How to make your syllabus more inclusive and supportive of student learning
These recommendations complement the Brandeis University Syllabus Template (docx).
Activities In Class
Create opportunities during class for students to apply concepts you’ve taught them and to practice new skills in class where they can gather feedback from you and/or peers before they must work on their own. The Transparent Equitable Learning Framework (pdf) and Transparent Assignment Design Template (pdf) can help to frame such exercises and discussions. Try not to privilege one type of learner repeatedly over others. A variety of in-class activities throughout the course will appeal to the students’ multiple learning strengths and opportunities for growth.
Course Materials and Open Education Resources
The costs of textbooks and other course materials can present financial challenges for many of our students. Please consider ways you can reduce costs for your students and promote student success while complying with copyright law. Sixteen percent of the undergraduate population are Pell Grant recipients and 14% are first-generation college students.
- Submit Course Reserve Requests: Course Reserves help ensure that all students have access to materials.
- If you have extra copies of any course texts, place these on Reserve at the Library for the semester.
- Explore Open Educational Resources (OER) and affordable materials with a librarian. OER are learning resources such as articles, books, audio recordings, images, video, software and digital tools that instructors can reuse, revise, and redistribute.
- Contact Laura Hibbler, Associate University Librarian for Research & Instruction, to discuss possibilities for reducing the expense of course materials for your students through the use of OER and materials available through Library subscriptions.
- Make all required course materials available at the Brandeis Bookstore, where Brandeis aid vouchers can be used. (They cannot be used on sites such as Amazon.) This is the most effective way to ensure that our low-income students have course materials in a timely manner.
Students often adjust their perspectives and question their understanding and beliefs as part of the learning process. Sometimes this leads to strong emotions around deeply held or shifting beliefs. Collaboratively defined expectations for class participation (below, under “Participation”) may be helpful. These Discussion Guidelines from the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching are also useful.
Disciplinary History and Methods
You may wish to include a statement to acknowledge systemic inequities in this discipline’s historiography and methodologies, including how the academic field that you represent either sustained/sustains or combatted/combats racism. You can include how this course will address racism.
Please select readings and materials that represent a diversity of voices on topics where possible. This guide on Diversifying Course Materials can help. Also, consult Laura Hibbler, and your subject librarians for assistance.
If it is helpful to the course, this information might be included in a land acknowledgment:The Brandeis campus sits on land that was sacred to the Massachusett nation, including four tribes existing today: the Mattakeeset, Natick, Ponkapoag and Namasket. Both Native Americans and Africans were enslaved in the colony of Massachusetts.
Include a summary of what subject matter and skills the course will focus on, and how students will apply these in the course and beyond. These learning goals can be emphasized again as the purpose of individual course activities, assignments, and class meetings to increase students’ metacognitive awareness of their learning.
Share your expectations about what class participation means in your class, and gather their suggestions. These may include student behaviors like: completing the readings each week before coming to class, using focus questions to prepare for class discussions, keeping the screen view on during Zoom meetings, raising questions as soon as ideas become unclear (either in class or via online communications between classes), listening actively and attentively, responding thoughtfully and constructively to the comments made by other class members, reading and responding to course-related emails and posts, etc. Professor Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld shares the description in the video below and this Reciprocal Expectations document (pdf) of how he and students collaborate to define class participation.
Explore the use of portfolios in your course. Students would post work samples and reflective paragraphs about this work, which would demonstrate their mastery of each skill set or content area they learn in the course. A Google folder that you structure with a subfolder for each course learning goal can allow students to access their portfolio examples even after graduation. Students’ portfolio entries can help students, faculty, and departments to more clearly demonstrate students’ learning. Portfolio entries can help students to maintain a metacognitive awareness of their learning through college, and to communicate their learning effectively to potential employers.
Identify the rationale for how the teaching/learning methods used in the course will support students’ achievement of the learning goals. You can list several teaching/learning strategies that you’ll use to ensure all students have equitable opportunities to succeed in the course. You may want to include advice from former students of techniques that they used to be successful learners in the class. These resources are particularly helpful for faculty teaching in a partly or fully online environment:
- Equity-Minded Teaching
- Leading Practices for Equity in Online and Hybrid Teaching
- Nine Evidence-based Teaching Practices That Combat Systemic Inequities in a Partially or Completely Online Setting
- Transparent Equitable Learning Readiness Assessments: for teachers (pdf) and for students (pdf)
- Transparent Assignment Template (pdf)
The Center for Teaching and Learning offers syllabus reviews and help with constructing course materials, assignments and activities. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for support.