TIP: Creating Inclusive Syllabi

Toward Inclusive Practices (TIP)

This TIP (“Toward Inclusive Practices”) message from the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity provides best practices for ensuring that course syllabi are inclusive of all students.

Creating Inclusive Syllabi

A course syllabus is often the first interaction between a student and an instructor. The syllabus serves as the first impression and establishes a contract between the learner and the educator in a tangible representation of mutual understanding. While the content of a syllabus is often constrained by the requirements of the institution, faculty can still take measured action to create an inclusive, welcoming document. In addition to establishing the course expectations, learning outcomes, and semester schedule, the syllabus also denotes the culture of belonging that students can expect. A traditional syllabus includes the relevant details that are essential for understanding expectations, and while these details are essential, it is time to utilize this valuable tool for establishing and sustaining an inclusive, welcoming environment from the start of the class.

Students respect and appreciate their experiences and the multiple identities they contribute to the classroom when faculty use inclusive practices and pedagogies. Their identities and experiences, such as those related to race, ethnicity, various abilities, health, socioeconomic status, and religion, among others, shape the prism through which individuals interpret a course’s material. One of the many advantages of using inclusion practices and pedagogies is that, with the faculty’s direction, students may take ownership of and commitment to upholding a productive learning environment that promotes a sense of belonging and value for all individuals in the learning space. Establishing an inclusive environment helps to promote and sustain equity, access, a sense of belonging, and an engaging experience.

Below, we’ll explore some tips you can use to develop more inclusive syllabi to the benefit of your learners and the class culture. We also invite you to review NC State’s Inclusive Language Guide.

I. Standard Policies and Practices

This section examines how you convey course policies using language and tone. For instance, rather than a list of “don’ts,” we might see policies presented in the form of positive remarks. You could also include remarks on communication, such as how you want students to interact with you and their peers. A special remark on diversity, inclusion, and/or accommodations for students with disabilities may also be included. There are explicit statements of all formal and informal rules, presumptions, values, and expectations. This might also entail using language that recognizes the distinctions, viewpoints, and identities of students and diverse learners (i.e. first generation status, ability, sexual orientation, etc.). In order to help students satisfy their fundamental physical, emotional, and social requirements, information is supplied that points them toward campus services.

II. Organization, Aesthetics, and Clarity

Typical course syllabi are voluminous, text-heavy, and highly challenging to understand, especially for students who have dyslexia, learning difficulties, or who are non native English speakers. Many syllabi are difficult to navigate or do not follow accessibility guidelines. You may create a visually appealing syllabus that is accessible, easy to read, and navigate by using the guiding questions below:

  • Is your syllabus easy to read and navigate (i.e., hierarchical headings, electronic hypertext, course schedule in table format)?
  • Do you incorporate visuals such as images, graphics, charts or diagrams that will reinforce content and engage students in a different way?
  • Is your syllabus accessible? (check out the Disability Resource Office resources)

III. Learning Activities and Assessment (A learner-focused syllabus)

To engage diverse learners, students may complete a range of assignments in this section, allowing them to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. This could be accomplished through formative assessment with options for rapid feedback and development. It is beneficial to see a clear and intentional alignment between the objectives of learning and the assignments.

IV. Inclusive and Motivating Language

One approach to show inclusivity is to reframe our vocabulary. Research has found that when the syllabus exhibits friendliness, eagerness, and an expectation of student achievement, students regard their professors as being warmer, more approachable, and caring. Additionally, addressing students as capable and engaged learners in a friendly, courteous, and welcoming manner encourages positive motivation. In place of performance and punishment, think about employing language that promotes a collaborative attitude and an orientation towards learning, flexibility, and possibilities.

V. Learner-Centered Framework

By stating that a shared responsibility exists for the learning environment (e.g. student-led discussion groups, opportunities for students to partner with faculty), this aspect of the syllabus promotes messaging that every student can succeed.

VI. Culturally Responsive Content

Course materials are offered in multiple perspectives, identities, and experiences to provide a spectrum of narratives on various course topics. Faculty can better comprehend students’ sociocultural backgrounds and knowledge bases by implementing culturally responsive education. Diversity and bilingualism are valued in classrooms that are sensitive to cultural differences. Through meaningful, genuine communication that reflects the “real-life” experiences of individuals in the real world, learning and literacy are promoted.