This article reflects on inclusive and accessible teaching. For more on inclusive pedagogy at UChicago, consider registering for the upcoming workshop “Teaching Inclusively,” to be held via Zoom on 12 October 2021, from 10:00-11:15am.
In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (“The Semester of Magical Thinking”) that explores the uncertain and at times chaotic return to in-person instruction at a variety of North American college and university campuses, Celia P. Lloyd, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at the City University of New York, sums up the work of staff, faculty, graduate instructors, and undergraduate peer leaders: “We’re building a bridge as we cross it.” Lloyd’s metaphor is apt in more ways than one: not only are staff and instructors seeking to build a bridge between largely remote and largely face-to-face instruction (and, more wishfully, between the COVID-19 pandemic and a time after this ongoing crisis), but further and more foundationally between students who have been differently impacted by the previous eighteen months of upheaval. As Sarah Brown has recently observed, students and university community members are returning to campus after experiencing considerable trauma and in a time of ongoing crisis, and it is imperative that we collectively adapt our pedagogical practices and teaching methods in order to reach and support them.
In this blog post, we will engage a variety of resources, tools, and frameworks for inclusive and accessible teaching in a time of crisis, drawing upon the work of scholars and leaders at UChicago and beyond and assembling a toolkit that will serve us across the rapidly changing 2021-22 academic year. In so doing, we will consider approaches to inclusive pedagogy, which designates “the ways that courses, classroom activities, curricula, and assessments consider issues of diversity in an effort to engage all students in learning that is meaningful, relevant, and accessible,” together with approaches to accessible teaching that make learning experiences and environments inclusive to all learners, including learners with disabilities.
I. Inclusion as Mindset and Practice
Viji Sathy and Kelly A. Hogan, faculty members at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, propose three principles of inclusive teaching, which they elaborate in a recent Guide (“How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive: Advice Guide”):
- Inclusive teaching is a mind-set.
- The more structure, the better for all students.
- Too little structure leaves too many students behind.
Above all, Sathy and Hogan advocate a twofold approach to inclusive and accessible instruction: as a mindset and as a practice.
Committing to Inclusion
Framing inclusion as a commitment and mindset – a foundational and broad principle to which an instructor holds herself responsible – entails approaching inclusive teaching as a dynamic and ever-unfinished process. Rather than thinking of inclusion or accessibility as something that can be addressed with a static checklist applied to any teaching context, or as an after-the-fact consideration to be taken up only when the instructor encounters the accommodation requests or access needs of a particular student, inclusive teaching as a mindset demands that instructors challenge themselves throughout the process of designing and teaching courses to consider who they might be missing. Such a dynamic approach to pedagogical design and practice proceeds in step with the principle of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which calls for instructors “to design courses that address the needs of diverse learners from the start so that all students may benefit.”
Putting these principles and commitments into practice often requires us to imagine multiple instructional pathways forward – something that teachers and instructors across all institutional contexts and student populations (from pre-K to postgraduate) took on in the spring of 2020. Bringing this resilient creativity and flexibility forward can help us to make our teaching practices collectively more inclusive: much as we might build flexibility and rigor into a future course by developing forms of participation and engagement that do not rely upon the in-person attendance of every course member, we can make space for more engaged and inclusive discussions, and more challenging and accessible assignments, by proactively designing multiple ways forward.
Strategizing for Inclusion
Even though a checklist of discrete steps is not adequate to the task of making a learning environment or course accessible, there are many ways we can continuously – and collaboratively – develop our toolkits with strategies that target increasingly accessible and inclusive teaching. Sathy and Hogan propose a questioning mode of self-reflection as an important and versatile instrument for this kit, suggesting: “For every teaching decision you make, ask yourself, ‘Who is being left out as a result of this approach?’” Consider brainstorming similar questions you might return to in the context of preparing an assessment or facilitating an engagement activity. These might reflect upon your use of digital tools (What technological resources am I assuming my students already possess or can access? What assumptions have I made about the accessibility of the tools I am asking my students to use?) and help you to elaborate soft skills, expectations, and hidden curricula that are foundational to the activities and assessments you share with your students.
As we begin to answer the questions we set ourselves in the context of a specific teaching scenario, we can begin to create structures that address the assumptions and sites of difficulty we identify. As Sathy and Hogan urge in their second principle of inclusive teaching, more structure – and more transparently articulated structure – is better for all students, for, without it, “you leave it up to chance whether your goals are accomplished.”
II. Inclusion in Your Classroom
A question that frequently comes up for Sathy and Hogan in their scholarship and instruction on inclusive teaching asks about relevance: “I don’t teach about diversity. What does diversity have to do with my course, and why should I care?” A commitment to inclusive teaching, the two reply, encompasses both the curricular materials and assessments and the foundational teaching methods of any given course. Realizing this commitment might look different across disciplines and fields (or between introductory lectures and specialist seminars), but inclusion and accessibility remain equally urgent across contexts, as all student populations are diverse. Numerous resources at the University of Chicago are available to support more inclusive and accessible teaching, whatever your discipline, instructional context, or technological or pedagogical goals.
Accessibility Resources at UChicago
- “Accommodating Students with Disabilities,” Chicago Center for Teaching. This guide outlines how instructors can support students with disabilities (whether or not students receive accommodations through Student Disability Services), articulate and maintain a commitment to accessibility on their syllabus and in their teaching, and work to make their teaching more inclusive of neurodiverse experiences and perspectives.
- Student Disability Services (SDS). Students can contact SDS to begin the accommodations process and seek out on-campus and citywide resources. Instructors can access guidelines, suggestions for accessible teaching design, and effective practices for supporting students with disabilities.
- Center for Digital Accessibility (CDA). The CDA supports digital accessibility at UChicago, offers trainings for staff and instructors, and maintains guidelines and guides for content creators and web developers.
- “Accessibility in Teaching: Effective Practices,” CDA and Academic Technology Solutions. This 60-minute workshop provides an introduction to the accessibility features of a variety of teaching technologies. Registration for November and December sessions is open.
- “Information for Patrons with Disabilities,” University of Chicago Library. The UChicago Library maintains an up-to-date guide to accessible library spaces, assistive technology resources, patron assistance services and accommodations practices, and building-specific accessibility contacts.
Inclusive Teaching at UChicago
- Inclusive Pedagogy website. Launched in 2020 as a collaboration between staff at the Chicago Center for Teaching and leaders in the University’s Diversity & Inclusion Initiative, this website brings together resources, research, and actionable advice for bolstering accessibility and inclusion at all stages of pedagogical design and instruction.
- “Creating Inclusive and Accessible Learning Environments” training, Chicago Center for Teaching. This 40-minute training focuses on identifying student challenges and creating an inclusive and accessible learning environment in the specific context of remote and blended synchronous instruction under circumstances of collective upheaval and trauma.
- “Teaching and Learning during Tense Moments,” Chicago Center for Teaching. This concise guide offers a framework and set of actionable steps for teaching under emergency circumstances of heightened anxiety and stress.
- Upcoming workshop: “Teaching Inclusively.” Led by Dr. Cheryl Richardson (Adler Univ.).
Remote and Blended Instruction at UChicago
- “Considerations for Inclusive Teaching in Remote Environments.” Chicago Center for Teaching & Office of the Provost, September 2020. This 7-page guide offers background on and suggestions for addressing challenges of inclusion in the specific instructional context of remote or partially remote teaching.
- “Underrepresented College Students’ Transition to Remote Learning: A Qualitative Study.” Directed by Office of the Provost, Summer/Fall 2020. This 19-page report presents and analyzes a qualitative study of underrepresented students’ experience of the transition to remote learning in Spring 2020.
Adedoyin, Oyin, et al. “The Semester of Magical Thinking.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 30 August 2021, www.chronicle.com/article/the-semester-of-magical-thinking. Accessed 4 October 2021.
Bowen, José Antonio. “Is Your Math Course Racist?” Inside Higher Ed, 15 September 2021, www.insidehighered.com/advice/2021/09/15/how-stem-instructors-can-build-more-inclusive-classrooms-opinion. Accessed 4 October 2021.
Brown, Sarah. “A ‘Trauma Informed’ Return to Campus.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 July 2021, www.chronicle.com/article/a-trauma-informed-return-to-campus. Accessed 4 October 2021.
Cornbleth, Catherine. “Beyond Hidden Curriculum?” Journal of Curriculum Studies, vol. 16, no. 1 (1984): pp. 29-36. DOI: 10.1080/0022027840160105.
Inclusive Pedagogy [website]. University of Chicago Office of the Provost & Chicago Center for Teaching, 2020, inclusivepedagogy.uchicago.edu/. Accessed 4 October 2021.
Sathy, Viji, and Kelly A. Hogan. “How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive: Advice Guide.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 2019, www.chronicle.com/article/how-to-make-your-teaching-more-inclusive/. Accessed 4 October 2021.
“Teaching the Hidden Curriculum: Inclusive Teaching Guides & Tips.” Boston University Writing Program, 2019, www.bu.edu/teaching-writing/resources/teaching-the-hidden-curriculum/. Accessed 4 October 2021.
Thurber, Amie, and Joe Bandy. “Creating Accessible Learning Environments.” Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, 2018, cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/creating-accessible-learning-environments/. Accessed 4 October 2021.
Center for Digital Accessibility, Accessibility and Inclusion Jigsaw, UChicago.
Viktor Forgacs, Open, Unsplash, 2020.
The Noun Project, Web Accessibility icon.