In addition to standard syllabus information, we hope this webpage will help you find ways to make your syllabus and course more inclusive and accessible.
Note: This is an evolving webpage as our awareness and understanding changes.
- Include a user-friendly course description, avoiding academic or technical language, especially for Pathways and entry-level courses.
- Include clear learning goals and specific and measurable objectives. Consider whether your chosen learning goals are relevant to students of all backgrounds, and if not, why.
- Include information regarding student health and wellness services (SUNY Potsdam’s Bear Care webpage includes links with information about crisis services, health services, food pantry, religious services, transportation, etc.)
- Include information regarding the Office of Accommodative Services. Create a plan for how you want students to contact you regarding accommodation plans (i.e. email, office hours, etc.).
- If you include a teaching philosophy, include how it addresses issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion and overall engagement.
- List if and what technology (laptops, tablets, recording devices, etc.) you allow in the classroom -- as students are using more technology and apps to do work, this is helpful information for all students.
Selecting Course Material
- Consider adjusting course topics and content to speak to diversity, equity, and inclusion wherever possible. Use examples that represent a broad spectrum of identities, cultures, and worldviews to illustrate concepts, theories, or techniques.
- Select course materials that provide multiple perspectives, and which are produced by people from different backgrounds, working towards representation from multiple groups, including those outside the politically or socially dominant culture.
- Highlight materials produced by members of underrepresented and/or marginalized groups by showing their photo and providing context for their contributions. This action disrupts the overrepresentation of dominant groups as producers of knowledge.
- For any course materials that address inequality or discrimination, aim to choose those that do so in terms of systemic and institutional factors (asset-based models) rather than materials that place blame on marginalized groups (deficit models). Also, find out where scholars in your field are doing work about social justice, and integrate that work.
- High textbook costs can be a major deterrent for students. Choosing texts has ethical as well as pedagogical ramifications, given the publishing industry’s abusive practices. Consider assigning used copies, using texts that students might use in further courses or professionally after graduation, and/or using OER (Open Educational Resources) textbooks or free eBooks (https://oer.suny.edu/). Many eBooks within the College Library collections are “rented” and not owned. Titles in these collections can be pulled from the database by publishers at any time. The library’s eBook collections may also have limits on the number of simultaneous users. If you have an extra copy, consider adding a personal copy to course Reserves. Consult with librarians about ways to use library resources within your curriculum.
Establishing Inclusive Course Policies
- Make attendance policies and expectations clear from the start so that students who may have outside obligations can plan accordingly.
- Make course due dates and late policies clear and consult students about the best days/times for deadlines. Avoid changes to the schedule if possible so that students with work schedules and/or family responsibilities are not negatively impacted. Marginalized students are more likely to have substantial outside work/family responsibilities.
- Avoid setting deadlines or planning key class days on any religious holidays.
- Students’ access to technology will vary, and not everyone will have consistent access to broadband internet or reliable computing devices. Take this into consideration when planning.
Assignments and In-Class Exercises
- Consider scaffolding assignments by breaking them into chunks and building them up cumulatively during the semester. Provide opportunities for students to receive feedback and revise their work based on feedback.
- Consider incorporating multiple forms of assessment to allow all students opportunities for success.
- For all coursework, connect the dots to the course content and learning outcomes. Clearly articulate how it is relevant to the class learning goals and objectives. For assignments and exams, consistently use plain language and define any use of jargon to improve accessibility for students from all backgrounds.
- When planning assignments, consider including applied learning experiences and opportunities to bring in people who can speak directly to particular cultures, identities, and backgrounds.
- An abundance of literature informs us that active learning methods are highly effective as well as more inclusive. Consider using active learning and other high-impact practices such as problem-centered learning, team-based learning, service learning, scaffolded research projects, etc.
- The Office of Accommodative Services Information for Faculty page has useful information and links for designing your course and syllabus.
- Design your syllabus to be accessible and user friendly for all users including those using digital readers:
- Use proper section headers, use the list button to create lists, and use descriptive links (avoid “Click Here”).
- Avoid assuming that all students are visually able and can see your digital graphics or images without screen readers.
- Always tag images with verbal descriptions and avoid color schemes that are challenging for colorblind students.
- For more information about proper section headers, using hyperlinks, and preparing easy to read and concise text, see Lumen Learning’s Written Document Design or Accessible Syllabus. \
- To make sure your syllabus meets ADA compliance and can be accessed by all individuals, watch SUNY’s Accessible Syllabi in MS word video. Educause’s ADA Compliance for Online Course Design website has some tips for making online courses accessible.
- Be aware that some students have accommodation plans that allow the use of technology that supersedes classroom rules. See classroom accommodations- recording devices for more information.
- Because some students may have accommodations that include recording, and/or if you allow recording, consider adding a statement to your syllabus letting students know your class may be recorded and recordings are to be used for educational purposes only, and all recordings will be deleted at the end of the semester.
- Establish a classroom climate early in the semester, through attitude and statements, where students feel they can safely critique instruction and offer feedback. Solicit feedback throughout the semester concerning course topics, materials, and/or pedagogy. Include structured feedback opportunities to identify tactics both instructor and students can do to improve learning.
- Be welcoming and approachable, remembering that many students do not feel welcome at college.
- Avoid assuming you understand or have the same cultural references as your students. Cultural references and/or analogies can be challenging and are often limited by reference points and awareness. Also, be wary of using cultural examples that are outside of your or your students’ experience.
- Consider developing ground rules with your students for classroom discussions and participation:
- allowing disagreement while prohibiting attacks on individuals;
- making it clear that everyone’s voice is welcome and seeking to hear from everyone rather than a few students;
- Recognizing that no one student speaks to ‘represent’ any group, and that learning takes place even when we are uncomfortable.
- Develop personal teaching strategies for classroom discussions and participation:
- Invite all students to participate in discussions, using strategies to avoid putting students on the spot;
- Use wait time techniques - allow students at least 30 seconds to think about the question;
- Allow students alternative forms of participation, including forms, shared documents, etc.
- Keep in mind that speaking up in class can be influenced not only by individual personality, but also by deep-seated cultural norms, or previous trauma. It is the instructor’s responsibility to respect and protect students’ choice to abstain from discussions.
- Allow for a broad concept of participation when grading (i.e., sharing prepared material, free writing or journaling, written responses to class discussion).
- Allow students the ability to offer instructional feedback to the instructor through anonymous exit ticket questions. This can help build trust and empower students to feel ownership of course material.
- Be prepared and ready to facilitate disagreements carefully as challenging conversations might arise in your classroom. Since the role of facilitator can be an uncomfortable one, consider seeking training or using techniques from the extensive research on conflict resolution or trauma-informed pedagogy.
- Avoid assuming students who are struggling will know or feel that they can ask for help [this is specifically true of marginalized groups and students struggling with mental health issues].
- Avoid stereotyping your students based on personality, political views, approach to conflict, or other characteristics.
- Don’t assume students’ racial, ethnic, class, or language background dictates their intellectual ability or motivation. Try to avoid making assumptions about students’ perceived backgrounds, identities, interests, or what they are comfortable speaking about.
- Avoid assuming all students from any background share the same views on a given issue.
- Avoid assuming that poor writing correlates with poor intellectual ability.
- Avoid assuming that ethnicity correlates with lack of English language ability.
- Avoid assuming that non-traditional students and students with disabilities have less potential for learning.
- Be conscious of the use of gendered pronouns in your classroom and on your syllabus, etc. Consider asking students for their preferred pronouns at the start of the semester and incorporating inclusive pronouns into your examples.
- Do address students by their preferred pronouns, when known, so that LGBTQ+ students know they are welcome and will be respected.
- Avoid idioms in your classroom and on your syllabus, etc., as they may not be universally understood.
- Think about how you have students grouped: would this be more effective in smaller subgroups or breakout rooms?
- Be mindful when grouping students for in-class and out-of-class learning. Take into consideration students’ individual characteristics, create groups to foster learning and create balance, and try to avoid groups with only one student from a marginalized population (e.g., instead of several groups of white students, each with one black or brown student, select a few groups with several black or brown students in addition to white students). Keep in mind that not all marginalized populations are visible.
- When students do group work, students from marginalized groups may be excluded by students from dominant groups, or may be disinclined to volunteer for active group roles because of stereotype threat. When grouping students, find ways to balance voices and power in the classroom. Consider having designated roles within the group (i.e. moderator, note taker) and varying roles throughout the semester (being conscious that learning disabilities may make some roles more challenging for some students).
- Minimize required in-person group collaboration that takes place outside of scheduled class time. Students from marginalized groups (in particular those with significant financial or family responsibilities) may have less flexibility in their schedules to participate.
- Be open to changing course during class to lean into an unplanned, diversity-relevant, and potentially challenging discussion.
- Consider submitting your course for a Diversity Attribute. Students who are interested in taking diversity- rich courses are able to search the class schedule for the attribute.
- Expertise is available from: CCI, Librarians, Accommodations Office, Diversity Attribute Review Committee, and more.
- Collaborate with your colleagues and learn together!
- For more information about trauma-informed pedagogy and anti-racism: