Inclusivity in the Classroom

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Inclusivity in the Classroom

Inclusivity in the Classroom

Black female student working a robot with a computer displaying code in the backgroundThe first 48 minutes the professor spoke only in Telefolmin, a language from a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea, says Jay Loftus, curriculum development specialist who shared the story of his own experience as an undergraduate student listening to a lecture on defining culture from a professor of Anthropology. “He wouldn’t respond to questions in English, and he ignored pleas from the class to ‘explain’ what he was doing. He drew pictures on the board to try to explain things to the puzzled audience and pointed at people and objects to help us make sense of what was going on. During the last minute of the class, the professor said something to the effect that it must be disturbing not knowing the language or the culture of your surroundings.”

Such an experience is an almost perfect inversion of the inclusivity practices MSU faculty strive for. MSU’s inclusion ideal is wide-ranging; inclusion isn’t limited to identity or history, but the multi-dimensional layers that create unique individuals. Pedagogy isn’t written with formulas and checkboxes to ensure we’ve covered every facet of human experience. Inclusion is awareness of what we know and acknowledgement of what we don’t know. It’s the human side of the work, that when done well still has the risk of causing unintentional harm, and when ignored can impede a learner’s progress and ultimately student success. 

The Digital Pedagogy Lab (DPL) stresses the role that intentionality can play in mitigating negative impacts and empowering groups of learners often neglected by traditional approaches. The course Inclusive Design and Design Justice in Practice within the DPL uses the description, "Inclusive design is intentional and iterative design work aimed at supporting a range of human diversity. In education, inclusive design focuses on the creation of learning spaces and materials that support diverse learners and that help to counteract biased and exclusionary designs that pervade education.”

Those looking to center inclusivity in their pedagogy are not alone — a host of resources exists at the university to enable educators to bolster their inclusivity practices.

In the Classroom

“Every single person has their own lived experiences and truths that can be used to teach others,” said Jackie Heyman, director of the MSU Dialogues course. Student videos produced during an Integrative Studies in Social Science course highlight a few such perspectives. The “Free My Brothers” video by MSU student Naomi Johnson shares insights into the system of race and class that impact her family and many others. Dailin “James” Song provides a glimpse into “Garbage Sorting Guangzhou, China” and the change that resulted to the surrounding community. Anna Forest’s video entitled “The Blind Leading the Blind” discussed a world that so few people experience while educating them to better engage with the visually impaired population. 

A shift in focus to digital accessibility and the move to captions for video, as well as digital artifacts that can be read with a screen reader, has seen improved comprehension in overall classroom performance when made available to the entire class. As educators, there are expansive resources and ideas to implement in the classroom. Below are a few examples followed by a long list of additional resources.

  • Start with the “Cultural Embeddedness in Learning” assignment, recommended Dave Goodrich. This assignment pairs students with someone they do not know to interview each other using the StoryCorps app on their phones and a pre-selected set of questions. They tend to find the assignment helpful for building an inclusive community of learning together in the class early on. When we first ran it, we didn’t have it at the beginning of class which we quickly learned was a much better place for it. 
  • Use an intergroup dialogue model of sharing and learning to help students connect. 
  • Consider authors and researchers used in the curriculum to offer a variety of identities that may relate to students in different ways.
  • Bring DEI to the forefront in a project-based way, using technology to create a visual digital story. Eddie Boucher, Assistant Professor in the Center for Integrative Studies in Social Sciences and Hub Faculty Fellow, designed classes to complement the conversations and experiences 18-20-year-olds are already having, and to incorporate integrative studies and DEI into those experiences. 
  • Consider using open-format for final assessments. In Ellie Louson’s HPS classes at Lyman Briggs College, MSU, students can choose to write a standard paper or select from a variety of other formats: podcast, photo display, video, painting, presentation, or any other creative format where they can apply themes from the class and demonstrate what they’ve learned. In her experience, students enjoy and are more engaged by these projects, they’re more comfortable working in their preferred format, and they describe feeling much less pressure at the end of the term.


    • Learning for Change - We provide free resources to educators—teachers, administrators, counselors, and other practitioners. Educators use our materials to supplement the curriculum, to inform their practices, and to create inclusive school communities where children and youth are respected, valued, and welcome participants. 

    • SEISMIC - sustained multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary STEM education research and development collaboration. This collaboration is motivated by a clear-eyed, openly stated focus on equity and inclusion in large foundational courses as the central goal of the reform process, harnessing a higher level of collective passion from the students, faculty, staff, and administrators who participate. We will help to define a new standard for STEM reform projects: a class cannot be successful unless it is equitable and inclusive. 

    • NCFDD - National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity: an independent professional development, training, and mentoring community for faculty members, postdocs, and graduate students. We are 100% dedicated to supporting academics in making successful transitions throughout their careers. MSU has institutional access to the NCFDD that is available to educators. Learn more at AAN.