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Designing with equity and access in mind

Flexible courses must be intentionally designed to create learning environments in which all students have equitable access and feel valued and supported as learners. Without such forethought, an increased reliance on online instruction could perpetuate or deepen systemic inequalities in the teaching and learning space. Equitable design takes differences in student background, identity, ability, experiences and other factors into account and explicitly works to provide opportunities for success that are not impacted by these differences.

Below is a brief introduction to key principles and strategies. Follow the links in the headers (or in the left column) for more in-depth information about each category.

1. Make your teaching inclusivePromote a sense of belonging, respect for diversity, and path for successful learning for all students. This involves reflecting on: your course content, teaching practices, and the climate for learning that you create.

2. Support meaningful conversationsCreate space for discussions of topics that might challenge you and your students, like issues connected to identities (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, nationality) or current events (e.g., elections, economic or immigration policies). Some may be connected to course content, whereas others may be a reaction to current events or crises weighing on students’ minds. Create a positive climate for about difficult topics, whether in a live interaction or asynchronous discussion forum (e.g., discussion board, chat channel, email, or voicethread), by setting the stage for such discussions with guidelines for class interactions, building rapport and a sense of community, and facilitating and scaffolding class dialogues.  

3. Design for AccessibilityRemove unncessary barriers to learning so that all individuals have access, by utilizing the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and making sure that all students have access to the technology they need to participate in the course activities. Consider access and the pros and cons of synchronous and asynchronous online teaching methods in your design. Design your course so that it works well with assistive technology and considers all forms of learner diversity, including differences in physical or learning abilities.


Modules on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Teaching and Learning

Interested in learning more? Explore these five, open-access online course modules on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Teaching and Learning developed by colleagues at Queen's University and the University of British Columbia.