By Romeo Penheiro, Teaching Assistant, Department of Cognitive Science

The scholarship of teaching and learning requires a good understanding of inclusive online learning practices to accommodate students from marginalized backgrounds. Instructors and teaching assistants can improve their teaching skills and practices by creating equal opportunity of pathways to success for students, intentionally facilitating collaborative work among them, and being mindful of the biases that such students may face (Lin & Kennette, 2022).

Inclusive online learning practices are important because it is likely that students of marginalized backgrounds may experience disengagement in an academic setting which may lead to underperformance (Nagasawa & Wong, 1999). In addition, this may be exacerbated in an online learning environment where there is a lesser sense of belonging, validation and connection with their peers and/or instructors (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). For instance, students who identify as a member of a marginalized sexual orientation and gender identity may experience disengagement during remote learning when they are in a non-affirming home (Aragon et al., 2014). Thus, instructors and teaching assistants can incorporate universal design of inclusive learning that can elevate the academic success of diverse students (CAST, 2018).

Make pathways of success

Whenever possible, instructors can consistently give positive feedback on student work and in response to student comments during in-person/online discussions to increase self-efficacy and combat the negative effects of prejudice. The use of grading rubrics to assess assignments will consistently maintain objectivity when evaluating student work to subvert biases (Malouff & Thorsteinsson, 2016). Furthermore, the use of a grading rubric enhances transparency in the grading process, which is appreciated by all students (Quinn, 2021).

In an online environment, where instructors are more heavily utilizing technology as teaching tools, polls can be used to engage with students by giving them the opportunity to express their reactions to subject matter (Lin & Kennette, 2022). By amplifying the voices of those who are underrepresented in society and sharing the group’s reactions in real time, students may have a greater appreciation of diverse perspectives, thereby further instilling a sense of community in a remote environment (Lin & Kennette, 2022).

Facilitate collaborative student work

Instructors can assign members to groups instead of asking students to form groups for themselves so that the students may have the opportunity to work with new individuals each time there is group work. This form of jigsaw classroom has indeed been shown to increase empathy, reduce racial prejudice, reduce intergroup hostility, and improve academic performance, especially for students of underrepresented backgrounds (Aronson & Bridgeman, 1979; Walker & Crogan, 1998).

Although it may be more challenging to implement group work and group discussions in a remote format, online management tools can facilitate this process. For instance, Brightspace allows the course instructor to create group pages so that students can share work and start group discussions. Also, Zoom utilizes breakout rooms where participants can form small groups to engage in discussions and collaborative efforts that can be overseen by teaching assistants. In addition, collaborative note-taking during each class through Google Docs (Patson, 2021), or cooperative assignment completion through Jupyter Lab and Jupyter notebook will allow students to contemporaneously assist one another to meet course deliverables.

Be sensitive to the biases that students may face

Research in social psychology has shown that improved communication between group members and across different social groups facilitates cooperation, strengthens group cohesion (Bornstein et al., 1989; Bouas & Komorita, 1996). Thus, this increases trust and encourages individuals to adhere to group norms by setting them at the beginning of the interactions (Pruitt, 1998). Therefore, it may facilitate advocacy by students who are relatively more privileged for those who are not (Liss et al., 2019). Also, the instructor may consider using an online reporting system so that students can anonymously notify the instructor of discriminatory incidents committed by other students.

It is important for faculties to reinstate the message that diversity is valued by adopting inclusive learning practices, especially in online situations where tête-à-tête meetings are infrequent. Faculties need to provide paths to success for underprivileged students, facilitate collaboration between students, and be sensitive to the various biases that these students are more likely to encounter to send the message that differences in background are appreciated and valued (Lin & Kennette, 2022).