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Thoughts and Experiences with Inclusive Teaching and Learning Online
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In Spring 2020, we asked the CTL’s Undergraduate Teaching and Learning Consultants (part of the Students as Pedagogical Partners initiative) to share with us their thoughts and experiences with inclusive teaching and learning online. Here is what they wrote. 


Firstly, we asked the students to articulate what inclusive teaching and learning online means to them. Themes that surfaced included access, equity, success, awareness, and belonging. 

Inclusive teaching and learning means …

“… making sure every student has equal access, and when equality is impossible, reaching out to students and professors and making reasonable accommodations or arrangements.” – Donian Chyong, Columbia College

“… creating a variety of ways in which students can access and complete learning materials and assignments. When we’re all working from different time zones and with different resources and expectations in our day-to-day life, having options (at what time during the day we’ll be viewing lecture or recordings, what assignments we can complete and having variety in those to demonstrate our learning, etc.) is inclusive and allows us ways to continue learning and succeeding throughout the semester. Inclusive teaching is important because it allows all of us to succeed this semester with the varying resources and concerns we have and gives us multiple opportunities to demonstrate our learning.” – Jennifer Lee, Columbia College

“… giving every individual the best opportunity to demonstrate their abilities as best as they can. Therefore, it comes down to the opportunities for success that students are afforded. The most obvious way to give every student (with their diverse backgrounds and circumstances) their best opportunity, is to offer optionality. This could include professors offering a variety of final exam options (e.g. take-home final vs. 3 exam vs. research project.) Another way to increase opportunities is to ensure that every student is in an environment conducive to success. A healthy environment can be crafted through actions ranging from balancing power with students to offering sufficient group representation in the class.” – Kalisa Ndamage, SEAS

“… ensuring that the different identities that are brought into the shared space–be it physical or virtual– are respected, addressed, incorporated, and celebrated. It focuses on facilitating the space needed for learning to be multi-dimensional, intentional, and critical. Inclusive teaching makes students feel seen and heard and allows them to think more critically about their interactions with each other and with faculty. It has multiple focus areas, including accessibility, bias awareness, and incorporating marginalized and underrepresented voices in conversations and curricula.” – Haya Ghandour, SEAS

“Being proactive about identifying barriers that students face in online learning. This includes being conscious of both socio-cultural barriers (such as those related to race, gender, ability, lived experience, identity) and material barriers (such as those related to internet access, access to quiet space, access to a device, etc…). By practicing awareness of these barriers, professors can take action to reduce them and/or accommodate the needs of students who are disadvantaged by certain aspects of online classes.” – Mae Butler, Columbia College. 


Secondly, we asked the students to share their experiences with inclusive teaching and learning online so far this semester. The main theme that emerged is flexibility – in how students learn and demonstrate their learning through course assessments.

Accessibility has been at the forefront of my experiences with inclusive online learning. Since I am seven hours ahead of NYC, it has been a challenge making time for some of my classes. However, university policy and faculty members have been allowing for alternative and creative methods of accommodating students, be it through recording lectures or surveying the classroom to see what alternatives suit different students. Also, I’ve had the experience with faculty who have been trying to adopt people’s varying situations into the classroom experience, such as my architecture class shifting the final project to allow for people’s focus to be their own domestic settings instead of the initial plan. Overall, I think online learning has allowed for more discussions as to the wide variety of resources we have at hand that allow for more accessible and inclusive teaching to happen, which is definitively an upside to the current situation.” – Haya Ghandour, SEAS

“I have a really difficult time focusing when I spend a lot of time reading and writing on the computer. As such, my professor is allowing me to hand in reflections on the readings in audio clips instead of paragraph form. I also have a hard time sitting still in front of my computer for long periods of time so some of my professors allow me to get up and move around during classes. Similarly, a few of my professors have allowed me to engage in repetitive tasks with my hands like knitting or doodling that don’t distract me but allow me to channel some of my energy into a physical activity during classes.” – Mae Butler, Columbia College. 

Both that different professors are approaching this differently and that it means different things than when we met in-person. For example, something someone mentioned in one of my classes the other day was asking our professor if we can handwrite an assignment and upload a photo of it instead of typing it up, because suddenly 12 hours in-class in-person has become 12 more hours online a week, and so even just having to type out all our assignments on top of that is frustrating and exhausting. I get that it might make it more of a pain to grade, but for me, allowing something like that feels like inclusive teaching in a way that I never would have considered before the move to online-teaching. Some professors have changed the weight of assignments which can be frustrating (I have a class where homework that was supposed to be 20% of our grade suddenly got bumped up to 45% of our grade), but at the same time they made some other assignments/exams optional (ie can replace another assignment if we did badly on it) which is really nice in how it allows us multiple attempts to demonstrate our competence in the material and acknowledges that in this environment, for example, taking tests might be a new/added burden (because of not having a quiet space in the house, uncertain internet connection, etc).” – Jennifer Lee, Columbia College

“Some professors have allowed us to view lecture videos at our own convenience which has made navigating new schedules easier. Some professors have offered the option of a research project instead of a final exam given the challenges that may come with a 3-hour timed exam online. Some professors have made all deadlines for the end of the semester, giving students more control over their own coursework which I personally appreciate but others may not. Outside of an online context, I’ve had a professor who very consistently both includes diverse voices present in coursework as well as addressed the lack of diverse voices whenever that arose.” – Kalisa Ndamage, SEAS

“I have had professors make reasonable extensions for homeworks and assessments and even give me a personal extension on an assignment because of a personal reason. I thank them for their flexibility and their understanding, and I hope students continue trying their best throughout the semester because certainly the professors are already.” – Donian Chyong, Columbia College.