Inclusive Online Learning

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important to designing effective online learning. The Statement of Shared Values applies to the entire Boise State University community whether learning on campus or online. The eCampus Center created tools to assist in the design of inclusive online courses. The information below is a guide to getting started with links to more tools to expand your inclusive course design.

How to Design Inclusive Online Learning

Check Assumptions

We all function with a set of assumptions about the world around us. Doing so is a human trait, but our assumptions can have an impact on our interactions with others, particularly students. Bringing awareness to our own assumptions is a beginning step to inclusivity. As yourself, Am I making assumptions about:

  • The experience or knowledge of students?

  • Students’ abilities?

  • The identities and viewpoints of students?

  • Students’ origins, habits, cultural traditions, or speaking styles?

The questions above are just four areas in which we can make assumptions that impact students. The eCampus Center’s Worksheet for Checking Assumptions breaks these down further with more questions for consideration.

Apply the Checklist

Drawing on a wide variety of expertise, an Inclusive Course Design Checklist has been created to guide design strategies in four areas. The full checklist is meant to feed discussion among faculty and instructional designers for a thoughtful approach to inclusive design. Here, you will find a selection of elements from the full checklist to take the first steps to improving inclusive design in your online courses. It is unlikely that a course will be able to meet all elements in the initial design. The intent is to continuously revisit your design over time.

Cross-Cutting Design Strategies

  • Provide opportunities for students to give you anonymous feedback about the classroom climate, safety, and disruptions to their learning and experience.

  • Avoid making generalizations about student experiences.

  • Refrain from asking individual students to speak for a culture, gender, or social identity group.

  • Do not make assumptions about a student’s race or ethnicity based on appearance or name.

  • Avoid highly idiomatic English. Idioms are especially confusing for non-native speakers of English or any student who may have been raised in another country or another region of the U.S. While the expressions may be colorful, many students may miss an important concept if the phrase is unfamiliar (e.g., "once in a blue moon," "between a rock and a hard place").

Course Content Strategies

  • Wherever possible, include the perspectives of minority groups, different religions and nationalities, disabled people, and people of different gender identities in course topics. 

  • Choose readings that deliberately reflect the diversity of contributors to the field.

  • Check whether pictures, photographs, illustrations, and other visual materials include people of different identities (e.g., races, genders, disabilities, ages, religions, and ethnicities).

  • Use varied names and socio-cultural contexts in test questions, assignments, and case studies.

  • Use various teaching methods and modalities (verbal, visual, interactive, didactic, etc.) rather than relying on one mode of engagement.

Instruction and Assessment Strategies

  • Early in the course, invite and engage students to co-construct class norms (i.e., ground rules) using principles of inclusive environments.

  • Create a learning community by offering ample opportunities for students to learn about each other and from each other. 

  • Use an interfaith calendar when scheduling major projects, exams, assignments, and presentations and allow students flexibility if there are schedule conflicts.

  • Explain the value of collaboration for learning. Speak of students’ diverse perspectives as an asset.

  • Be aware of possible student anxiety about their performance in a competitive classroom environment. All students—including those whose personal or cultural histories may include being a target of stereotypes and discrimination—need clear standards and evaluation criteria and straightforward comments on their work.

Writing Strategies

  • When writing course content, instructions, assignments, and module introductions, follow the recommendations outlined in the Inclusive Excellence Communication Guide.

  • Pronouns used throughout the course should use the pronoun “they.” Use gender-neutral language in lectures, presentations, assignments, and exams.  Be aware of the gender used in examples.

  • Use inclusive language (“everyone” vs. “you guys,” “humankind” vs. “mankind,” etc.) 

  • Avoid referencing pop culture without providing sufficient orienting context.

Related Information


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