Workshop Your Course Content and Environment for Inclusion and Student Success

Faculty Guide

As the University of Tulsa encounters an increasing number of students with varying needs, it is important to ensure your course content and class environment utilize inclusive pedagogy and instructional delivery methods that will be accessible to diverse learners. This workshop will help you conceptualize accessibility for your courses and give you strategies to support learners in all receiving the same quality education you provide.

Inclusive Design (also known as Universal Design) refers to creative design elements of products and environments (such as classrooms, buildings, handouts, websites) to make them accessible to diverse people. The aim is to make the whole environment inclusive by eliminating barriers to provide all people with equal opportunities to learn (regardless of individual characteristics such as age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, educational background, veteran status, disability, ongoing illness/injury, trauma survivors, etc.). Inclusive Design in the classroom utilizes multiple means of instruction, expression, engagement, and representation. For example, we will be videoing this workshop and adding captions in order to make it accessible to diverse needs.

Accessibility refers to the ability to fully use and engage with a resource, product, and/or activity. In education, we are federally mandated to offer full access to educational opportunities and activities. Making education accessible means that we eliminate barriers that diverse people may face in accessing educational opportunities.

Inclusion is at the heart of the University of Tulsa’s core values and mission. The University furthers its mission of educational excellence by creating an environment of equity and inclusion that values diverse life experiences, ideas, and perspectives. It is the intent of the University of Tulsa to offer programs, curriculum, and facilities that offer opportunities that would include anyone seeking to partner with the University in its mission of highlighting the core values of excellence in scholarship, dedication to free inquiry, integrity of character, and commitment to humanity.

For your class, think about the assignments, tasks, communication, syllabus, and grading/assessment you will be using. As you consider this, start by thinking about how you can best utilize the different components of your class to reach the most diverse range of people. One way, that most people are familiar with, is to think about learning preferences. Will coursework and the class environment facilitate learning for people who prefer visual, auditory, and kinesthetic methods, for example? Another way is to think about people with disabilities (e.g., mobility, psychological, learning, illness/injury). Will coursework and the class environment facilitate learning for people who use a wheelchair, may miss class when their invisible psychological disability flares up, or has a slower processing speed?

We will begin by thinking about access. Think of a time when you experienced a barrier to access. Describe what happened, the feelings you had, and whether you were able to obtain access in some way.

Below is a checklist of items to use to help enhance the accessibility of course content using Inclusive Design. There are two areas to consider: the content delivery/assessment methods and the class environment. Think about if/where you can apply any of these items to help you ensure the course will be inclusive for diverse learners. This is a lot of information, so just start small and expand the inclusive design strategies you use as you have time.

Inclusive Content Delivery, Engagement, Expression, and Representation

Syllabus:

  • Provide a detailed syllabus both in writing and electronically.
  • Include the disability statement: Students with disabilities should contact the Center for Student Academic Success to self-identify their needs in order to facilitate their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Amendments and set up appropriate accommodations. All students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with and take advantage of services provided by CSAS, including tutoring, academic success coaching, and developing study skills. CSAS also provides confidential consultations to any student with academic concerns. Students who qualify for accommodations are requested to meet with me privately (office hours or by appointment) during the first two weeks of class to arrange for their needs and help me support you.
  • Write in flexibility for participation/attendance for students who may have to miss classes for personal, health, family issues that can arise as well as inclement weather. Express support for students struggling with life events that can sometimes create academic issues.
  • Write in flexibility for students who may need to use certain technology in class (such as laptop, recording device, notetaking software).
  • Offer various means of communicating with you: e-mail, phone, in-person.

Lectures:

  • Use clear, simple language and speak slowly while facing the class. Try not to speak when facing away from the class.
  • Use Blackboard Collaborate to stream/record lectures and Panopto to transcribe them. Allow students to record lectures.
  • Provide an outline on the board at the start of class about what will be covered that day.
  • Provide auditory cues for key concepts.
  • Use varied formats:
    • Provide lecture notes (electronically)
    • Visual aids (PowerPoints, videos)
      • Use captioning in videos
      • Use black or dark blue markers or yellow chalk on the board
      • Use PowerPoints with dark text and a light background
    • Guest speakers
    • Presentations by students
    • Discussion groups
  • Provide a review of the major points from the previous class in the beginning.
  • Use microphones if possible.

Assignments:

  • Provide assignments, instructions, and due dates both orally and in writing, and give reminders as due dates approach. If changes are made, provide these announcements both orally and in writing.
  • Connect course content to real-life application whenever possible.
  • Use varied formats:
    • Field trips
    • Reflection
    • Peer reviews
  • Provide a schedule/calendar and give advance notice of upcoming tasks or assignments to allow them time to prepare, particularly if the assignments may create anxiety (such as public speaking).

Assessment and Feedback:

  • Provide frequent feedback so that students know how they are doing. Assign midterm grades and strive to return graded work as quickly as possible.
  • Help students learn accountability by giving them tools to assess and monitor their own progress.
    • Provide detailed grading criteria/rubrics.
    • Provide charts or aids that enable students to collect and monitor progress.
    • Provide goals/objectives and checklists.
    • Use self-evaluation and reflection and personal assessment.
    • Use personalized goal-setting activities.
    • Offer opportunities for students to explain their work.
  • Make feedback personal and use inclusive, encouraging language instead of punitive language.
  • Use various assessment techniques:
    • Written exams
    • Oral exams
    • Personalized feedback on assignments—in writing
    • Multiple questioning methods
      • Multiple choice
      • Essay
      • Fill in the blank
      • True-False
      • Matching
  • Demonstrate various methods of knowledge acquisition:
    • Memorization
    • Analysis
    • Reflection
    • Problem-solving
  • Avoid exam questions that are overly complicated in structure, that use double negatives, or that ask questions within questions.
  • Permit the use of calculators on math exams and the use of dictionaries on essay exams if possible.
  • Give less weight to spelling if spelling is not essential.
  • Allow re-dos and corrections.
  • Provide practice exam opportunities.
  • Allow adequate time for a learner to respond before asking a question again to accommodate varying processing speeds.
  • Provide feedback in a way that is informative and substantive instead of competitive and comparative.

Handouts/PowerPoints:

  • Spread out text with a lot of white space.
  • Use at least 12-point font size.
  • Use at least 1-inch margins on all sides of the page.
  • Use color contrast (dark text on a light background).
  • Use simple colors.
  • Use consistent layouts/formats.
  • Use headings and subheadings; chunk info.
  • Offer PDF handouts in HTML or RTF formats instead.
  • Embed support for content into the text.
    • Use hyperlinks with definitions and pronunciations.
    • Use descriptive text to take the user to a hyperlink—don’t just copy the entire hyperlink into the document.
    • Provide written descriptions for images/graphics.

Videos/Websites:

  • Caption all videos or provide transcripts.
  • Build for keyboard use only (don’t force mouse/screen use).
  • Structure content using HTML5; avoid PDFs.
  • Make buttons informative/descriptive (e.g., Click Here).
  • Break up content with headings, subheadings, images, videos.
  • Offer content in both audio and video format.

Books/Materials:

  • Encourage the use of alternative formats such as audiobooks and e-books with screen-readers.
  • Consider cost and financial barriers when picking course materials.
  • Don’t assume students have access to equipment or technology.

Inclusive Class Environment/Community

Instructor Presence:

  • Encourage students to come to your office with their exams or assignments to discuss them. Promote yourself as a helpful resource.
  • Interact with students in and out of class. If you see them in the Student Union, talk to them. Establish rapport and that you care about their success.
  • Learn names and try to show that you remember students—keep a cheat sheet at your podium or your office with notes if needed. Let them know that you see and recognize them.
  • Approach students with the perception that they can be successful and stress that you believe they can succeed.
  • Use disability etiquette.

Classroom Space:

  • Consider the arrangement of the classroom furniture/seating, potential distractions, and any potential barriers to diverse students. Remove barriers if possible.
  • Arrange furniture with ample space between desks/chairs for students who may use wheelchairs or other mobility assistance, or may need more physical room.
  • Arrange furniture back to its original positioning if it is moved during class to assist students who need it laid out the same way.
  • Ensure that you do not stand in front of windows or other lighting that could obscure your face.
  • Close blinds/windows and shut doors to minimize distractions or problematic noise and lighting.
  • Offer a variety of seating and desk options (e.g., height-adjustable and width-adjustable).

Classroom Rules/Decorum:

  • Provide clear rules and reinforce these regularly. For example, provide instructions on the maximum number of times a student should make comments or ask questions in a class period. If you want students to email you questions or bring copies of their exams when they come speak with you, provide these rules upfront in the syllabus.
  • Offer flexibility for students who may have difficulty getting to class on time because of impairments.

Classroom Community:

  • Use inclusive language that emphasizes positive choices instead of punishing choices.
    • For example, “earn” instead of “deduct.”
    • Offer opportunities to use student’s preferred name/gender identity.
    • Give overt expressions of support for diverse learners.
    • Include materials/perspectives that reflect the experiences of diverse people.
    • Offer opportunities for dialogue about inclusion.
    • Participate in or provide trainings/programs about inclusion.
  • Ask that students be mindful of their language choices.
  • Give content warnings if appropriate and/or allow students to leave if they may find the topic upsetting. Offer alternatives if this is the case.
  • Avoid assignments/discussions that could be upsetting or require personal disclosure of traumatic experiences (e.g., the use of discipline in one’s family, abuse or violence, outing a medical condition, past trauma). Be careful not to police the emotional expression of learners or invalidate their emotions.
  • When possible, allow students to have snacks/drinks in class.
  • Allow breaks for students who need them. Structure built-in breaks for longer classes.

Proactive Intervention

  • Utilize DropGuard to report early alerts about students who are not performing well. This triggers outreach from various staff on campus to try to help the student and develop a success plan. Many academic concerns (such as missing class, low test scores) can be signs of other problems that signal students need help. The early alert system is not punitive in nature and solely designed to help.
  • If you have concerns about a student’s performance or success (for example, missing class), reach out to them personally and offer support. Make individualized referrals to services as needed (such as CSAS, tutoring, counseling) and offer to walk them over and introduce them personally.
  • Offer alternative assignments if a student cannot participate in the assignment if they can meet the essential requirements another way.
  • Create opportunities for interaction about their performance and goals through course activities like individualized check-in meetings and utilizing mid-term grades.
  • Offer to provide a training for CSAS tutors who are tutoring students in your class—sharing your expertise and recommendations can make a tremendous difference.
  • Provide review/practice sessions and study guides.
  • Offer tutoring with you for small groups that may be struggling.