Create an inclusive class climate online

Expanded guide: Create an inclusive class climate online

Engaging in inclusive educational practices helps students learn and is essential to UC Davis’ stated goal of promoting equitable learning opportunities for students with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences. These recommendations will help you to create a classroom climate that appreciates diversity and fosters inclusivity.

Create an inclusive class climate online using these strategies:

This diamond icon ♦ in the text indicates that there is content in the right sidebar that relates to that particular strategy.

To discuss your unique teaching and technology needs, schedule a consultation with an ATS instructional designer at For questions about pedagogical and teaching strategies, contact the Center for Educational Effectiveness:

Get to know your students

 Learning about your students provides insights that can inform your teaching choices.

  • Learn about your students through short surveys. A survey given early in the quarter can help you understand your students’ academic preparation, prior knowledge, skills, and goals. A survey may also help you understand how many of your students work, have families or have other responsibilities or circumstances that may have an effect on their learning. Use this information to make choices about how you will teach in ways that support your students.  Sample survey questions can be found here. If you would like to receive a Google Form with those sample questions pre-populated, please email
  • Review student data with the Know Your Students Tool. Know Your Students provides specific, aggregated, and anonymous information about the students enrolled in your class. Knowing whether your students identify as first generation college students, international students, or multilingual learners is valuable as you consider how you might provide additional support and honor the culturally rich experiences students bring to the learning environment. It can also help with integrating students’ various lived experiences into the classroom: Diverse points of view can be incorporated through the examples used to explain course concepts, through diverse cultural references, and through diverse scholarly perspectives.
  • Obtain clear information about students’ access to technology. Survey students early in the quarter or visit Know Your Students to get information about what tools students can access.  Adapt your teaching to these tools, remembering to factor students’ connectivity and ability to respond into teaching choices. Inform students about resources on campus that can support technology access.  If a student expresses difficulties with access to technology, offer alternative solutions that will help them continue to learn. Additionally, learn about accessibility of software and course materials for students with disabilities. The UCD Student Disability Center has additional information. The Bandwidth Immediacy Matrix can help determine activities for different levels of connectivity. ♦1
  • Ask students for feedback about your class. Take occasional surveys of your class to see how the quarter is going for them. You might construct your own survey, or contact CEE to do a Mid-Quarter Inquiry.  You can also obtain feedback from students by asking them to do a Quick Write, during or outside of class, in which they respond to open-ended questions about how the class is going for them. 

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Structure your course with equity in mind

Building equitable practices into your course improves student learning.

  • Include a diversity, equity and inclusion statement in your syllabus to communicate your approach to creating an equitable and supportive environment in your classroom. You might include information about your views of diversity as an asset for learning, steps you will take to ensure that every student has a voice, and how the contributions of diverse scholars have enriched your discipline.  As you construct your statement, you may want to consider how it addresses multiple forms of diversity on the UCD campus, including, but not limited to, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, religion, and disability. ♦2
    • Technology that supports this: Canvas Pages
  • Provide information about on campus resources and services. Devote a section of your syllabus to information about support resources on campus that students can access remotely and in-person when campus is open. Regularly remind students of the availability of these resources. If students self-identify as struggling with academic or identity issues, refer the student to the appropriate campus resource. Consult the UC Davis Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coronavirus Resources and the CEE student support Just-in-Time Teaching resource for additional support. Potential additional resources include the Pantry and the Cross Cultural Center. ♦3
    • Technology that supports this: Canvas Pages, Canvas Syllabus
  • Include diverse content in your course materials. Choose readings, materials, or examples that are inclusive of authors with diverse backgrounds, and include these in your syllabus, assignments, and lectures. You can also purposefully highlight the accomplishments of diverse scholars -- for example, highlighting the work of scientists of color or female scientists, signaling to students of color and female-identifying students that they belong in STEM. Consult with subject librarians at UC Davis in your content area to find materials from diverse scholars to incorporate into your class. 
  • Be flexible in your approach to teaching remotely. All students may not have access to a quiet room, adequate internet access or adequate technological resources to learn at their highest potential. If you hold live sessions, record them so that students who can’t be online at the time your class meets can watch them at a later time. Try to find multiple ways, both live (synchronous) and pre-recorded (asynchronous), for students to engage with course materials, and when you become aware of students who may be struggling, proactively reach out to offer support and flexible options for course engagement. Consider modifying attendance and participation requirements to accommodate students who cannot attend live sessions. Individual camera use in live sessions can build community. Consider encouraging students to use their cameras in live sessions, while making it clear that students are not required to do so if they have concerns, for example, about privacy.
  • Learn about online Accessibility resources. As you move to remote instruction, keep in mind the needs and experiences of students with disabilities. Information about online accommodations for students with disabilities, accessibility of software tools and course materials, and online exam accessibility can be found here.  Additional information and resources can be found at the UC Davis Student Disability Center.
  • Use elements of Canvas to provide educational equity for all your students. Many built-in features of Canvas and other technology-based course elements can make your course more inclusive and equitable. This Course Equity Checklist will walk you through some recommendations.

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Create a safe learning environment for students

Ensuring that your students feel valued and respected enhances learning.

  • Cultivate and model a diversity mindset. UC Davis is a diverse community of students and scholars with varied lived experiences informed by diverse cultural or historical frames of reference.  Assumptions about students’ prior knowledge and experience can be unintentionally alienating to particular students while also putting them at a disadvantage in comparison to peers.  It is helpful to have a diversity mindset when designing assignments or exam questions, or when developing examples during lecture or discussion. Avoid lecture examples that reference US popular culture, or exam questions or assignments that require students to have background knowledge in elements of US culture or history that have not been explicitly taught in class. Taking an identity-conscious approach to remote teaching is an important part of creating an inclusive learning environment.
  • Promote inclusive language as a shared value and practice. Include a section on your syllabus that explains norms for respectful Zoom chat discussions, including the use of emojis.  Have a TA monitor your Zoom chat to ensure that respectful communication guidelines are being observed. If you don’t have TAs, encourage students to contact you about interactions that violate class norms for inclusive behavior.  Learn and use students’ names and preferred pronouns. If you’re uncertain about how to pronounce a student’s name, invite students to help you pronounce their names correctly as you take roll or at a later time.  Share your gender pronouns when you introduce yourself, and include them on your Zoom naming feature. Invite students to do so, as well. The UCD LGBTQIA Resource Center offers these ways to make language more inclusive by using gender-neutral language:
    • “Hey, everyone”  instead of “hey, guys” in a group setting
    • “They are a first year” when referring to a scholar instead of “they are a freshman”
    • Use “they” or “them” if a student identifies with those preferred pronouns.
    • Technology that supports this: Zoom Chat, Zoom account settings and re-naming option
  • Establish course agreements that set expectations for class behavior. Course agreements, or “Working agreements,” can be formal or informal guidelines that determine how the instructor and students in the class will work together as a classroom community. You can generate working agreements as a class, or you can provide working agreements for your students’ ratification. Common working agreements include: “No cross-talk” or no interrupting; “Critique ideas, not individuals,” “Avoid assumptions” about any member of the class, and “Three before me”: after a student contributes in class, they should wait until three other students have spoken before they speak again. You may also want to discuss how the class will address conflict, difficult conversations, and/or disruptions as part of your agreements. Finally, consider showing a slide with your agreements at the beginning of class and also putting the agreements in your Zoom chat so that students have a visual reminder. ♦4
  • Give students opportunities to get to know each other. Students often enjoy the social connections they make in classes, and in a virtual environment, these connections can be more challenging to make.  Consider assigning short icebreakers at the beginning of each class by giving simple “get to know you” prompts for discussion. Give some guidance in how to engage in these interactions (e.g., suggest, but don’t require, turning on their cameras if they feel comfortable and taking turns at talking by going in alphabetical order by first name for the first round of conversation).  Another possibility is to set aside a discussion thread in Canvas with some structured prompts designed for social interaction. These small social pauses are essential for students to feel connected and seen in their courses.
  • Address microaggressions or disruptive conduct proactively.  Sometimes when charged topics come up unexpectedly in class, it is because a student makes a remark that could potentially be hurtful or offensive. Other times, it is simply an unexpected turn in a conversation. Either way, the way an instructor responds can have profound implications for students’ experience. Consult CEE’s resource on Charged Discussions as Learning Opportunities (p. 10) for ways to respond when charged topics come up unexpectedly. If an incident seems to have escalated beyond what you can address, contact CEE or OSSJA for support.
  • Continue to educate yourself on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Scholarly knowledge and societal understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion continue to move forward, allowing and requiring us to engage in continuous education. This is a responsibility we all share as educators. As educators, we must do the work needed to inform ourselves. There will be missteps. For example, you may use an outdated term or assign a reading with outdated terms. Students may correct you. In these instances, it is important to apologize, learn, and move forward, modeling the same behavior we encourage students to enact.

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Use instructional techniques that promote equity

Choosing teaching strategies that promote equity and inclusion improves student learning.        

  • Use language that is transparent to students. Support learning and use of academic language in your class by making your language use transparent. This can be done by providing definitions, using synonyms, avoiding idiomatic language, and strategically restating or repeating key content. Avoid references and metaphors that are culturally-specific or that contain assumptions or stereotypes about race and sexual orientation, and instead use definitions and clear examples to explain concepts. When speaking to students in live or recorded sessions, use transitions to highlight movement from one topic to another. When explaining new material, make explicit connections to prior topics that students have already learned. 
  • Communicate critical information multiple times using multiple modalities. Critical information includes core content, grading policies, directions, and due dates for assignments. This information could be communicated verbally during lecture, on a presentation slide, in a Canvas Announcement, etc. It facilitates learning when students encounter information multiple times.
  • Be more explicit than you may think is necessary. Remote instruction requires instructors to provide clear and explicit messaging to students.  Give clear explanations both verbally and in writing. The Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) Project provides a template for transparently explaining your expectations for various assignments and communicating how students can best prepare for exams. Make sure your Canvas Module is clearly structured, and provide students with outlines, study guides, and examples of strong/weak work. Verify that your exam questions reflect the learning outcome or performance to be assessed, cover course content adequately, and use non-ambiguous, simple language. Develop and use rubrics for all of your graded assignments, and share these rubrics with your students early in the quarter.
  • Encourage and answer student questions. Dedicating time to soliciting and answering student questions demonstrates to students that their learning and their perspectives are valuable to their learning and important to you. You might set aside a certain amount of time for questions during each live session and also provide asynchronous opportunities for students to ask questions, perhaps in a Canvas Discussion. 
  • Use strategies that encourage equitable participation. Introduce discussion guidelines that emphasize equitable participation in course discussions early in the quarter to make inclusive practices part of your class climate. Providing structures for student-to-student interactions can also help make your class more inclusive. For example, have students do a Quick Write on a topic to gather their thoughts before they share with others, or ask students in Zoom Breakout Rooms to take turns speaking one-by-one alphabetically by first name (a technique called “Round Robin”) before beginning free discussion. You can review this inclusive practice resource from CEE and a checklist of concrete strategies for inclusive teaching from the University of Michigan. Both will help you assess your teaching for inclusive practices you already use and identify new practices you might like to employ.
  • Review and consider implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) best practices. The UDL Guidelines provide detailed information about how to create meaningful, accessible, and challenging instruction that supports a diversity of learners. This framework offers multiple options and multiple formats for students to access the content, complete learning activities, and show their learning through assessments. Consider how to incorporate different dimensions of the Universal Design framework for your remote teaching or online learning plans. You may want to start small and adopt one dimension at a time. ♦5
  • Continually seek to improve equity and inclusion in your teaching. As with all aspects of teaching, making your teaching more inclusive and equitable is an iterative process. Regularly reflecting on your teaching and reviewing established good practices can keep you attuned to possible gaps and ways to improve. 6, 7, 8, 9

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