Designing online courses for equity and inclusion

An upcoming course offering by the Center for Teaching and Learning addresses two issues that have received great attention during the past year — online learning and equity.

Lindsay Onufer, a teaching consultant at the center, will lead the workshop on Online Course Design and Teaching for Equity and Inclusion from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 17. For those who can’t make it to the workshop, Onufer offers some suggestions below.


When it comes to creating and teaching online courses equitably, the goals are to establish a learning environment that not only provides all students in the course with equal opportunities to participate in learning, but also to give all students the resources and support they may need to succeed in the course. Inherent in this idea is the acknowledgement that historically, underrepresented and minoritized students have not been given equitable learning experiences in online courses. 

To do this, instructors can begin with self-reflection. They can evaluate their existing courses and ask: 

  • Who is heard, represented and included in my courses?

  • How do I provide support to all students in my diverse classes?

  • How do my identities inform the way that I teach? For instance, what assumptions may I have made about my students’ backgrounds, knowledge, and skills?

From there, there are many steps that an instructor might take to design and teaching more equitably, including:

  • Adding equity, diversity and inclusion and gender inclusive language syllabus statements to convey that they value equity and inclusion. Examples of this type of language are available on the Teaching Center’s syllabus checklist

  • Revising course materials to better reflect the diversity of scholars and perspectives in their field. 

  • Making updates to increase digital accessibility

  • Using principles of Universal Design for Learning, such as giving students varied opportunities to engage in and express learning. For example, instead of only introducing a concept using a course reading, they also may provide a visual, then ask students to discuss the concept with a peer. 

  • Incorporating opportunities for students to exercise agency and choice. This could mean using a learning activity that allows students to draw from their knowledge or experience, an assessment that gives students the choice between writing an essay or preparing a research poster, and more. 

  • Ensuring that communication is clear, consistent and equitable by establishing expectations for instructor/student communication and guidelines for class communication. 

  • Soliciting feedback from students throughout the semester in order to make improvements.  

These are just a few examples. Teaching equitably must be a continuous, iterative process. 

Instructors who are unable to attend the workshop will be able to view a recording of it on the Teaching Center’s Panopto channel in late February. They also can contact the Teaching Center at if they would like to work with a teaching consultant to revise their courses. 

— Lindsey Onufer