The Inclusive Syllabus

In the January edition of Edubytes, our guest editors are Judy Chan, Hailan Chen, John Cheng, Will Engle, Sue Hampton, Isabeau Iqbal and Bosung Kim.



As the start of the term is now behind us, it’s a good time to reflect back upon the syllabus, which can be an important tool for welcoming students and setting the tone for a course. While most universities, including UBC, have policies about what information should and must be included in a syllabus, taking an inclusive and student-centered approach in your syllabus can be an effective strategy for inviting your students into the learning process. It is likely the first point of interaction students will have with you, the instructor, and it is your first opportunity to get them excited about the course. Whether you teach a mandatory course or an elective, students want to be engaged meaningfully in their learning.


What is an inclusive syllabus?


“An inclusive syllabus emphasizes the importance of engaging with and valuing difference, and incorporates equity and inclusion into key course information, such as course policies, readings, assignments and resources.” (Inclusive Syllabus: What is it? [PDF] )


An inclusive syllabus is learner-centered, and focuses on learners by clearly communicating what students will do, and how the course and the instructor can facilitate their academic success and thrive. The tone of an inclusive syllabus is warm, supporting, and caring (Harnish & Bridges, 2011). An inclusive syllabus signals to learners that their unique perspectives and experiences are welcomed, and helps to foster a sense of belonging, especially for students who are historically and systemically marginalized. The syllabus will clearly describe the tools and supports available to ensure all learners have equitable opportunities to succeed in the course.

An inclusive syllabus is also the result of thoughtful course design planning. Implementing strategies from Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in your course aims to create flexible learning spaces where all students can access course materials, stay motivated and engaged, and have various chances to express their learning accessibility in mind so all students can read and navigate information without difficulties, even on mobile devices (learn about the Accessible Syllabus and OER Accessibility Toolkit). It is also important to include information about how a student with a disability can request an accommodation.


How can I shift my syllabus to be more inclusive?


Quick Refinements

  • Adopt a warm and inclusive tone and language. Model the use of pronouns and respectful behaviour by including your own pronouns and using welcoming, encouraging, gender-neutral, invitational, and jargon-free language. Address students directly using the second person to convey a sense of support, respect, commitment, etc.

  • Explain the rationale of the course design and modality. Explain to students the modality of the course and the rationale for why it is designed that way. Communicating the "what and how" of all course activities will allow learners to better understand how the course will operate, and to make decisions about their learning accordingly.

  • Describe how students can communicate with you and each other. Office hours can be a mystery for some students; rather than just listing office hours, clearly describe the ways students can communicate with each other and how they can reach out to the teaching team. Highlight the benefit of doing so, including for any questions, concerns, feedback or support related to the course.

  • Include supportive and flexible course policies. Consider student diversity and explain the purpose and the rationale for course policies such as attendance, participation or missed exams and assignments.

  • Highlight the benefits of support available for students. Students may not always be aware of the various support available to them. Share relevant resources for student success such as academic advising, writing support, tutoring, accommodations for accessibility, health and wellbeing, and emphasize the benefits of accessing these resources.


Moderate Changes

  • Articulate a clear and relevant course description/overview. Explain how the course functions within the overall curriculum, why it is useful for other courses, and how it connects to a student's career or everyday life.

  • Include your teaching philosophy and commitments towards equity, diversity and inclusion. State your general approach to teaching and convey your commitments to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in your teaching in a diversity statement. Consider a more meaningful land acknowledgement specific to the course and context.

    Reflect on the UBC land acknowledgements and consider how you might meaningfully acknowledge the Indigenous lands and territories on which the course takes place, and how you and the course will engage with the statement you make. Learn more by taking the Respect, Sincerity & Responsibility: Land Acknowledgements @ UBC self-paced course.

  • Craft a detailed course schedule. An undergraduate survey on creating student-focused syllabi (PDF) underscores the importance of an organized and detailed course schedule that can support students in managing their own learning while lowering their metacognitive load for understanding the flow and structure of the course. This schedule can include weeks, topics, readings, activities, and important due dates.


Emerging Trends

Recently, the idea of a “liquid syllabus” has emerged as a means of providing a humanizing introduction to the instructor and course before it begins. Taking its name from the marketing term liquid content, which refers to web content that is highly shared for the ideas contained within it, a liquid syllabus welcomes students to the course by being both inclusive and learner-centered, as well as published openly on the web in a way that is easy to share, link to, and access on mobile devices. According to Michelle Pacansky-Brock, who coined the term, a liquid syllabus is barrier-free, accessible, and friendly. Along with traditional syllabus materials, it also includes humanizing elements, such as an informal welcome video aimed at building students’ sense of belongingness and “providing students with contextual cues (who is delivering this message, how is it being delivered) that text alone leaves out.” Pacansky-Brock’s free self-paced course on the liquid syllabus walks through the steps for creating one.


Resources for Going Further

  • Learner-Centered Syllabus Toolkit: This UBC toolkit provides questions for reflection, suggestions, sample syllabi language, and ideas on sub-sections to include. It is not intended to be a template, but rather provides resources to help instructors formulate inclusive syllabi that fit their own courses and contexts.

  • Inclusive Syllabus – What is it? (PDF): This 3-page primer was produced by the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) and the Equity and Inclusion Office at UBC. It offers a brief introduction to the inclusive syllabus, why it’s important, and some practical strategies.

  • Inclusive Syllabus Workshop: The CTLT offers a hands-on studio session during which instructors assess their syllabus for hidden assumptions, review exemplar syllabi, and revise their own syllabus to make it more learner-centered and inclusive. The next offering is April 19, 2023,10am-12pm (registration required).

  • What Does Your Syllabus Say About Your Course? A Worksheet for Reflection (PDF): This CTLT-created worksheet uses learner-centered and inclusive teaching principles to help instructors assess how well their syllabus communicates their intentions for the course to their students.

  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Syllabus by This site provides guidance, and an annotated example, that helps instructors develop a syllabus which follows the UDL principles.

  • Inclusive Teaching: Equity, Diversity & Inclusion in Teaching and Learning: This self-paced UBC course is for instructors in all disciplines who are interested in developing their capacity to create more inclusive classrooms and learning environments. The content is also relevant for anyone involved in teaching and learning in higher education and consists of five independent modules. Module 3 introduces inclusive teaching, including a Sample Syllabus with some commentary on inclusive practices.

  • Inclusive Teaching @ UBC: This UBC website is for instructors, graduate students and staff who want to learn more about inclusive teaching practices. It offers a wide range of resources, such as handouts and toolkits on various topics ranging from Indigenous initiatives, anti-racist teaching, accessibility, and classroom climate, along with opportunities for professional development and funding relevant to these topics at UBC.

  • Creating a syllabus that students want to read, Oregon State University: This post provides strategies for creating a syllabus that students want to read, such as making it visually appealing, the use of video and infographics, and attention to tone.

Enjoyed reading about the inclusive syllabus? Learn about other topics we covered in the January 2023 edition by reading the complete Edubytes newsletter. To view past issues, visit the Edubytes archive.

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