How to create conditions for student success



The importance of supporting engagement for all students is paramount. While there is growth in the population of Indigenous, international, and traditionally under-represented student groups, the onus is on instructors to ensure all students succeed through their programs.  The University offers numerous resources, supports and opportunities to enhance all students potential for success.

As instructors strive to meet the challenges of teaching a student population that is increasingly socially and culturally diverse and "to expose students to diverse ideas, world views, and peoples as means of enhancing learning and imbuing the classroom with relevance" (Kerr and Kinzie, 2006; Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, Whill, and Associate, 2005), here are some best practices to draw on.

Key elements of student success

A diverse classroom embodies Chickering and Gamson's principles of good practice for undergraduate education:

  • student-faculty contact,
  • cooperation among students,
  • active learning,
  • prompt feedback,
  • time on task,
  • communication of high expectations,
  • respect for diverse talents and ways of knowing and doing.

How to help your students succeed

In your classroom

  • Know who your students are as a group and as individuals.
  • Gather information about your students early on in the course so that you can better meet their learning needs and both your and their goals for learning.
  • Articulate early in the course that you are committed to meeting the needs of all students and that you are open to conversations about how to help them learn.
  • Acknowledge the visible and invisible diversity present in the classroom (racial/cultural, gender/sexual, ability, religious, class, age, etc.).
  • Refer to the numerous resources, supports and opportunties to promote student mental health as well as the PowerPoint with an overview of the student mental health strategy.
  • Refer to the UVic policies Academic Accommodation and Access for Students with Disabilities (AC 1205) and Accommodation for Students on Days for Religious Observance (AC 1210) as a way to let students know they can approach you with accommodation requests.
  • Avoid singling out students to act as a spokesperson for the group(s) they identify with (e.g. country, religion, disability, sexuality etc.) to provide the perspective of the minority group(s) on course content or student learning issues (e.g. do not assume all students are familiar with their ancestors' language, traditions, culture or history).
  • Communicate high expectations for all students. Tell all your students you expect them to work hard in class, that you want them to be challenged by the material and that you hold high standards for their academic achievement. Then practice what you have said.
  • Allow students time to formulate questions or responses after posing a question in class. This timing is directly related to achievement, type of discourse, and participation.
  • Find out how students feel about the cultural climate in your classroom. Let them know that you want to hear from them if anything makes them uncomfortable (e.g. by signed or unsigned note, etc.).
  • Be sensitive to students whose first language is not English and utilize the Learning Commons and the Writing Centre.

In your curriculum

  • Incorporate the experiences of the students into your curriculum to enrich class discussions that value the experiences and perspectives of all students.
  • Employ a variety of teaching styles to respond to the needs of diverse learners. Understanding learning styles (auditory, visual, kinesthetic-tactile) can help you create more inclusive classrooms where everyone has a better chance to succeed.
  • Implement universal design principles for learning (e.g., multiple methods for conveying information: written, verbal ,graphic) that include lectures, small groups, discussions, and collaborative learning in order to better meet the variety of learning needs.
  • Include anecdotes in your course materials to reflect different cultures, experiences, sexual orientations, genders, age, class etc.
  • Strive to make inclusive language the norm. Terminology changes over time as ethnic and cultural groups continue to define their identity, their history, and their relationship to the dominant culture. To find out which terms are used and accepted, you could raise the question with your students, consult with the advocacy groups of the UVSS or speak with the adviser to the provost on equity and diversity. Deal immediately with racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and homo/trans-phobic comments in class or in readings and be prepared to address inappropriate and/or offensive comments.
  • Whenever possible, select texts and readings whose language is gender-neutral and free of stereotypes. Include materials that reflect new scholarship and research about previously underrepresented groups, discussing the contributions made to your field by women, people of colour, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and others examining the obstacles these pioneering contributors had to overcome, and describing how recent scholarship about gender, race, and class is modifying your field of study.
  • Provide guidelines for group discussions to assist everyone in participating and build in opportunities for self-reflexivity as it pertains to how you and your students engage in intergroup dialogues.
  • Convey your commitment to diversity by learning more about your biases, assumptions and values and how they could affect your approach to the course material.
  • Do not assume that all students will recognize cultural, literary or historical references familiar to you.

Research indicates that faculty tend to teach they way they learn or were taught. We need to stretch our own preferred ways of learning and teaching when we teach our students. Teaching for the diverse classroom is a journey and a challenge. It is an opportunity to engage in deep dialogue about learning outcomes, our philosophies about teaching and learning, assessment, and how we prepare ourselves and our students to live and learn in a complex world.

For more information on equity and diversity for faculty visit the faculty members' guide.