Course Design > Course Content and Examples
Interrogate and expand the representation of identities in course readings and other learning materials. Incorporate diverse examples to illustrate concepts without marginalizing students from different backgrounds and cultures.
Identify DEI in your Course Materials
Seek out “hidden figures” in the field
Seek out disciplinary journals, magazines, and websites to find stories on “hidden figures” in the field who contributed significantly but rarely receive credit for canonical work or discoveries.
- Reference resources created by colleagues in your field, like this list of papers started by Erica Wojcik, Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) authors in Psychology. (Psychology)
- Leverage websites, such as Skype a Scientist, that host live streams and video recordings in which scientists with diverse identities describe their work. (Physics)
- Adopt a “design justice” perspective to give proper attribution to community members (including activists) in the design of social technologies, such as highlighting and correcting the origin myth of Twitter. (Human Computer Interactions)
- Including underrepresented identities in the field means taking into account gender, race, sexual orientation, and more.
- Videos, blogs, and other digital multimedia can provide diverse sources of content to supplement textbooks or other traditional readings.
- When course content is accessible for students (e.g., free, available through the CMU library, digitally accessible), learning can be more equitable.
Show modern, diverse practitioners
Show not only classic authors and examples, but also modern, diverse practitioners who use that technique or theory.
- When discussing the history of your field, highlight the diverse, modern scholars or practitioners who use, apply, or build upon foundational works in the field. (Biological Sciences)
- Consider the visible and invisible identity characteristics of invited guest speakers when extending invitations. Don’t invite speakers who all “look” the same. (Economics)
- Intentionally select diverse perspectives and authors when choosing readings. For example, when you find two similar articles on a topic written by a white male and a Black female, consider using the latter. Also consider including different types of knowledge from different geographical regions of the world, rather than only relying on “classic” texts which mostly come from the Western World. (Anthropology)
- Intentionally include writers and designers from underrepresented minorities, especially those used for in-class exercises, which emphasizes their contributions, relevance, and importance in the field. (Design)
- Librarians, colleagues, and professional organizations can help you find and share resources.
- Incorporating a range of materials (e.g., texts, articles, music, guest speakers, community figures, speeches and spoken word), can help you find more diverse examples.
- Including multiple examples help to represent different cultural and disciplinary perspectives.
- When course content is accessible for students (e.g., free, available through the CMU library, digitally accessible), learning can be more equitable.
Highlight authors’ gender or ethnic diversity
Use first and last names when listing authors of journal articles and books (to better highlight gender or ethnic diversity). Show images of authors and practitioners to highlight diversity.
- When assigning recent articles from peer reviewed journals prior to class discussions, assign students (on a rotating basis) to research the authors’ background and share what they learn with the class on the day the reading is discussed. Students can also share their short biography on an editable Canvas page. (Human Computer Interactions)
- Incorporate images of scholars and authors into lectures to highlight their visual diversity and make them more real to students. (Public Policy)
- Ask TAs to research people who contributed to experiments and relevant research in addition to the namesake scientists. In the lectures that precede lab exercises, highlight these contributors with their images and full names. (Chemistry)
- Create “expert videos” from invited guests to bring in diversity beyond the pool of experts in your department or that are available to visit locally. (Biomedical Engineering)
- Students and/or TAs can help in the efforts to search out scholars, researchers, and authors not typically highlighted.
- When the reading or scholar list does not appear diverse regarding particular identities (e.g., few women and non-binary authors are represented), acknowledging this discrepancy and the rationale for your choices can help avoid implicitly marginalizing identities not represented in the course content.
Check your course materials for gaps in perspective
Conduct an audit of your course materials, with or without student participation. What perspectives are missing or implicitly valued and prioritized? How can gaps be mitigated, consistent with your learning goals?
- Create a small group classroom activity in which students and instructors collaboratively audit the syllabus and course materials and examples for representation across several combinations of identity characteristics (e.g., race, gender, nationality, etc.). Identify patterns and gaps. Then, crowdsource materials to fill those gaps in representation. Budget time to briefly revisit previous topics, which reinforces prior learning while filling gaps. (Computer Science)
- Invite students to nominate topics they would like to cover during the second half of the course. Select a subset that will help diversify the perspectives and identities represented in course materials. Incorporate them into broader class themes during the second half of the course. Frame this as the students’ contribution to the syllabus. (Social and Decision Sciences)
- Find contemporary examples of research or creative work to present alongside the associated canonical work, illustrating how diverse, contemporary scholars or artists build upon prior work in valuable ways. (English)
- Proactively request syllabi from colleagues who have designed similar courses, including those from other institutions who may have students with different demographic distributions. (Any)
- Starting small and building over time is a useful approach if a full course audit seems daunting (e.g.,working unit by unit, auditing additional units each time you teach the course).
- Including TAs or students in the process to crowdsource effort and perspectives makes it a collaborative effort in which students have a voice in course content.
Organize course content by theme
Organize and sequence course content by theme rather than chronology. Highlight why classical works are important within each theme while emphasizing more recent work from different sources, scholars, or artists.
- Use low stakes assignments that allow students to find diverse examples for each course theme. Students contextualize their examples, placing them on a timeline alongside “the classics”. (Music)
- Organize material into themes using modules on Canvas. In each module, include the classic works and examples as well as those less often cited. (Drama)
- Rather than presenting canonical work, present the work of individuals challenging canonical works in important ways. This teaches the classics and history of the field, but from the perspectives of contemporary or more modern scholars, allowing for more diverse representation and perspectives. (Public Policy)
- Organizing course content by theme rather than time can help students find relevant connections to their own life, leading to higher motivation and engagement.
- Providing a visual advance organizer (outline, diagram, concept map, etc.) to highlight relationships among themes can help students make connections among concepts and to the big picture.
- Crowdsourcing the identification of examples can help students with different backgrounds and identities make meaning and see the relevance of their learning.
Consider your students’ prior knowledge and experiences
Avoid examples that rely on detailed knowledge of a single culture
Avoid examples that rely on detailed knowledge/experience with a single culture or time period.
- Assign research-based projects which allow the student to be curious and reach beyond what they know, rather than assigning them a specific data set with which they don’t identify. (Statistics and Data Science)
- Discuss why one shouldn’t use idioms when creating personality scales, or other survey instruments, because it might not apply to or be understood by all cultures. (Psychology)
- Avoid using concrete examples that might implicitly and consistently be tied to a single cultural or social context. For example, show how an engineering design has been adapted across different contexts, countries, and cultures, so that students from different backgrounds can better relate to the examples. (Mechanical Engineering)
- Providing multiple, concrete examples or references, when possible, supports students who are unfamiliar with a concept.
- Anonymous forms allow students to ask follow-up questions about specific examples mentioned briefly during class.
- Using a muddiest point exercise or other classroom assessment technique can identify which examples did not resonate with students, which allows instructors to provide clarification or additional diverse examples online or during the next class session.
Make no assumptions about students’ familiarity
Do not assume all students are familiar with idioms or particular pop-culture or sports references.
- When any cultural-specific pop-culture references are unavoidable (e.g., disruptive technologies in the entertainment industries), provide sufficient background and invite the students to share similar examples from their own background. (Arts Management)
- In addition to idiomatic references, also avoid exclusively referring to “age-related” or obscure historical references dating before student lifetimes. Include modern examples or, at minimum, contextualize historical references in terms of how they relate to modern challenges. (Computer Science)
- Invite students to type “Huh?” into the Chat in Zoom (or other backchannel) if someone makes an unfamiliar reference. Ask a TA to monitor the backchannel and interrupt class to prompt immediate clarification. (Economics)
- If using idioms, explain them and compare different idioms and their origins. They are often a good jumping off point to discuss differences and similarities. The important factor is not to assume understanding at all times. (Linguistics)
- If one student is confused by a reference, others may be, too.
- Including necessary background information and/or defining vocabulary/jargon for examples supports students who may be unfamiliar with certain terms.
- An anonymous outlet lets students ask questions that they make not ask in front of others.
- TA’s can provide support by previewing materials and flag potentially non-inclusive references/examples. Inviting students to flag non-inclusive examples (anonymously) as the course progresses is another option.
Use examples that represent an array of students’ identities
Use varied examples, metaphors, and analogies to illustrate concepts and ideas such that an array of student identities and backgrounds are represented.
- Explore Metaphors We Live By (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003), which contains examples of potentially helpful metaphors once might adapt or adopt. (Modern Languages)
- Design an assignment or activity using Dan Lockton et al.’s New Metaphors method to surface different associations or interpretations of particular social issues. (Design)
- Provide personal stories of how you previously struggled with course material as a student because of challenges tied to background or identity (Computer Science/Human Computer Interaction)
- Exploring more than one culture, genre, industry, etc. will help collect multiple examples, metaphors, and analogies.
- It is helpful to include necessary background information and/or define vocabulary/jargon for examples that may be unfamiliar to some students.
Communicate and involve students
Be transparent about content choices
Be transparent about content choices and associated goals, particularly when those choices engage directly with issues that may seem counter to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
- Avoid marginalizing rhetoric and attitudes along the lines of, “Diversity, equity, and inclusion is important, but out of scope for this course.” And, create a space for students to voice their concerns, possibly via an anonymous channel. (Robotics)
- Include a statement on the syllabus recognizing diversity concerns, “I acknowledge we will be using Shakespeare’s text as the primary foundation for our study, and that his stature in the Western Canon is not without complications. We will focus on this particular text not because it is seen as “superior” than other playwrights, but because the language and rhythm can immediately introduce students to a more physical and vocal style of acting. To balance this focus the reading material is also full of contemporary playwrights and writers with a variety of backgrounds.” (Drama)
- When a series of readings or scholars around a particular topic or history appear more homogenous, make these gaps a topic of discussion. Ask students to inquire as to why that gap exists and how to address it in their own work as well as inviting suggestions for other ways to enhance perspectives without missing key themes from the field. (English)
- Planning for difficult dialogues that may arise unexpectedly due to course materials, including, but not limited to, establishing discussion guidelines, prepares instructors to address potential conflicts.
- When possible, selecting more inclusive options that align with course goals (vs. potentially problematic content) can reduce potential issues.
Discuss examples identified by students
Crowdsource and discuss examples identified by students as an activity during or between class sessions.
- Use a Canvas discussion board, Google slides or Google docs to ask questions that encourage sharing multiple perspectives. Then, during class, incorporate ideas from the discussion board (and rotate among students), so students can see their ideas as part of the class discussion. (Engineering and Public Policy)
- Rather than curating the ideal set of examples, challenge students to regularly identify, reflect upon, and share a work that embodies a particular concept, theme, or technique. Use class discussions or asynchronous tools to compare and contrast student-generated examples. (Art and Music)
- Allowing students to crowdsource examples before class also provides “shy” students and second language learners a text-based opportunity for contributing ideas.
- Asynchronous crowdsourcing activities can facilitate communication between in-person and remote students or students in different time zones.
- Reviewing and providing feedback on student examples may be less time consuming than finding and curating a diverse set of examples yourself.
Let students choose datasets that reveal broader societal issues
If teaching statistical, mathematical, or computational principles that rely on data, let students choose datasets that reveal broader societal issues they are invested in.
- Let students choose current events for their final projects to demonstrate their understanding course material with data they relate to or that interests them. (Statistics and Data Science)
- If there are enough students in the class, generate data from the students themselves (removing identifiers) and use it during class as a learning tool. (Social and Decision Sciences)
- Providing a list of websites and examples of where to find datasets can support students who may have less experience with choosing data.
- Publicly available datasets are influenced by societal, cultural, and disciplinary biases, both in terms of what is available and how it is presented.
- Discussing these biases early and openly can mitigate potential marginalization of students.
- Regardless, students may still encounter conspicuous demographic gaps in publicly available data. Preparing in advance can help you support students in the moment.
Eberly colleagues are here to help!
Eberly colleagues are available to help you translate strategies and examples to your particular teaching context (email@example.com).