Creating Inclusive Digital Learning Environments

 

The coronavirus pandemic has created a new system of learning that many children have to cope with during the current health, social, and political crisis in the U.S. Yet, inclusivity in the classroom has been an ongoing area of reckoning that schools have found themselves in the middle of for decades. An inclusive learning environment is a multi-faceted issue that involves creating a psychologically safe space for children and adolescents of diverse ethnicities, religions, genders, cultures, and learning/physical abilities or disabilities. 

 

How Bias Works to Undermine Inclusion

 

Schools mirror our society’s values, and educators should be aware that building an inclusive environment is an active endeavor that cannot happen independently. The first step in creating an inclusive classroom environment is identifying personal biases, and there are seven types of discrimination that teachers are particularly vulnerable to

 

  1. Status quo bias is an unwillingness to change thinking and viewing any type of change from an opposing perspective. 
  2. Confirmation bias is favoritism towards specific individuals or students, in this case. This type of discrimination is rampant in school settings and is being brought to light by multiple new studies that reveal bias in-school suspensions
  3. The macabre constant is a bias that automatically groups students into high, medium, and low capacity learners, which sets students who are put into low categories of learning capacity up for automatic failure in some educators' minds. 
  4. Publication bias allows only one perspective and narrative into a classroom curriculum that tends to leave out the voice and experiences of minority students. 
  5. Cognitive bias is a prevalent type of bias that comes to pass when a false perception or single view of reality is used to drive judgment, decisions, and perceptions. 
  6. Observer bias, otherwise known as the observer-expectancy effect, happens when teachers transform and become different when a respected authority is present. The problem here is that educators should bring their best selves and teaching methods to their students. 
  7. Attribution bias occurs when one's judgment is based on an assumed personal belief fueled by stereotypes and false information. 

 

Student Behaviors That May Indicate a Lack of Inclusion

 

During this time where our nation is grappling with the history of systemic racism in America, students and teachers are looking to find ways to talk about racism in the classroom. A lack of inclusion may cause students of color to isolate themselves by refusing to work with others, or they may become unresponsive. Students may speak about not feeling included with other students they identify with or become vocal about the class issue. Students suffer from long-term effects that can impact their self-esteem and overall mental health due to bias and racial microaggressions. Some are even fearful of retaliation from other students or academic penalties by educators and institutions. Students that feel marginalized because of any differences struggle to succeed in the classroom and are often overlooked for awards and other academic privileges that impact their future educational success.   

 

How to Ensure Your Classroom is Inclusive

 

Cultivating an inclusive classroom culture starts with making sure that there is a formal process to weed out bias and racial microaggressions, and that all learning resources available to students include diverse perspectives. This can be difficult in a traditional classroom setting, and transferring these concepts to a digital workspace is yet another challenge. Educators must also understand that students may not fully comprehend how a lack of inclusion in their learning environment specifically impacts them. Engaging students is a critical component of creating a thriving environment for all, and educators should:

 

  • Try to utilize video features and reach out to students face to face as often as possible.
  • Be sure to do mental health check-ins and open the floor for all students to share their perspectives. 
  • Moderate class discussion boards address comments that contain racial microaggressions, racism, and bias.
  • Organize activities that allow students to share multicultural experiences online.
  • Receive and conduct bias training and teach diverse perspectives in the classroom.
  • Ensure that students who lack learning resources have adequate equipment and the digital learning tools needed to succeed.