Skip to Main Content

Equity Focused Course Design

  • Course Design
  • Inclusive & Equitable Teaching

Last modified: March 25, 2024

Course design that celebrates diverse learners and communities and strives to include and support all learners includes thinking about holistic learning and honoring alternative ways of knowing, for example those of Indigenous communities.


Many of the suggestions on this page came out of the work done by participants from UAS in the book group for  Stop Talking: Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning and Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education  by Ilarion (Larry) Merculieff and Libby Roderick as well as participants in the Decolonizing Our Spaces professional learning community. To accompany this page, we have also provided links to more in-depth resources and examples on Indigenous ways of teaching and learning at the bottom of the page.

Starting from course goals

When designing any course, it’s important to keep the goals in mind. There can be multiple pathways for students that end with them achieving the learning objectives. How can those pathways be structured to facilitate critical thinking and foster an appreciation for diverse perspectives? Some good questions to consider include: 

  • Along the path to achieving specific learning outcomes, how can learners be prompted to examine their own biases and assumptions, and to cultivate cultural competency and humility?

  • Do the course materials and assignments promote the holistic development of learners, addressing not only academic knowledge but also personal growth and skills development?

  • Are there additional ways the course content and approaches can contribute positively to Indigenous peoples or communities?

  • Whose perspectives and truths are acknowledged and represented in the course materials, and how can alternative ways of understanding be integrated to enrich the learning experience?"

If you start with the end goals in mind and design the course backwards from there, you can better ensure that the learning objectives align with desired outcomes and principles of inclusive education.


Laying out the class structure

Creating a deliberate and flexible pace to your course encourages students to slow down and focus, do more critical and creative thinking, and connect the topic of the course to their lived experiences. 

Consider structuring your course according to some of the following: 

  • Pace the course schedule to allow for thoughtful exploration of topics. Avoid overloading students with too much content in a short period. Allow time for reflection and in-depth exploration of key concepts. Incorporate review time. Can you provide more in-depth time for at least some of your course concepts? 

Align assignments and meeting times with the natural seasons, earth changes, or local traditions in mind. Examples include timing around local festivals, subsistence activities, and holidays. 

Recognize and accommodate diverse learning styles by incorporating a mix of teaching methods. Some students may excel in traditional lectures, while others benefit from hands-on activities, group discussions, or multimedia presentations.

Adjust course instructions and materials to welcome and promote an inclusive and supportive classroom environment where all students feel valued and respected, and where diverse perspectives are welcomed and encouraged.

Acknowledge that students have different life circumstances and may need flexibility. Be understanding and open to accommodations when necessary, and communicate a willingness to work with students to ensure their success.

Equitable Assessment

When creating your assignments and assessments, consider what students should take away from and be able to do after taking your course. Some of the following aspects may be important: 

  • Resources providing insight on providing challenge/difficulty vs giving students "busy-work"more detail on assessment advice - incorporating reflection & revision, due dates without late penalties. quality over quantity

  • Matching learning objectives to diverse readings and assignments. The library has an  Indigenous Studies Research Guide, which has links to databases and other online resources for finding content / research with an Indigenous focus, for example. 

  • Provide constructive and timely feedback to students. Encourage them to revise and improve their work based on feedback. This iterative process promotes deep learning and allows students to focus on understanding concepts rather than rushing through assignments.

  • Consider if any course activities can provide opportunities for students to engage with diverse communities or perspectives through activities such as service-learning or cultural exchange programs.

Other resources