Why Do It? Research On Inclusive Teaching

Creating an inclusive classroom environment isn’t just a nice idea—its effect on student engagement, learning, and achievement is supported by substantial academic research. On this page, we highlight key elements of this research, so that you can answer for yourself the questions “So what?” and “Why do it?”

What is “inclusive teaching,” anyway? There are a range of ways to define inclusive teaching, but some significant aspects of it include:

  • Purposeful design, teaching, and assessment that is engaging, meaningful, and accessible to all
  • Teaching that incorporates dynamic practices with an awareness of different learning styles
  • Using varied means of assessment to promote student academic success and well-being
  • Teaching that attends to students’ different social identities and backgrounds
  • Design, teaching and assessment that deliberately cultivates an environment in which all students are treated fairly, have equal access to learning, feel welcome, valued, challenged, and supported in succeeding academically

Our colleagues at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) have compiled an extensive list of research topics that provide an evidence basis for inclusive teaching. They note, additionally, that “almost all of this research directly speaks to the fact that what we call inclusive teaching practices are helpful for all students’ learning but especially beneficial to students who are members of groups underrepresented in their fields or traditionally underserved by institutions of higher education.” We reproduce these resources for you here.

The evidence basis for inclusive teaching includes (but is not limited to) research on:

  • the relation between classroom climate and student learning (as reviewed by Ambrose et al in chapter cited below)
  • stereotype threat as a barrier to academic success (Aronson; Steele; more here on reducing stereotype threat)
  • social belonging as key to student learning and persistence (e.g., Walton & Cohen)
  • contributors to student persistence and retention in STEM fields (CRLT Occasional Paper #25)
  • best practices for utilizing student groups and teams (as reviewed in CRLT Occasional Paper #29 ­­ focused on STEM fields but relevant in all disciplines)
  • the negative consequences of identity­-based microaggressions on learning
  • mindsets about intelligence and their relation to student persistence (Yeager and Dweck; Paunescu)
  • student development, including development of reflective judgment and intercultural maturity (King)
  • best practices for navigating difficult dialogues in higher education (more here on difficult dialogues)
  • Universal Design principles (National Center on Universal Design for Learning)
  • the importance of instructor transparency about course learning objectives as well as assessment criteria and its impact on student learning (more here on transparency in learning; see also Eddy and Hogan)
  • the benefits of cooperative learning (as reviewed in the Johnson meta­-analysis cited below).

Some Additional Resources (partially drawn from the CRLT page):

Ambrose, S., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., & Norman, M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research ­Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey­Bass. Chapter 6: “Why do Student Development and Course Climate Matter for Student Learning?”

Biernat, M., & Danaher, K. (2012). Interpreting and reacting to feedback in stereotype-relevant performance domains. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(1), 271 – 276. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2011.08.010

Brown University. (n.d.). Facilitating Effective Group Discussions: Tips. Retrieved from https://www.brown.edu/sheridan/teaching-learning-resources/teaching-resources/classroom-practices/learning-contexts/discussions/tips

Center for Research on Language and Teaching, University of Michigan (n.d.). Research Basis for Inclusive Teaching. http://crlt.umich.edu/node/90467

Centre for Educational Development, University of Bradford (2012 11-8). Inclusive Teaching. Education. https://www.slideshare.net/TQEG/inclusive-teaching.

Chollar, R. (2013 6–17). 10 Physical and Emotional Health Concerns of LGBTQ Students. Retrieved from https://www.campuspride.org/resources/10-physical-and-emotional-health-concerns-of-lgbt-students/

Croft, A., & Schmader, T. (2012). The Feedback Withholding Bias: Minority students do not receive critical feedback from evaluators concerned about appearing racist. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(5), 1139–1144. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2012.04.010

Eddy, S.L. & Hogan, K.A. (2014). Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work? CBE­­Life Sciences Education, 13, 453­468.

Fox, A. (2010). How to Crip the Undergraduate Classroom: Lessons from Performance, Pedagogy, and Possibility. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 23(1), 38–46.

Gurin, P., Dey, E.L., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G. (2002). Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes. Harvard Educational Review, 72(3), 330­366.

Johnson, D., Johnson R., & Smith, K. (2014). Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 85­118.

Kardia, D., & Saunders, S. Creating Inclusive College Classrooms. http://crlt.umich.edu/gsis/p3_1

King, P.M. and Baxter Magolda, M.B. (2005). A developmental model of intercultural maturity. Journal of College Student Development 46(6), 571­592.

Maier, H. (2016 3–17). Hannah Maier: Faculty sensitivity training. The Michigan Daily. Ann Arbor. Retrieved from https://www.michigandaily.com/section/columns/hannah-maier-faculty-sensitivity-training

Nagda, B.A., Gurin, P., Sorensen, N., Zuniga, X. (2009). Evaluating intergroup dialogue: Engaging diversity for personal and social responsibility. Diversity & Democracy 12(1), 4­6.

Page, S. (2007). The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Routenberg, R., Sclafani, T. (2010). Facilitating Through ‘Perfectly Logical Explanations (PLEs)’ and Other Challenging Participant Comments. ACPA Commission for Social Justice Educators, 6. http://www.academia.edu/11240620/Facilitating_through_perfectly_logical_explanations_and_other_challenging_participant_comments

Ruscher, J., Wallace, D., Walker, K., & Bell, L. (2010). Constructive feedback in cross-race interactions. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 13(5), 603–619. https://doi.org/10.1177/1368430210364629

Steele, Claude. (2011). Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. Reprint ed. New York: Norton.

Svinicki, M. & McKeachie, W.J. (2011). Active Learning: Group­Based Learning. In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. (13 th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

University of Missouri, Diversity &. Equity. (n.d.-a). The Language of Identity: Using inclusive terminology at Mizzou. Retrieved from https://diversity.missouri.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/inclusive-language.pdf

Wlodkowski, Raymond J. and Margery B. Ginsberg. (1995). Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey­Bass.

Yeager, D.S. & Dweck, C.S. (2012). Mindsets that Promote Resilience: When Students Believe that Personal Characteristics can be Developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314.