Skip to content


Creating a More Equitably Engaged Classroom: Step 1 - Evaluate

Written by Stacy Hall on Jan 22, 2021

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion, Graduate Programs, Digital Education

Editor's Note: This article was co-authored by Aung Phyo, a faculty training specialist with experience teaching individuals of all ages and diversities—from first graders to recently arrived refugees.

In today’s classrooms, it’s not enough to be fair and impartial with students.

A recently published Data Short from Google found that the culture, language, and goals related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are all rapidly shifting, and in dramatic ways. For example, Google searches for “BIPOC” (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) have increased by 60 times compared to just a year ago.¹

Now more than ever, educators must actively review and reimagine how they create inclusive and inviting learning environments for all students. A more equitably engaged classroom—whether it’s online or in-person—can help uplift historically marginalized voices, amplify quiet voices, and safeguard spaces for each and every learner to be heard, respected, and appreciated.

One of the ways my team and I support faculty across degree programs powered by 2U is by helping them develop more equitable and effective teaching practices through a three-step process: evaluate, initiate, involve. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll break down each of these strategies right here on The Latest. We’ll start with evaluate.

The First Step: Evaluate

”What is being discussed in my classroom? Whose voices are being heard? Do my students have a say as key stakeholders in their own learning?”

At 2U, one of our guiding principles is “be candid, honest, and open.” In the digital learning space, we believe more equitable classrooms begin with educators activating an honest, critical, and thorough reflection upon their own teaching practices.

Taking this kind of holistic approach to self-inquiry, we start by asking educators three specific questions. By answering these questions for themselves, educators can begin to adopt simple yet powerful techniques into their instruction. Strategies range from encouraging more student collaboration and interactive feedback with one another to sharing resources from a more diversified set of scholars to redefining assessment methods with students together as a community.

Question 1: Is the Language I’m Using Inclusive?

Masterful and purposeful use of inclusive language sets a good example and foundation for students, as it helps strengthen their shared sense of belonging to the classroom community. Inclusive language also helps invite marginalized and underrepresented communities to more actively participate, such as women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and various racial and ethnic groups.

One easy way to adapt to more inclusive language is by stopping the use of gender-specific language when addressing students. Switching from “guys” or “ladies and gentlemen” to “folks” or “everyone” may seem small and inconsequential, but this subtle change demonstrates an intentional effort to include everyone. Students of diverse backgrounds are more likely to feel that the digital classroom is a place where they are welcome and encouraged to speak, share, and engage.

Question 2: Does the Curriculum Reflect the Diversity of My Students?

In other words, do the lessons resonate with the voices, cultures, and historical perspectives of the specific students taking the course? While not every educator has control over what’s being taught in the classroom, they can still diversify how the curriculum is taught—from the resources they make available to their students to the types of projects they assign.

For example, educators can incorporate reference materials penned by minority researchers, or they can invite guest speakers and lecturers representing various cultural perspectives into the classroom. A diverse curriculum creates more opportunities for minority and marginalized students to participate in higher education. It also helps prepare all students with skills and knowledge desired by so many employers: the cross-cultural competence to work with colleagues from all kinds of backgrounds.

Question 3: Are My Assessment Practices Varied and Fair?

Every student has a unique assessment style that best demonstrates their competencies and capabilities. Incorporating different types of assessments—research papers, group presentations, video reflections, timed Q&As, etc.—lets students showcase their knowledge in a multitude of ways. Offering them a range of choices for how to present their learning can increase student engagement even further.²

Whether educators are designing or administering assessments for a course, explicitly stating the learning objectives that will be graded or evaluated is key. This provides students with the same clear and formative goals they must work toward and reach within a specified timeframe.

While these are not the only ways to evaluate how best to integrate more equitable teaching practices, these prompts serve as motivation for educators to more intentionally exercise inclusive behavior in the classroom.

Tune in next week for step two: initiate.

¹ Unbiasing Your Business: Workplace Diversity & Inclusion Statistics - Think with Google. (2020). Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

² Montenegro, E., & Jankowski, N. A. (2017, January). Equity and assessment: Moving towards culturally responsive assessment (Occasional Paper No. 29). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).

Learn more about us.

At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help universities thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.