Inclusion and Flexibility

Inclusion and Flexibility in Online Education

Students who enroll in online courses have many different reasons for doing so. For students who live a significant distance from the UCSC campus, online courses can allow them to reduce the amount of time they spend commuting to class. For students who are parents or caretakers, online courses can help alleviate the burden of finding childcare each time they need to attend class.

Designing online courses to foster an inclusive classroom climate and provide learning-centered options for students is particularly important for serving students from minoritized subgroups and others who can benefit from the flexibility offered by learning online.

Below, we offer recommendations for creating an inclusive environment that provides students with flexibility and choice in your asynchronous or synchronous online courses.

Asynchronous Instruction

Asynchronous online courses are courses that students complete on their own time, rather than attending lectures or group meetings at a regular, specified time. Asynchronous courses often make use of recorded lecture videos to deliver course content and tools like Canvas Discussions to create opportunities for interaction among students.

By their nature, asynchronous online courses offer the highest degree of flexibility for students. Unpredictable work schedules, child care responsibilities, and other obligations can more easily be accommodated when students do not need to attend lectures at a specified time.

At the same time, asynchronous courses present greater challenges for fostering an inclusive classroom community because students may have few (or no) opportunities to engage with each other face-to-face. Instructors who teach asynchronously should take active measures to foster an inclusive classroom community in their courses. Here are some practices we recommend:

Creating an inclusive classroom community asynchronously using Flipgrid

This 6-minute video introduces four uses of Flipgrid for building community in an asynchronous online class:

  • Course introductions

  • Building social presence

  • Demonstrating learning

  • Boosting morale and fun

For more technical how-to guidance on getting started with Flipgrid as an instructor, see our guide on getting started with Flipgrid.

Synchronous Instruction

In a synchronous online course, students and the instructor(s) come together at regular and specified times—most often through a live video tool like Zoom. While synchronous online courses may offer students more flexibility than in-person courses (by reducing commute time, for instance), they are less flexible than asynchronous courses.

Synchronous online class sessions via tools like Zoom may pose additional challenges for equity. Participation in live Zoom sessions requires students to have access to a high-speed and reliable internet connection, as well as adequate technology to support the Zoom application.

Additionally, to get the most out of synchronous online courses, students should have access to a quiet and private study space from which they can call into Zoom meetings; unfortunately, not all students will. To make your synchronous online course more equitable, we recommend building in student choice to help mitigate these issues.

Flexible participation options in Zoom

The infographics below address a common concern expressed by instructors teaching synchronous class sessions via Zoom: “Why won’t my students turn on their cameras?” The PDF on the left addresses this question and provides recommendations for alternative modes of engagement in Zoom, while the PDF on the right dives deeper into the nonverbal participation features offered in Zoom.

Zoom camera use guide final.pdf