To support equity, diversity, and inclusion, the syllabus is often the first student facing document that students will encounter from your class and can set the tone and framing for inclusive and equitable practices and pedagogy. The following are some concepts to keep in mind while designing the syllabus document for a course.
Audit the Reading List and Resources
Look over the representation of the authors for readings and resources in the course and think of the possibility to add more representational content that takes into account location as well as race, class, gender, disability, and sexual orientation. These resources and readings will be different depending on the discipline, but adding more context that speaks to student’s lived experience can help support inclusion in courses.
Review Student Course Learning Outcomes
Review the course student learning outcomes for phrasing or goals that may not be inclusive and revise them where possible. The Educational Developers at the RGSAC can support learning outcome review.
Include a Land Acknowledgment
Providing a land acknowledgment in the syllabi acknowledges the land where we work and live and demonstrates an awareness of place and Indigenous history of the land. The UofT land acknowledgement statement is found on the Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Office website. Some instructors may have a personalized land acknowledgment that they wish to include in the syllabus. Please contact the UTM Indigenous Centre for more information.
Include the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Statement
The following equity, diversity & inclusion statement should be included in the syllabus:
The University of Toronto is committed to equity, human rights and respect for diversity. All members of the learning environment in this course should strive to create an atmosphere of mutual respect where all members of our community can express themselves, engage with each other, and respect one another’s differences. U of T does not condone discrimination or harassment against any persons or communities.
Include Information on how Accessibility will be supported
If the course design includes elements that support accessibility, these could be noted on the syllabus. This will help students to know what can be expected in the course. Some information to include could be the following:
- Automatic captions provided on Zoom
- Videos have captions and transcripts
- Alternative modalities of information are provided like plain text or accessible Word docs or PDFs
Include Information on How Religious Accommodations Will Be Supported
In creating your syllabus and thinking of course design, review the dates for religious observances found on the University’s Vice Provost’s website. Scheduling tests and other mandatory activities in consideration of religious holy days and observances can contribute to a more inclusive learning environment. To support students with religious observance accommodation requests you can include the following in your course syllabi:
As a student at the University of Toronto, you are part of a diverse community that welcomes and includes students, staff, and faculty from a wide range of backgrounds, cultural traditions, and spiritual beliefs. For my part, I will make every reasonable effort to avoid scheduling tests, examinations, or other compulsory activities on religious holy days not captured by statutory holidays. Further to University Policy, if you anticipate being absent from class or missing a major course activity (like a test, or in-class assignment) due to a religious observance, please let me know as early in the course as possible, and with sufficient notice (a minimum of three weeks is recommended), so that we can work together to make alternate arrangements
Include Information that Supports 2SLGBTQ+ Inclusion
The syllabus can also include information and expectations on using pronouns in class or online. Information on how to add pronouns is found on this Zoom page. The syllabi can also reference the positive space campaign and the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office.
Include Foundational Guidance on Ethical Communication
The syllabus document can also provide foundational guidance on communication in the course. This can include aspects such as etiquette and respect for peers. There can also be space (either synchronously or asynchronously) in the course to allow students to co-create these guidelines together in order to promote inclusive framing.
Provide Space in Course for Reflection and Authentic Experience
The syllabus can highlight spaces in the course for reflection and the support for students’ authentic lived experience in course discussions and assessments. This can be done with assessment design the includes choice and multiple means of engagement as highlighted by Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines (CAST, 2018). The syllabus can indicate that there will be topic choice for assignments.
Review Timing and Due Date for Assessments
Look over when assessments are due and the weighting of the assessment and highlight scaffolding opportunities, such as breaking larger assignments into smaller pieces with due dates that allow for reflection and revision. Also look at the time assessments are to be submitted by keeping in mind students with families and working students.
Office Hour Options
Providing options for office hours is an inclusive strategy that will support all students (Glass, Gesing, Hales, & Cong, 2017) and if the syllabus outlines both scheduled office hours and a more unstructured drop-in collective space like “student hours,” or “conversation café” (Fuentes, Zelaya, & Madsen, 2021) it can support more equitable access to the instructor and peers.
Provide UTM Community Resources
The syllabus can reference UTM Community Resources that support students. If you do not include these links in the syllabus document, your syllabus can reference where they can be found in your Quercus course shell. UTM Community Resources that can be included are:
- Accessibility Services
- Equity Diversity and Inclusion Office
- Indigenous Centre
- Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre
- UTM Health & Counselling Centre
- UTM Student Union
- Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre
Document design and accessibility
The design of the syllabus as a document itself can also support inclusion and equity by keeping accessible design principles in mind. Some may choose to use icons in the document to flag information, but this is not necessary. The following guidelines for accessible Word and PDF documents as outlined by Microsoft can support access to the syllabus document physically and cognitively.
If you would like to discuss any of the considerations above please feel free to reach out to an Educational Developer at the RGASC for a one-on-one consultation.
CAST. (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. http://udlguidelines.cast.org
Glass, C.R., Gesing, P., Hales, A., & Cong, C. (2017). Faculty as bridges to co-curricular engagement and community for first-generation international students, Studies in Higher Education, 42:5, 895-910, DOI:10.1080/03075079.2017.1293877
Fuentes, M.A, Zelaya, D.G, & Madsen, J.W. (2021). Rethinking the Course Syllabus: Considerations for Promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Teaching of Psychology 48(1), pp. 69-79. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0098628320959979
Microsoft. (2021). Make your Word documents accessible. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/topic/make-your-word-documents-accessible-to-people-with-disabilities-d9bf3683-87ac-47ea-b91a-78dcacb3c66d