How can I make the classroom accessible and inviting?
Creating an accessible and inclusive classroom environment is important for student accessibility, comfort, and learning. Accessibility in architectural spaces is usually identified with the important ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. Applied to creating learning communities, the underlying connection between Universal Design and disability accommodations is that both encourage accessibility to more diverse groups of people. When considering the classroom environment the two important areas for creating an inclusive classroom environment include 1) class climate and 2) physical environment of the classroom.
Your actions, words, and written information should reflect diversity and inclusiveness in the classroom environment. This includes conveying high expectations both for you as instructor and for your students to be respectful and inclusive of all students in the class community. For example, consider how contentious content can lead to uncomfortable discussions where disrespect overshadows academic discourse, or the ways in which certain instructional delivery methods of complex content can leave some students behind. Explore ways in which learning community expectations can be built into your course planning and explored with your students starting on the first day.
- Include a statement on the syllabus inviting individual appointments and discussion with students who might encounter barriers to learning. For example, from The Teaching and Learning Center:
The University of Oregon is working to create inclusive learning environments. If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your participation, please notify me as soon as possible. You are also welcome to contact the Accessible Education Center in 164 Oregon Hall at (541) 346-1155 or email@example.com. If you are not a student with a documented disability through Disability Services, but you would like for me to know about class issues that will impact your ability to learn, I encourage you to come visit with me during my office hours so that we can strategize how you can get the most out of this course.
- Establish clear guidelines for open discussion and cultural sensitivity, which addresses the importance of academic discourse and the consideration of other student perspectives.
- Provide a variety of learning opportunities and experiences during the class. For example, include small group activities, individual reflection, and lecture to encourage participation and reflection from students in different ways.
- Form student groups that allow everyone to feel welcomed and participate in class. Change student groups throughout the term using the random group assignment feature of Blackboard.
- Include a diversity statement on your syllabus. For example, from The Teaching and Learning Center:
Open inquiry, freedom of expression, and respect for difference are fundamental to a comprehensive and dynamic education. The University Teaching and Learning Center is committed to upholding these ideals by encouraging the exploration, engagement, and expression of divergent perspectives and diverse identities.
Physical Environment of the Classroom:
Even though you do not always have the luxury of selecting a classroom for your course, there are steps that every faculty member can take to make the physical environment of the classroom more accessible to all students.
- Preview your classroom before class begins to become familiar with the seating set-up, available technology, and other space considerations. This can be done by contacting the Center for Media and Educational Technologies (CMET), or using the CMET Classroom Equipment Tutorials and Instructions or viewing images of your classroom online at the CMET Classroom Equiment page before the start of the term.(these links open in a new browser window).
- Create an environment with high quality lighting where students can see you, information on the chalkboard/whiteboard, and information on the projector screen while still being able to take notes during class. You may want to dim the lights rather than turning them completely off, or allow time during the class when the lights are on so students can catch up on their notes.
- Use sound amplification with a microphone that reaches the back of the classroom in a large classroom even if you have a "loud projecting voice."
- Allow preferential seating for students who would like to sit (or stand) in a specific region of the class.
- Request (if possible) a classroom with movable chairs to allow for different classroom configurations.
- Provide electronic copies of your PowerPoint presentations (or other course outlines) before class.
- Consciously move around the classroom so that all students can still see and hear you from every location.
- If you use the chalkboard/whiteboard, write large enough so your words can be seen from the back of the room.