How do you plan on ensuring that all students feel seen and heard in your course? While it might seem like a loaded question, a great place to start is by examining your required reading list. Your chosen course materials will have a direct impact on whether students feel valued—and recent data suggests that while progress has been made in academia, there’s still room for improvement. For example, a 2023 Student Voice survey of 2,000 undergraduates indicates that only 42 percent of two- and four-year respondents say their professors choose diverse instructional materials.1
Prioritizing diversity in your syllabus goes beyond selecting work from scholars of color. We recommend four strategies to guide you in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion when compiling your reading list. Plus, we spotlight how Top Hat can make the reading experience more representative and reflective of your cohort.
1. Assess which narratives are missing
All students want their unique identities and backgrounds to be reflected within your chosen course materials. As you begin to select your required readings for the term, examine which historical narratives are missing. For instance, are Latinx peoples adequately represented in a required reading about the civil rights movement? Are the contributions of Black women fairly portrayed in your STEM syllabus? If you’re unsure how to find and incorporate diverse authors into your reading list, refer to this guide by George Mason University. You’ll find database suggestions that specifically highlight marginalized voices—such as GenderWatch that advances women’s and 2SLGBTQ+ research—as well as a list of diverse authors in your field.
Top Hat’s dynamic courseware allows faculty to promote a more inclusive reading experience. Jennifer Donovan, Associate Teaching Professor of Chemistry at Arizona State University, authored a bespoke title, Introductory Chemistry, with Top Hat. In doing so, she was better able to celebrate the contributions of women and underrepresented communities that often get overlooked in the STEM field. As an example, Donovan customized her chapter on DNA to ensure the work of Rosalind Franklin—a scholar who is often excluded when discussing the molecular structure of DNA—was adequately spotlighted.
2. Balance a variety of content formats
Representation often refers to the granular topics and diverse authors listed on your reading list. But going one level deeper, diversifying your materials means choosing different mediums for students to absorb knowledge. For instance, you might balance textbook readings with TED Talks, podcasts and online simulations for students to put their understanding to the test. This idea ladders up to Universal Design for Learning: a framework that involves using a variety of teaching methods to best serve all students. One of three tenets, striving for ‘Multiple Means of Representation’ involves presenting material in accessible ways. In doing so, you’ll be more equipped to support those with learning disabilities, neurodivergent students and those who consider themselves visual or kinesthetic learners.
As you source your new set of course materials, consider asking yourself the following questions.
- Have I supplemented my readings with visual aids such as photographs, videos, diagrams and interactive simulations?
- Have I added alternative text to imagery?
- Have I enabled closed captioning on any media I have selected?
- Have I posted electronic equivalents of paper handouts?
- Have I shared my course materials online in advance of the start of the semester?
- Are my required textbooks available in my university’s library for students to loan?
- Are my course materials compatible with text-to-speech software?
For more suggestions on incorporating diverse content formats into your classroom, refer to this guide prepared by the University of Saskatchewan.
3. Consider adding a Diversity Statement to your syllabus
There are several opportunities beyond your reading list where you can remind students that they belong. Adding a diversity statement to your syllabus can be a great place to begin. This statement signals why diverse authors from historically marginalized backgrounds were chosen for your reading list. This short blurb also surfaces norms and expectations for inviting students to discuss sensitive topics related to race, gender and politics, depending on your subject matter. You might use this as an opportunity to share how disagreements between students will be handled should they arise during class discussions. Check out these sample diversity statements compiled by instructors at Yale University and customize these to fit your curriculum needs.
4. Give your students greater say
Mixing up the format and content of your readings doesn’t start and end with you. Allow your students to request that a certain piece of media be added to your reading list at the start of the semester. By inviting students to pitch newspaper articles, journals, TED talks, podcast episodes or even reality TV episodes into your syllabus, they’ll automatically feel as if their voices are being heard, and more importantly, valued. Consider using a Google Form or your LMS to host a discussion where students can drop links at their leisure. You might also use Top Hat’s classroom discussion tools to let students anonymously share any suggested materials they’d like their peers to read.
See how Top Hat Pages allows you to personalize class readings with real-time events, lived experiences and historical milestones to make learning more representative. Watch the video below to hear how four professors have made classroom readings more diverse and timely.
- Flaherty, C. (2023, Feb. 13). Survey: Students Cite Barriers to Success, Seek Flexibility. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/student-success/academic-life/2023/02/13/survey-top-five-barriers-student-success