Documentation:Inclusive Teaching/Inclusive Syllabus
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This resource is part of a series of resources on inclusive teaching created at UBC in collaboration by the Student Diversity Initiative and the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology.
What is it?
An inclusive syllabus emphasizes the importance of engaging with and valuing diversity. It acknowledges the diversity of learners - including their learning preferences, accessibility needs, identities, perspectives, and lived experiences - and recognize that diversity enriches the collective learning experiences. This commitment to inclusion might be communicated explicitly through a inclusion statement as well as implicitly through the choices that you make about the course's policies, readings and assignments, the resources you share, or the way you frame the course.
Having an inclusive syllabus is one of the first steps in creating an inclusive learning environments where all students are supported to succeed, especially for those who have historically been less visible or valued in higher education. An inclusive syllabus can take different forms depending on your goals. (examples)
Why is it important?
Your syllabus is the product of your thoughtful course design and it has the potential to represent who you are as an instructor and what sort of learning environment you intend to create with your class. The policies you choose to include in your syllabus and the way you frame them, reflects your values and conveys to learners how you see them as contributors and citizens in your learning environment. It sets the tone for your class. As such, it can play a key role in creating an inclusive learning environment by signalling to students that they belong and that you are working towards creating an inclusive environment to support their diverse learning needs and future aspirations.
We are learning from research that “students who are confident they belong and are valued by their teachers and peers are able to engage more fully in learning” Mindset Scholars Network, 2015.
What are some unique features of an inclusive syllabus?
At UBC, the Senate offers some guidance on key elements to include in a syllabus. While this general template may provide some structures to communicate important course information, it can feel rigid, contract-like, and lacking human connection (Bart, 2015).
An inclusive syllabus can help foster relationships, create a sense of belonging, and support student success. This document can help convey your genuine care for the every student’s well-being and academic success. You can model respectful behaviour through the use of inclusive language and thoughtful diction, acknowledging that the classroom (whether that is online, in person, or both) is a shared learning space governed and shaped by all involved.
The syllabus may also explore how course content and learning activities may be aligned with their current interests and/or diverse future aspirations.
How do I write an inclusive syllabus?
There is no one way to write an inclusive syllabus. The process may involve some thoughtful reflection to surface unexamined assumptions and biases, as well as to explore boundaries of your role (e.g., in developing policies). Here are some questions that may help guide your process as you (re)design your syllabus: (need to adapt from )
Course Content and Design
- Why do I select the content I do?
- What assumptions have I made about the learners in my class?
- Do I use examples and readings that are representative of a diversity of students and experiences?
- Do I encourage and present alternative perspectives?
- Are there alternative or better ways to evaluate student work?
- Are there opportunities for students to provide feedback on how they are experiencing the course and learning environment?
- Are these the best teaching strategies for this course and a diverse student population?
- Does my syllabus recognize the contributions of people who have been historically less visible in my field/discipline?
- Do I have a explicit statements on my course syllabus about diversity, disability, or the Indigenous community whose land the university sits on?
- How have I integrated diversity into the course?
- Does my syllabus signal to students that diverse perspectives are welcomed; that accommodations can be made; and that acts of intolerance and disrespect will not be permitted?
We encourage you to consider the use of explicit statements around inclusivity, equity, and diversity. You may wish to share your rationale and articulate the implications for acknowledging the land that the university sits on, explaining the importance of inclusive learning environments, providing information about accommodations available to students, or highlighting other relevant topics in order to foster a learning environment where differences are respected and valued, and power differentials are recognized. You can find many examples online, although these statements are often most meaningful when written in a way that integrates them into the framework and context of for your course. Lastly, always remember the age-old adage: action speaks louder than words. An inclusive syllabus alone will not create an inclusive learning behaviour - you will have to practice it (link to other Inclusive Teaching Resources)!
- Sample Syllabi
- Inclusive Teaching: University of Michigan (generally a very well designed site with easy to access resources and information on a variety of aspects of Inclusive Teaching - including syllabus design)
- Syllabus Construction: Vanderbilt University
- A Learner-Centered Syllabus Helps Set the Tone for Learning - Mary Bart - Faculty Focus (2015)
- Inclusive Syllabus Language: University of Michigan (thoughtful approach at providing example language that personalizes the intent and varies from the "boilerplate language" of a department or program).
- #inclusivesyllabus: A summary of Twitter conversations
- Include readings by, about, and for women: A blog post focused on gender inclusion in syllabi
- A Tumblr on People of Colour in European Art History: A resource for the idea that there isn't diversity in the cannon of certain disciplines or time periods
- Inclusion By Design: Survey Your Syllabus and Course Design - A Worksheet - James Madison University
- A Learner-Centered Syllabus Helps Set the Tone for Learning (Faculty Focus Blog Post)
- Steps Toward a Big Idea Syllabus (Post by Dr. Michael Wesch)
- Links for Syllabus Design from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan
- Course Syllabus Checklist, McMaster University
- Constructing a Syllabus Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, Brown University
- Syllabus Development Guide Center for Teaching and Learning,University of North Carolina
- Writing a syllabus - The IDEA Center Publications
- Riviere, J. (2014) Syllabus Design Guide. Retrieved November 23rd from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/syllabus-design/
- Center for Urban Education. (2020). Equity-minded inquiry series: Syllabus Review. Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California.
- My Teaching Notebook - Steps Toward a Big Idea Syllabus: Michael Wesch - early thinking in the development of a syllabus
- Hacking, Remixing Design - Davidson College - Mark Sample - example of a start on an inclusive syllabus.
When re-using this resource, please attribute as follows: Developed by Deb Chen, Manuel Dias, Hélène Frohard-Dourlent, Sue Hampton, and Cindy Underhill at Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology.