Intentionally Creating an Inclusive and Welcoming Climate in the Online Learning Classroom

Intentionally Creating an Inclusive and Welcoming Climate in the Online Learning Classroom

Jon P. Humiston (Central Michigan University, USA), Sarah M. Marshall (Central Michigan University, USA), Nicole L. Hacker (Central Michigan University, USA) and Luis M. Cantu (Central Michigan University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0115-3.ch012

Abstract

The online classroom environment may feel safer for students in marginalized groups because the sense of anonymity the environment can provide. While faculty purposely strive to ensure all students are treated equitably in traditional, in-person classrooms, faculty should not assume power and privilege are not impacting the online classroom environment for students, particularly students from underrepresented identities. Research indicates that marginalized students face different challenges in online classrooms than in traditional, in-person classrooms. Further, power and privilege manifests in the online classroom in different ways than in traditional classrooms. This chapter positions a critical lens on the ways that power and privilege impact the online environment, why marginalized students are drawn to the online classroom, the challenges they face, and how faculty contribute to the creation or resolution of these problems. Finally, the chapter concludes with strategies for intentionally promoting inclusion in online classrooms.
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Introduction

The online classroom environment may feel safer for students from marginalized groups because the sense of anonymity the environment provides (Erichsen & Bolliger, 2011; Sullivan, 2002). While faculty purposely strive to ensure students are treated equitably in traditional, in-person classrooms, they should not assume power and privilege do not impact the online classroom environment for students, particularly students from marginalized identities (e.g., gender, gender identity, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, different abilities, and other identities where power and privilege marginalize a student’s identity/identities). These identities can affect motivation, retention, and classroom success. Being sensitive to difference and ensuring all students feel valued and respected can mean the difference between a student who successfully graduates and one who does not. Integrating the principles of diversity, inclusion, and equity into teaching are essential to ensuring student learning. An individual’s ability to effectively learn is often influenced by their sense of belonging, and, without an intentional focus on inclusive teaching practices, instructors can unknowingly alienate certain learners, thus causing them to withdraw mentally, emotionally, or physically from the course.

Delivering a course via an online platform presents similar, yet often overlooked, challenges pertaining to the development of an inclusive learning environment. Perhaps most importantly, the ways in which power and privilege impact the online classroom cannot be overlooked. Rovai and Wightin (2005) acknowledged that the online environment provides a greater likelihood for marginalized students to feel alienated or disconnected from the social and learning community. Also, Sujo de Montes, Oran, and Willis (2002) cautioned faculty to not assume issues are not present in the online environment and that they should be proactive in addressing issues of bias and assumptions. Added challenges typically faced by marginalized students in traditional classroom settings may include imposter syndrome, implicit bias, and microaggressions (Sujo et. al, 2002). These same barriers to learning can easily present themselves in an online class.

This chapter positions a critical lens on the ways that power and privilege can impact the online environment for marginalized students and outlines the need for inclusive teaching. Also, the chapter details why marginalized students are drawn to the online classroom, the challenges they face and how faculty contribute to the creation or resolution of these problems. Finally, the chapter concludes with strategies for promoting inclusion in online classrooms.

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