Learning How to Create an Inclusive Online Space

Takeaways from the Open Conversation: Creating & Maintaining Inclusive Online Spaces session. 

As we shift to a predominantly online curriculum and way of working this fall, some individuals might get left behind. There are many reasons for this that are beyond our control, including technological challenges, geographical differences and learning impairments. In this Open Conversation, we gathered to share ideas on how we (faculty, students, or staff) can work together to create and maintain inclusive online spaces. 

U of T Engineering strives for an inclusive space for all participants in online activities. For more on U of T Engineering’s Commitment to Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, visit here.

Event: Open Conversation: Creating & Maintaining Inclusive Online Spaces

Organizer: Engineering Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Action Group

Missed the Session? Work through the activity yourself!

If you missed the session, you can work through the activity yourself or with your team! 

Let's group U of T online spaces into 3 categories: 

  1. Online classrooms - Lectures, tutorials and labs with organized activities or content delivery from the teaching team
  2. Online formal spaces -  Meetings, events, or workshops
  3. Online informal spaces - Group chats, group meetings, discussion forums

For each of the spaces, consider: 

  • What issues of discrimination or exclusion might appear/occur in these spaces? 
  • What responsibilities do we (with our individual role/position) have within that space? What responsibility does FASE and U of T have to creating/maintaining inclusivity within these spaces?
  • What can individuals do to create/maintain inclusivity online? What can FASE/U of T do? Any practices we can recommend to Faculty leadership?

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Challenges to Inclusive Online Synchronous Meetings

When conducting online classrooms or formal meetings, it is important for the teaching team to be mindful of the limitations that an individual might be facing. These challenges can be related to technology (e.g., unstable internet services, lack of audio/visual input device, limited access to computers, etc.). Participants also come from different places in the world with different time zones, so attending synchronous sessions oftentimes requires lifestyle sacrifices or becomes physically impossible. We should also be understanding that not everyone have a suitable space to work from home. Students with various learning or physical impairments also might find themselves at a severe disadvantage online.

All these limitations can impair an attendee's engagement and participation. It is up to the teaching team or event organizers to incorporate activities that are inclusive to all. At the same time, other attendees should also be mindful and understanding of the challenges peers might be going through. 

Importance of Accessibility

Inclusivity goes hand-in-hand with accessibility. We need to make sure that the online materials are accessible to people without minimum required technology, people with learning/physical impairments, and people with locational differences. Here are some basic tips for accessbility:

  • Record your meetings!
  • Upload captions to meeting recordings or asynchronous content
  • Ensure content is mobile-friendly
  • Provide accommodations to those who need them

Inclusivity Best Practices for Organizers

  • enlightened: Allow participants to choose the way they want to participate! Whether it'd be camera on/off, how they're dressed, virtual/blurred background... 
  • enlightened: Let everyone know of the session agenda ahead of time so they can prepare
  • enlightened: Be understanding! Technical difficulties can happen to anyone.
  • enlightened: Reach out to people who might need accomodations to support their full participation
  • enlightened: Set online expectations as a team.
  • enlightened: Incorporate 'Brave Spaces' - let everyone in the session know that it is safe to speak up
  • enlightened: Be open to feedback! 
  • enlightened: Encourage, but don't force participation! Everyone should be comfortable with their own interaction level.

Additional Readings

Article Category: Best Practices