Humanize online learning - promote a sense of inclusion and equity in your remote classes

September 29, 2020 | Claudia Stanny

Humanize online learning - promote a sense of inclusion and equity in your remote classes

Over and again, students and faculty voice their sense of loss for the social side of learning in the college experience. This tip offers advice for building and sustaining a community that is both inclusive and equitable, welcoming all students to the table. Raygoza, León, and Norris (2020) offer several practical suggestions that help establish and support an inclusive and equitable sense of community in webinar-based synchronous class sessions. These strategies can be adapted for eLearning and traditional face-to-face class meetings.

Establish norms for community
Set some ground rules for class interactions. Ideally, instructors discuss expectations for class norms on their syllabus and during the first week of classes. A discussion about norms for class interactions before embarking on discussion of sensitive topics is useful, either to remind students of norms established at the start of class or to establish ground rules for the upcoming discussion. Although an instructor can establish the examples of norms (below) unilaterally (e.g., through a syllabus statement), you will get better cooperation if you invite students to co-create norms for class discussions. 

Examples of community norms for class discussions

  • Students should be present and engaged. Come to class prepared to make contributions to discussions.
  • Classroom presence includes minimizing distractions and multitasking during a class meeting (driving, eating, talking with people in your environment who are not in the session). If an emergency arises that requires your attention, make sure you are muted.
  • Listen to every speaker. Student contributions are as important as instructor comments in these discussions.
  • One microphone open at a time. Mute your mic when you are not speaking. Avoid interrupting a current speaker.
  • Make space for others to speak. Participate but don’t monopolize; ensure that all voices are heard.
  • Be open to learning. Learn to be uncomfortable with some topics or with beginning skills in new areas of learning.
  • Use the rename function in Zoom to clearly identify your preferred way of being addressed (nicknames, preferred pronouns). Respect and use the preferred names of your classmates.
  • Start and end each session on time.

Check in on community status regularly
From time-to-time, use a few minutes at the beginning of class to check in on how students are doing. In a face-to-face class, you might have done this by noting students’ body language as you begin class. In the virtual world, you must be more intentional and ask a direct question. You can use a polling feature (posting an emoji in chat, thumbs-up or other hand gestures in video feeds) to get a quick response. Create space in the chat thread for students to share announcements or celebrate an achievement at the start of class. Use the chat or visual gestures in video to say goodbye at the close of class and share appreciation for contributions and the work accomplished. If you open the class session 10 minutes before the official start time, you can chat with students who arrive early, as you might do in your face-to-face classes. This is an opportunity to meet students informally and get to know each other.

Use predictable routines and “rituals” to support and maintain a sense of a common shared space.
Synchronous web-based meetings can develop their own routines and rituals that help define the space as a shared community. These routines might include

  • An outline or agenda for the topics for the meeting
  • Opening greetings (like the check-in described above)
  • Closing rituals (e.g., mini-reflections on the discussion in chat as the session closes, farewells)

Ensure that activities are inclusive and equally accessible to all students.
Ensure that your materials are accessible. Pay attention to sound quality. Consider limitations created by some visual formats. Use closed captioning if possible. Zoom has a surprisingly good on-the-fly closed captioning function for presenters. Try to use technology that imposes the least demand on bandwidth. Not all students have equal access to high speed internet connections. Pay attention to who is participating and consider strategies to encourage all students to engage and contribute.

New strategies and new technologies seldom work perfectly. Be flexible and forgiving.
Put perfectionism on the back burner. We are all trying a variety of new approaches to teaching and learning to adjust to unprecedented challenges. Forgive the inevitable mishaps and learn from experience. Use this as an opportunity to model a growth mindset, which emphasizes the value of learning from feedback.



Raygoza, M., León, R., & Norris, A. (2020). Humanizing online teaching. 

09/15/2020 ajc