It’s not surprising that most higher education articles published since March 2020 begin by calling to mind that year’s unprecedented move to remote instruction and online learning—and with good reason. The world changed rapidly, and students and instructors adopted new tools and methods to pivot to online instruction virtually, and sometimes literally, overnight. As teaching communities settled into a “new normal,” instructors were tasked with the challenging job of navigating new teaching modalities while maintaining their standards of excellence—and commitments to inclusion.
Inclusive teaching is a foundational element for us at the Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning, and as we worked with thousands of instructors to prepare for online or hybrid courses over the last year, we centered inclusion, diversity, equity, and belonging in all of our programs and resources. We would like to highlight how these “Teaching Online” open resources—like “Inclusive Teaching Online”—can help instructors translate inclusive teaching practices to online settings.
In this work, we partnered with our Students as Pedagogical Partners cohort, a group of undergraduates who work with us and the Columbia teaching community as student consultants, to create resources that not only draw on educational development research but also the student experiences of online learning. In May 2020, we interviewed a cohort of student consultants in our “Dead Ideas in Teaching and Learning” podcast and asked them about their experiences in the move to online learning.
While the conversation was not explicitly about inclusive teaching, their reflections kept returning to inclusive pedagogy themes. We have included some of these student responses below to help illuminate three enduring practices we hope instructors and students will carry forward into the future of teaching and learning: helping students address digital inequities; building an inclusive community among learners; and designing course elements for accessibility.
Helping Students Address Digital Inequities
Student access to on-campus resources such as computer labs and the internet will likely continue to be limited for the foreseeable future, so many learners will rely on personal devices and at-home internet access. As instructors gear up for a continuation of online and hybrid or socially distanced teaching, some questions to consider might include: Do students have personal computers to use? Are those devices capable of running the necessary educational technology tools and platforms needed in your classes? And, finally, do students have access to a reliable internet connection to join lectures remotely or complete work online? While there are certainly institutional interventions to address digital inequity among students, we also recommend interventions at the course level.
Communicate with students early and often.
As soon as you’re able to survey students enrolled in your class, check in with your learners about their concerns, needs, and preferences for online learning. Their responses can inform your approach going forward, and having information from them will help you to be mindful of students’ personal situations and barriers to their learning.