Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are fundamental elements of online courses and education because it impacts every aspect of the learning experience for each student. From the way you communicate with your students to the way you develop course content and test their knowledge, it impacts every piece of the educational experience.

This article will show you how to:

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Before we show you how to apply diversity, equity, and inclusion to your online courses, consider these questions:

How are you establishing DEI in your course?

  • Have you created a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement? 
  • Do your students understand how DEI impacts and improves their educational experience?

What’s needed to take your online course? 

  • How much does it cost to purchase the required software and hardware? What if students can’t afford it?

Are you using diverse course content?

  • Are you using references from a diverse range of people, groups, and perspectives?
  • Does the course content adapt to all learning styles?

Is the online course accessible?

  • Does your online course content meet web accessibility compliance standards?
  • Is it structured to allow assistive technology to understand the content?

These questions are just the beginning of designing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive online course.

Applying diversity, equity, and inclusion to online courses 

Inclusive course design includes many strategies – some simple, some complex – to foster a learning environment that provides each student with a sense of belonging and an equal opportunity to achieve their educational goals.

Plan and create diverse and inclusive course content

Course design that acknowledges diversity and inclusion recognizes that all students learn differently and they need flexible ways to show what they know. It’s a well-thought-out approach to teaching that’s creative, adaptable, and engaging. 

This approach to planning and creating course content acknowledges how students learn but also their capacity to learn, disabilities, conditions, preferences, and available resources.

Consider this scenario:

You’re teaching an online course with 20 students and several have one or more of the following conditions:

  • Blind
  • Colorblind
  • Deaf
  • Unable to use a mouse or type on the keyboard

How can you accommodate these students so that they have a fair and inclusive learning experience?

Allow assistive technologies

Some students in your course may need to use assistive technology to engage and interact with your online class content. The assistive technologies should be compatible with all other technologies used in the online classroom such as the LMS, online proctoring, video conferencing, and any other multimedia.

For a student with a visual impairment, a screen reader can be used. A screen reader conveys text and images displayed on the screen into speech or touch (Braille). 

For a student that cannot type or use a mouse, an assistive keyboard and adaptive mouse can be used. These assistive technologies are designed and modified to help students who may have motor function impairments.

Use multimedia to provide alternatives

For students who are deaf, blind, or colorblind, for example, multimedia course content such as audio, video, and images, can help them engage with course content. However, keep accessibility standards in mind. 

All multimedia used in your online class has to meet web accessibility standards and best practices which cover things like:

  • Captioning, subtitles, and transcriptions
  • Alternative-text and descriptions
  • Appropriate color contrast
  • Font sizes and types
  • Organization and structure

Use emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is important for everyone, but particularly for educators and students. 

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence means being aware of your emotions and being able to regulate them while handling and building relationships with empathy, self-awareness, and good judgment.

Can emotional intelligence be taught? 

Many people believe that emotional intelligence is something that you have or don’t have, but like most skills, it takes practice.

“We often think that emotional intelligence is something you have or you don’t have, but the good news is that isn’t necessarily true. It’s a skill that we can develop.”
– Bethany J. Adams, MA, SHRM-SCP, Villanova University Instructor and Associate Director of the Graduate Programs in Human Resource Development

Provide different ways to participate

Make sure that students have different options to participate and engage with your class content and with other students. Whether it’s technology-related, communication methods, or group work, make sure students understand what options are available.

What if students can’t meet the technology requirements?

While most students have a laptop or computer, some don’t have the resources or the ability to purchase them. 

Consider this scenario: your student has a computer but the webcam is broken and they can’t afford to buy one. How can they engage and interact with your class?

 If their webcam is broken, you need to provide them with other options, such as speaking or using the chat during a live lecture.

“Whether it’s being on camera, speaking, using the chat, or just listening in, you want them to have every opportunity to interact in different ways when they’re ready,” said Patrick DeLapp, VA Special Olympics Board Member and Coach

Allow accommodations

Accommodations are a lifeline for many students whether they need to use assistive devices to read, need more time to complete a proctored exam, or have a condition that requires bathroom breaks every ten minutes.

Consider this example of two students taking an online proctored exam on their laptop:

Student 1: their laptop’s webcam broke and they can’t afford to buy a new one.

Student 2: has a condition that requires bathroom breaks every ten minutes.

How can you provide accommodations for these students?

For student 1, you can give the remote proctor instructions to bypass the student not using a webcam and face detection can be turned off. This way, the student can complete the proctored exam without the webcam but other test monitoring features, such as cell phone detection and voice detection, remain in place to protect the exam.

For student 2, you can provide the remote proctor with specific accommodations for the student to allow bathroom breaks every ten minutes or as needed. 

Provide practice tests

Practice tests and other low-stakes exams are beneficial for a variety of reasons such as reducing student test anxiety and getting feedback. 

A recent student survey indicated that one of the main causes of test anxiety was concerns about technology working correctly. If you provide regular practice tests, your students can better understand how the online test platform works and they can prepare accordingly.

Low stakes testing also includes non-graded “tests” which ask for feedback in different forms. Whether it’s a poll question about how they prefer to learn or a written response to reflect on a course topic, it’s a great way for instructors to learn about their students. 

Use anonymous grading

Use anonymous grading, sometimes referred to as blind grading, to remove any potential grading bias. With anonymous grading, a student submits their assignment with no name or identification number. You can accomplish this using most modern LMSs by turning on anonymous grading at the course level. This feature hides  student names during grading and then distributes their scores back to them automatically. Anonymous grading can help build trust with students because they know that it’s fair and equitable.

Provide students with a list of helpful resources

Gather a list of helpful resources that students can use such as tutoring services, writing centers, online libraries, study groups, technical support, and any accessibility offices and contacts. You can provide helpful guides and FAQs about any technology requirements used in your online courses, such as how to use the LMS, setting up the room before an online proctored exam, and minimum system requirements.

Make a connection with your students

Get to know your students and make a connection with them. In doing so, you can help build trust and improve communication.

How do you build this connection? Be human and don’t overthink it. 

Tell them about yourself, your hobbies and interests, or just a funny story from your past that makes you who you are.

Be authentic, relatable, and most of all – human.

Creating a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement for online courses

Create a statement that describes your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion for your online courses and in life.

What is a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement? 

It’s a concise statement that clearly tells your story and explains your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion along with the impact it makes in your online classes. 

How to create a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement

Be clear and concise

Don’t worry about word count – the most important thing is to tell a meaningful story about your mission and purpose.

Describe the impact and importance of DEI

Students have to understand the importance of DEI and the impact it makes on their education. Explain how it creates a fair learning environment and provides different perspectives and opportunities to expand their knowledge.

Discuss your experience and commitment

Speak to your experience with diversity, equity, and inclusion. Regardless of your race, ethnicity, gender, age, or condition, describe your understanding and ongoing commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse educational experience for all students.

Set clear expectations for student behavior

Students need to know what behavior is expected of them and how they play a role in maintaining an inclusive learning environment.

Academic diversity, equity, and inclusion and statement sample

​​I am committed to creating a classroom community that values and respects diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am committed to this effort because these differences inspire compassion, encourage creativity, support students, and create a community of academic rigor that drives success. 

We will all respect each other regardless of any differences such as race, color, age, socioeconomic status, condition, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, and any other way a person identifies. 

We are all part of this ongoing effort to create a diverse, fair, and inclusive learning environment that welcomes all individuals, encourages open, tolerant, and respectful communication, and supports students throughout their educational journey. 

Establishing diversity and inclusion from the beginning

Start from scratch 

Forget your assumptions, acknowledge biases (whether intended or not), and realize that you probably have a lot to learn. 

This self-awareness helps create an inclusive and diverse educational experience for all of your students because it considers all variables – from background and experiences to creating a learning environment that’s inclusive and fair for all students in your online course. 

Embrace mistakes 

You’ll make mistakes but try to look at them as an opportunity to learn and adapt.  

Stay up-to-date

Every course will have different variables that will frequently change. What you created last semester may need to be tweaked and it could even be out of compliance based on previous standards. Stay up-to-date and ahead of changes.

Understand different learning styles

Understanding different learning styles doesn’t mean just acknowledging that some students prefer listening to audio while others prefer reading studies on their laptops. It’s an approach to teaching and learning that considers all variables such as web accessibility, available technology and resources, and different types of content.

When you understand and acknowledge different learning styles, you can plan how to create diverse content and that provides students with different ways to demonstrate their knowledge.

Use diverse sources for course content

When you’re developing your online course, include information from different sources to give students different perspectives, backgrounds, and values. 

Use at least two sources from different backgrounds. This can be selecting sources that are from different genders, races, ethnicities, religions, and even countries. 

Diverse sources also include information from different publications, which helps give different perspectives and contexts. Look for case studies, magazines, books, research studies, news, and interviews to help provide a diverse look at the information.

Use inclusive language

Inclusive language helps create belonging in your online course. Be aware of the language and terms you use and be sensitive to different beliefs, backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences of your students.

Inclusive language is always changing, so make sure you stay up to date with the appropriate terms to use.

Educators can make a difference

Creating online courses that are truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive is an ongoing and complex effort, but the actionable steps outlined in this blog ensure that you’re on the right track. Educators play an invaluable role in creating a learning environment that welcomes all students, levels the playing field, drives communication and connection, and creates a better educational experience.

Submit your email below to download our 5-part DEI eBook
The eBook covers everything you need to know about establishing and using diversity, equity, and inclusion in your online classes.

Part 1: Addressing the need for DEI in online education

Part 2: Strategies to develop diverse, equitable, and inclusive online courses

Part 3: How to create accessible online courses (with real examples)

Part 4: Tips to improve your connection with students in an online learning environment

Part 5: How to use educational technology to create a fair testing environment