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Queen's University

Centre for Teaching and Learning

Exploring Inclusive Teaching

The Queen’s Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is committed to ensuring that our support of faculty, graduate students, and students is one that is inclusive. By inclusive we suggest that our approach to working with the wider university community, and beyond, is one that recognizes that individual identities and social locations inform how faculty and students experience the university.

Equity and Diversity in Higher Education offers a wealth of information that is designed to assist faculty and students in developing practices that recognize the complexities inherent in any teaching context. This recognition must ultimately lead to inclusive teaching pedagogies and practices. Educational equity refers to the various ways in which higher education may pose barriers to equity seeking groups. Such areas include:
     a) access to higher education itself
     b) curriculum & instructional materials and practices
     c) assessment and evaluation materials and practices
     d) campus culture and environment

Educational equity is best developed through cross-cultural teaching, intercultural education, anti-racist education, feminist perspectives, and teaching that recognizes Aboriginal world views. It is also achieved by ensuring that any accessibility issues that students may have, are met. The CTL is committed to assisting faculty and students who seek support in creating teaching spaces that recognize that “one size does not fit all”.

However, the concept of equity goes beyond equal treatment (where everyone is treated the same) to fostering a barrier-free environment where individuals benefit equally. It recognizes that some people or groups of people may require additional and/or unique approaches in order to achieve equal access to opportunity and benefit.

A Look at Inclusive Teaching

When we speak about teaching inclusively, what exactly do we mean? Most importantly, what does inclusive teaching look like to a course instructor or a teaching assistant (TA)? What might an inclusive classroom space on a university campus feel like to a student who may be marginalized because of her/his social location? What might this same space look and feel like to a student raised with Indigenous ways of knowing?

How might an international student who is new to Canada experience your classroom? How about a First Generation student may be the first in their families to attend university? Creating an inclusive classroom space may pose a challenge to instructors and TAs who are concerned about creating a classroom climate that enables each student to perform her/his best instead of one that privileges some student simply because of their identities or their preferred learning styles.

What is Inclusive Course Design?

It is important to state here then that creating an inclusive classroom is ultimately about ensuring that one’s pedagogy is designed with equity principles in mind. A course that is designed with principles of equity and diversity in mind ensures that such issues are built into all aspects of one’s practice. Further, it is important to note that classroom spaces that are inclusive are spaces where course instructors are utilizing the best practices of a learner centred approach to teaching. Such an approach places the learner at the centre. When the learner becomes the foci of instruction, the instructor’s role is to meet the needs of all learners, even when such learners with respect to race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, ability and on.

Benefits of Inclusive Instruction

There are a wealth of benefits to approaching teaching in an inclusive fashion. Such benefits include:

  • improving one’s teaching practice through the cultivation of respect for diverse learning styles
  • enhancing the development of self-awareness, critical thinking, dialogue skills, and empathy among students (Ouellett, & Sorcinelli, 1998)
  • enabling instructors to respond to students from multiple social identities, given the changing nature of campus classrooms
  • contributing to student retention

Challenges to Teaching Inclusively

Teaching inclusively at the university level may pose a few challenges for instructors and TAs. Such challenges include:
• a lack of experience with issues of equity and diversity
• unacknowledged biases toward marginalized students
• being unsure about how to begin to incorporate such issues into one’s teaching practice (Ouellett, & Sorcinelli, 1998)
• campus climate where issues of equity and diversity may be viewed as “politically correct” (Ouellett, & Sorcinelli, 1998)
• a research literature in critical education that focuses heavily on students as opposed to faculty, education developers, and graduate students (Ouellett, & Sorcinelli, 1998)
• instructor fear of effectively managing classroom discussion about diversity
• issues of diversity can be sensitive topics for entire institutions (Ouellett, & Sorcinelli, 1998)

Critical Self-Reflection for Course Instructors

When we self reflect on our practices, we are paying attention to the ways in which what we do as course instructors affects the learning outcomes of students. Gay and Kirkland (2003) describe critical self-reflection for working with marginalized students as “thoroughly analyzing and carefully monitoring both personal beliefs and instructional behaviors about the value of cultural diversity, and the best ways to teach ethnically different students for maximum positive effects” (p. 182). Critical self-reflection is an ongoing process that involves analytical introspection, the continuous reconstruction of knowledge, and the transformation of beliefs and skills. Integrating principles of equity and diversity into ones practice cannot be accomplished if instructors do not consciously reflect upon what they teach, how they teach, and the perspective(s) that they represent in their teaching. Critical questions that instructors might ask themselves as they plan a course or before they interact with a new group of students include:

• How do I feel about teaching a diverse group of students, some of whom  may have vastly different socio-cultural experiences than my own?
• What is the perspective of the course content that I am offering? Do other perspectives exist that I have not considered? 
• Do my students perceive me as treating everyone with respect? 

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