. Ultimately, such questioning will contribute to stronger, more inclusive disciplinary practices.

Incorporate more inclusive case studies into your classes

Using examples that are relevant to and reflective of the lived experiences of students increases student engagement. In this video, Dan Turner, Teaching Professor of Marketing with UW’s Foster School of Business, explores the significance of using case studies that are inclusive.

Reflect on your positionality and your teaching

Reflecting on your own positionality and the ways it can impact your teaching can help you to create a more inclusive classroom. Learn more about positionality in your teaching.