Maintaining Equity and Inclusion in Virtual Learning Environments Guidance for GW Faculty

At GW, we want to ensure that faculty continuously provide students with access to the materials they need to succeed in the course when the learning contexts are rapidly changing.  As campuses around the country navigate the impact and constantly changing nature of COVID-19, an increasing number of institutions have decided to move all classes online. Remote teaching could present a number of challenges for faculty, including the logistics--both pedagogical and technological--of how to transition course lectures, discussions, and lab or studio learning experiences online. It remains critical to maintain and constantly work towards creating the most equitable and inclusive virtual learning environments.

This document provides suggestions and resources to help continue teaching in ways that are equitable and inclusive as faculty move to teach face-to-face classes remotely. It is our intention to provide faculty with as much information as possible, recognizing that this could be overwhelming.  We hope that having this information in the background as faculty plan their courses will help ensure that what faculty do implement will follow best practices. 

Please also note the university guidelines and adjustments, noting that these are continuously updated on a daily basis:

  • Most spring 2020 courses are moved online
  • Students are permitted to choose to move to a pass/fail grade for this semester
  • Faculty have autonomy to adjust their syllabi and a responsibility to communicate those changes to students enrolled in the course
  • University events have been canceled through spring 2020
  • Students should not be asked to attend in-person events as part of their course requirements 
  • Students with on campus-housing for spring 2020 are being reimbursed for a portion of their housing as a result of being asked to move off campus
  • Gelman Library is closed
  • Dining options on campus are limited to individuals with GWorld 

Please also consider and be mindful the following items as you make adjustments:

  • Some of our students may be directly impacted by COVID-19 illness themselves or they may be providing care for a family member sick with COVID. Students in these circumstances may reach out to you for flexibility with class requirements. 
  • Not all students left campus and went to the safest home
    • GW is working with all students who indicated needing/wanting support with housing (e.g., some students are in hotels, some students have been financially supported by GW to return home)
  • Many students are their most authentic versions of self while on our campus, and being off campus/at home could lead to a shift in their behaviors
  • Not all students have access to the same technology that we offer on campus, and it is possible that some may not be able to fully engage online (e.g., students without access to a computer)
  • Students eat and drink during your courses in person; please consider how you respond to students doing the same on a virtual platform where you may see them close up


There are three aspects of accessibility that are key here – accessibility for students with physical impairments that may create challenges for reading/seeing/hearing digital files and content, accessibility for students with psychological and/or learning differences that require certain accommodations such as extra time to process materials or additional exam time, and accessibility for students with limited access to computers or stable internet service.

  • Ensure that there is an alternative format available ie, transcript for audio or closed captioning on media.
  • Provide approved accommodations for students who present accommodation letters from the Disability Support Services office 
  • Check whether content is mobile-friendly
  • Consider variation in students’ access to computers and stable internet service

Here are additional resources for creating the most accessible online classroom environment:


Aware and Mindful of Various & Multiple Identities

A critical feature of equity-minded teaching is the acknowledgement that our students are NOT all the same, that they come to us with sometimes vastly different experiences, and those experiences are often tied to their social identities (i.e., race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, first-gen status, etc.). In the virtual environment, and at this particular moment, there are several ways that you can incorporate that acknowledgement into your course in meaningful ways.  

  • Address microaggressions and concerning language in discussion boards, chats, and other places where students interact
  • Consider integrating culturally-relevant materials and know that ODECE is happy to be in consultation 
  • Be aware of variation in students’ capacity to manage remote learning
  • Be aware of how the current situation is impacting different communities

Our colleagues at the University of Denver have a great resource on disrupting microaggressions in the classroom that could be helpful as you shift your course design.


While establishing supportive interpersonal relationships with students is one of the most fundamental tenets of effective teaching, it can be particularly important for students from traditionally under-represented backgrounds. 

  • Continue to have opportunities for live, synchronous engagement 
  • Talk to your students about what is happening
  • Build/maintain community among students 
  • Provide students with support and resources

Our colleagues at Vanderbilt University have a great resource for teaching in a time of crisis that could be helpful to you as you work to be more intentional about the relationships and individual experiences of students during COVID-19.

Flexibility and Openness

A key aspect of equitable and inclusive teaching, in general, is recognizing and working with the diversity of our students, along multiple dimensions. As you move your course into a different modality, try to stay open to trying a few new things; you may find that one silver lining to this situation is that you discover new ways of teaching that are both better for your students and more enjoyable for you!

  • Have flexible policies: Review your syllabus and consider what changes might be needed to your grading weights, late policies, and other course policies in order to accommodate this transition
  • Think about alternative ways that students can engage with your course (flexible activities)
  • Think about alternative ways that students can show you what they have learned (flexible assessments)

Our colleagues at Cal Poly have a great resource on ways to reconsider the final assignments in a course that could be helpful as you reimagine your syllabi.