Creating Inclusive Course Outlines



Lorelei Anselmo, MEd
Dr. Fouzia Usman, PhD

Four diverse students.

Infusing EDI in the syllabus is essential for promoting an inclusive learning environment.

Fuentes et al., 2021


An inclusive course is one in which all students are welcomed, and their success is maximized (Gin et al, 2021). An inclusive course outline may help to foster an inclusive learning environment, and it also has the potential to lay the foundation for inclusive teaching practices. 

A course outline can shape instructors’ relationships with their students and their relationship with the course, the materials, the actions they will take when faced with academic difficulties, and overall, their course experience (Pedzinski & Stecher, 2023). An inclusive course outline is an intentional tool that can convey information to students in a holistic and equitable manner. 

This resource can serve as a guide on how to design an inclusive course outline.


Sections in this resource:

A group of diverse people.

Why inclusive course outlines are important


Create a welcoming and belonging environment that includes a diversity-centered approach.


Collaborate with students to provide opportunities for all learners to be heard and seen.


Connect learners with equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility institutional supports and resources.

  1. Create

    The outline is a key feature of every academic course that serves multiple purposes (Parkes & Harris, 2002; Pedzinski & Stecher, 2023): 

    • as agreements between students and the instructor; 

    • as records of learning aims of the course; 

    • as learning tools that can help students develop effective learning practices and strategies; and 

    • as communication devices that share how teaching and learning will be approached. 

  2. Collaborate

    From a student’s perspective, an inclusive course outline can (Parkes & Harris, 2002):

    • demystify implicit norms and ambiguous processes that characterize how to be a successful student; 

    • welcome learners into a course where they will be cared for and validate their pursuit of a higher education; and 

    • affirm the belonging of all students by representing their experiences in course materials and content. 

  3. Connect

    From an instructor’s perspective, an inclusive course outline can 

    • indicate your effort to consider the well-being of your learners and the diversity of their needs and lived experiences; 

    • highlight your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion as an instructor; and 

    • signal opportunities for all students to engage in class, which may provide new insights into the course. 

Strategies for developing an inclusive course outline

Begin designing an inclusive course outline by developing a growth mindset which involves considering the following approaches (Fuentes et. al, 2021).  

Icon person with heart.

Engage in reflexivity

How do our own sociocultural backgrounds and social identities influence how we foster and address equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts in our outlines?

For example, acknowledge your positionality in the course and commit to fostering respect and building community.

Group of people line icon with heart.

Adopt a diversity-centered approach

How can various ethnic/cultural groups be considered and represented throughout the course?

  • For example, you may include readings that highlight the lack of representation in relevant research and note the consequences of this in the outline. “The following texts/articles for this course have been chosen in efforts to highlight the important work of historically underrepresented and marginalized scholars in this field” (Fuentes et al., 2022, p. 75).
  • Include a statement that clarifies how classroom participation, discussions, and dynamics will be framed to ensure all voices are respected: “We will be sensitive to how we interact and engage with one another; therefore, we will have periodic check-ins to examine our own dynamics within the classroom” (Fuentes et al., 2022, p. 76).  Classroom feedback can be gathered through anonymous surveys, and other opportunities for formative feedback.
  • Reflect on the purpose of tests and individual assignments and consider incorporating creative assignments that consider the diversity of all learners. If using alternative assessments to address learner variability, note these efforts in the grading portion of the outline.
Pair of people line icon with heart.

Highlight diversity in the course description

In what ways does the course description suggest that aspects of diversity will be discussed and included in the course?

For example, you may include a statement describing your awareness of intersectionality in the syllabus.

Hand icon with heart.

Develop diversity-centred learning outcomes

Which learning outcome(s) reflect EDIA aspects are addressed in the course?

For example: “In this course, students will consider multicultural and diverse aspects as they relate to the major concepts in this course…” (Fuentes et al., 2022, p. 74).

Speech bubble icon with heart.

Include a diversity statement

How does the diversity statement reflect you as an instructor, the specific context, and discipline of the course?

For example, are the following aspects included in the diversity statement?

  • respect for diversity
  • valuing of diverse perspectives
  • shared expectations with respect to classroom climate and behaviour
  • indication of ways that diversity enhances learning specific to your discipline
  • acknowledgement of how a diversity statement aligns with one’s teaching philosophy
Hands icon with a heart.

Decolonize course outlines

In what ways can the outline reflect your commitment to acknowledge and engage in decolonization?

For example, consider the following recommendations:

  • Review and reflect on the ii’taa’poh’to’p strategy and the Office of Indigenous Engagement’s territorial land acknowledgements. How can a territorial land acknowledgement in your outline serve as an act of reconciliation and a personal commitment to decolonization.
  • Acknowledge different holidays provide flexibility around other religious holidays not mentioned in the university calendar, and advise students that they will not be penalized for missing class for religious holidays.
  • Provide your office hours and emphasize the purpose of and reasons to attend.
    • For example: “My office hours are opportunities for you to connect with me, a chance to ask clarifying questions about content, and receive recommendations for additional support."
  • In what ways can the course outline decentralize Eurocentrism? 

Specific considerations for designing an inclusive course outline

Although the outline is a document consisting of many parts, there are overall design considerations that instructors may consider when designing an inclusive course outline.

Computer icon with heart in speech bubble.

Design with accessibility in mind

Consider your learners’ potential needs and potential barriers to their access.

For example, consider offering both a hard copy and an accessible digital copy of the outline. Make use of accessibility formatting strategies so that screen readers can properly read the content of your outline and deliver information to students.

Heart icon in a speech bubble.

Adopt a welcoming tone

While the content of what you say is important, how you say it is equally important.

The following list contains a few suggestions to guide you; however, you’re welcome to explore a mutually convenient way of communicating with your students.

  1. Welcoming

    I welcome you to contact me outside of class, if need be. The best way to connect with me is via my university email. I will respond to your message within 48 hours.

  2. Unwelcoming

    If you need to contact me outside of office hours, you may email me.

  1. Welcoming

    This course has been designed to help you achieve the following learning outcomes.

  2. Unwelcoming

    Some of the specific skills you should obtain in this course are listed below.

  1. Welcoming

    You should attend every class, but extenuating circumstances arise that can make this difficult. If you cannot attend a class, please let me know. If circumstances make you miss more than 3 classes during the semester, you may be overextended. I ask that you come see me to discuss your options should you miss multiple classes.

  2. Unwelcoming

    I expect you to attend every class. If you cannot attend a class, please let me know. If circumstances make you miss more than three classes during the semester, you may need to drop the class. See the university’s attendance policy.

  1. Welcoming

    All of us in the class — you, me, your peers — have a responsibility to create an environment in which we can all learn from each other. It is important that everyone participates in class so that we can all benefit from the insights and experiences that each person brings.

  2. Unwelcoming

    Come prepared to actively participate in this course. This is the best way to engage you in learning the material.

The letter I in a circle icon.

Be transparent and explicit

Make connections between the course material, assignments, and activities with the course learning outcomes clear by stating those links in your outline.

For example, connect assessments with learning outcomes and explain why readings or chapters were chosen for that part of the course.

Leaf icon with leaves fanning out behind it.

Reflect, revise, and iterate

Where possible, involve your students in the reflection of the outline.

For example, consider asking students to add to your reading list by contributing to a shared document for future course iterations.

Questions to consider when designing an inclusive course outline

There is no single way to approach designing an inclusive course outline; however, these questions may help you reflect and guide your process:

What assumptions does my course outline make about my learners?

In what ways do the content and selected readings represent a diversity of experiences and voices?

How is my approach to equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility evident in the syllabus?

In what ways are Indigenous worldviews of respect, responsibility, relevance and reciprocity reflected in my outline?

Are there multiple opportunities for students to locate support services in my course outline?

Has the course outline been designed with a learner-centred focus?

Concluding reflections

There are many ways to promote inclusivity for our learners. An inclusive course outline allows faculty to raise and demonstrate their cultural awareness, helps students from marginalized backgrounds feel welcome and develop a sense of belonging, and assists students with more privilege to increase their own awareness and cultural competence.

Illustration of a brown person with dark hair and a red dot on their forehead.


Bensimon, E.M. (n.d.) Syllabus review guide.

Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (n.d.). Designing an Inclusive Syllabus.

Fuentes, M.A., Zelaya, D.G. & Madsen, J.W. (2021) Rethinking the course syllabus: Considerations for promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion. Teaching of Psychology, 1-11.

Gin, L.E., Scott, R. A., Pfeiffer, L. D., Zheng, Y., Cooper, K. M., & Brownell, S. E. (2021). It’s in the syllabus… or is it? How biology syllabi can serve as communication tools for creating inclusive classrooms at a large-enrollment research institution. Advances in Physiology Education, 45(2), 224–240.

Lindstrom, G., & Anselmo, L. (2022). Indigenous Ways of Knowing Course Design. University of Calgary Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.

Rich, B. L. (2023). How are culturally inclusive teaching practices integrated into business school’s curriculum? An analysis of syllabi from the United States. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 27(4), 435–458.

Pedzinski, S. & Stecher, G. (2023, August 7). Syllabus blues? Try reciprocal peer review. The Teaching Professor.

Taylor, S. D., Veri, M. J., Eliason, M., Hermoso, J. C. R., Bolter, N. D., & Van Olphen, J. E. (2019). The Social Justice Syllabus Design Tool: A First Step in Doing Social Justice Pedagogy. Journal Committed to Social Change on Race and Ethnicity, 5(2), 132–166.

University of Calgary Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning (2020). Creating a Student-Centered Course Outline.