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Inclusive Technology

A page within CATL Teaching Improvement Guide

Technology includes and excludes students. By its very nature, every decision you make as an instructor will include/exclude students. How can we be more inclusive? How do we remain aware of and respond to technologies/mechanisms of exclusion?

When considering technology to adopt for the classroom, there are at least five dimensions to consider:

  • Social: Ability to interact and form social relationships in curricular/co-curricular contexts with instructors and students (sense of belonging, isolation)
  • Access: Technical literacy/familiarity/comfort required, availability of devices/bandwidth/software/finances and universal design of materials
  • Environmental: Study environment, work/home responsibilities, care-giving, distractions
  • Well-being: health, distress, safety, shelter, food insecurity
  • Cognitive: distractions, technology which obfuscates learning objectives

Focus on the essentials

Teaching a class that is even partially online may change some aspects of your class (especially in terms of format), but start with the essentials and build up/out from that. Because many of us may not be completely comfortable teaching outside of a face-to-face format, we may feel compelled to adopt some technology in an effort to do something, even if it may not be the right tool for the job, all the while increasing our own workloads and stress as instructors.

Instead of being distracted by technology which just appears impressive, it may be helpful to keep it simple for you and keep it simple for your students. Keeping it simple for you may help to prevent unnecessary burn-out. Keeping it simple for your students will often correlate with increased accessibility and equity, though this is not always the case. Often, the less fancy the technology, the more likely that students will have the capability of fully participating with the technological tool. Moreover, keeping things simple (where possible) will reduce cognitive overload for both instructors and students.

Strategies & Questions to Consider

The strategies and questions below are designed to help you plan for and respond to issues related to inclusion in an online environment.


Before the semester begins
  • Consider how technology aspects of your classroom address the National Center for Universal Design for Learning's principles:
  • What learning resources for your class might students suddenly lack access to if they had to change location on extremely quick notice?
  • What kind of technological equipment are your submitted assessments going to require your students to have access to? Will they need both a phone and a computer? Can the work be done with just one or the other?
  • Are there low-bandwidth alternatives for anything that typically requires high bandwidth?
  • What technological equipment will you expect students to use on a daily or weekly basis for class? Are alternatives going to be available?
  • What software (websites, standalone computer applications, phone apps) will students need to be familiar with in order to succeed in your course? What alternatives are there? For any software solutions which cost money, are there free alternatives? How can you support students' comfort level with using essential software tools?
During class sessions

Virtual spaces are more nebulous than their face-to-face counterparts, but some students may feel emboldened to use divisive language which alienates other students due to perceived anonymity behind a screen.

  • What new "places" can students interact with each other in your class?
  • What safeguards are in place to ensure that these spaces are safe for all students?
  • How will you communicate to students that the types of ground rules you set for group discussion in a face-to-face class still apply in settings like breakout rooms, Canvas discussion boards, etc.? (If your subject area does not typically lead to difficult conversations in the classroom, how can you implement rules for appropriate interactions between students in virtual meeting spaces?)
  • What expectations do you have for student interaction using their audio/video, especially in live face-to-face environments?
  • Are there alternatives for students who might feel uncomfortable enabling their video and revealing embarrassing living conditions?
  • What audio distractions (both input and output) might exist if two students sharing a  room in the same residence (same apartment or same residence hall room) need to be in online synchronous sessions at the same time?
After class sessions
  • How can you use technology to check in with vulnerable student populations?
  • Do you have a mechanism by which students can report inappropriate incidents which occur in virtual spaces?
  • What ways can you monitor conversations in virtual classroom spaces for appropriate discourse?
  • What accommodations might you need to make to one, some, or all students due to technology?
  • What accommodations might you need to make to one, some, or all students using technology?

This page is under development. If you have comments or suggestions, please send them to Eddie Kim or Bryan Kopp. Thank you!