Flexibility: Responding and adapting to students’ changing and diverse circumstances; engaging empathetically with student needs, both emerging and persistent; balancing intentional design and commitment to providing accommodations.
This list offers examples of concrete strategies aligned with this general equity-focused teaching principle. If you would like to submit your own example for consideration, please click here.
Refer back to course learning objectives throughout the semester, to make deliberate decisions about what elements in the course can be revised, adapted, or made optional in response to individual and/or collective student needs.
- See a syllabus that includes: clearly marked requirements vs. suggestions, participation expectations and guidelines, and student-chosen assessments. (Perry Samson, CLASP, U-M College of Engineering)
Design course policies that provide clear pathways if students need to be absent, turn in work late, leave class early, etc. Communicate to students the benefits of attending in-person class and explain how flexible policies are designed to support student learning when unforeseen circumstances arise; avoid framing such policies as simply punitive
- Consider using informal polling for classroom participation options.
- Check out this “Course Design Flexibility” resource from Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning, to learn about various options to make course policies more flexible.
Explain why attending class is important and provide alternative modes of engagement for students who are not able to attend class.
Regularly assess student understanding of key course concepts so you can provide relevant instruction or access to supplementary materials to fill common gaps.
- Consider using informal polling for formative (low-stakes) assessments.
- Incorporate the use of the “Muddiest Point” technique.
- This is a technique where students are asked to take a few minutes to write down the most difficult or confusing part of a lesson, lecture, or reading.
- See this list for more examples of classroom assessment techniques.
Build in opportunities for student choice: e.g., flexible or self-paced deadlines for assignments if possible, multiple options for topics or modalities for assignments, optional opportunities for instructor or peer feedback on drafts. This type of agency leads to student motivation to complete assignments.
- One way to give students a voice in how their work is graded, is to offer the students some control over the weighting of grading. See this Grading Choice document for reference. (A collection of College of Engineering instructors’ ideas; gathered by Kathleen Sevener, Associate Research Scientist, Materials Science and Engineering and Lecturer III in MSE, University of Michigan)
- Another idea is to give students some agency in choosing their own questions on topics to investigate in assignments:
- From ENGR 100, Solar Energy Design Project Prompt – “Additional analysis is required. Create two of your own questions to answer and report on it (feel free to do more than two questions). For example, you could try other ML models, do clustering analysis, or examine the effects of outliers. Ask us if you are unsure about which questions are good to investigate.” (Bryan Goldsmith, Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan)
Solicit feedback from students about what teaching approaches or technologies work best for their learning and be willing to make adjustments accordingly when you can.
- Course evaluations offer students a chance to give feedback to their instructors, but many students skip this chance because they feel they will not benefit. An instructor asking for feedback earlier in the semester, and addressing the feedback, gives students a sense of engagement. See this Midterm Instructor Feedback pdf for reference. (A collection of College of Engineering instructors’ ideas; gathered by Kathleen Sevener, Associate Research Scientist, Materials Science and Engineering and Lecturer III in MSE, University of Michigan)
- CRLT-Engin instructional consultants can facilitate this process for you. To start this process faculty can request an Midterm Student Feedback (MSF) or GSIs/IAs request an MSF on our website as well.
- Especially with remote learning, send out a survey in the beginning of the semester about students’ time zones, availability for synchronous lectures and discussions, and preferences for Zoom, BlueJeans, Google Meet, etc. These preferences can be used to set office hours and determine what technology is used during discussion sections.
When content coverage is in tension with responding to student learning needs, prioritize student learning needs: e.g., be willing to adjust lecture pace, reduce information on slides, make course materials available to students for study and exam preparation, etc.
- When preparing a laboratory experience, instructors are often focused on the learning objectives related to the technical knowledge they want the students to gain. Many times, issues related to accessibility or inclusivity of a lab simply don’t occur in the development of the lab. This checklist is offered as a way for instructors to create more inclusive laboratory exercises to better engage all students in the learning process. (A collection of College of Engineering instructors’ ideas; gathered by Kathleen Sevener, Associate Research Scientist, Materials Science and Engineering and Lecturer III in MSE, University of Michigan)
- Allow collaboration on quizzes or assignments, but clarify which collaboration is acceptable and specify that students are accountable for learning: “You may discuss the quizzes, but you must each take responsibility for mastery of the material and submission of your own work.” (Thomas Armstrong, Professor, Industrial and Operations Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan)
Before introducing a new technology in your course, learn about students’ prior skill and familiarity with it in order to gauge how demanding learning the technology is likely to be and to make informed decisions about students’ capacity to add that learning to the core learning in your course.
- Include time in lectures/discussions for students to practice new technology or incorporate learning the new technology into a homework assignment. A question on a homework assignment could include a starter example and have students walk through some simple use cases, so students can earn credit for demonstrating their learning.