Make EDI in higher education a reality by building it into your course design

When designing a new course, equality, diversity and inclusion should be among the first things to consider. Gareth Morris and Joy Edmonson show how


15 Apr 2024
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A group of students gather round a laptop
image credit: iStock/Drazen Zigic.

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Created in partnership with

Nottingham Ningbo

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While there are many features to consider when designing a new course, equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is one of the most important. 

Equality and equity aren’t necessarily the same thing. Of course, we should strive to ensure equality, but sometimes doing so is not always fair. Perception, personal beliefs and situational nuances all have to be considered and, ultimately, relative judgements made.

But how best to promote and incorporate EDI as a reality, rather than simply corporate rhetoric? We believe the answer is to build it into courses as much as possible. It’s important to raise awareness of the issues encountered as a result of doing this. 

On a practical level, educators can look at their syllabuses, course materials and readings, assignments and assessments as a starting point. Make sure these things are as inclusive and diverse as possible.

Consider course topics and materials

Course topics could ask students to critically review publishing material within the context of the module and through an EDI lens. Ask students to consider issues of gender, ethnicity, disability or sexuality, for example, when reading, if the context allows.

When thinking about course materials, consider if their design is accessible to visually impaired or second-language learners. Think about the colour schemes and fonts. Perhaps build from EDI-proofed templates, if you have them. 

It might be worth asking a trained person to look at the language being used in the materials to help review whether it’s pitched at an accessible level. Measures such as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) levels and Flesch Kincaid judgements can be examined for second-language learners, but also consider the needs of those with learning difficulties such as dyslexia. 

Think about images too. Are the choices going to resonate with learners? Do they reflect diversity? Are they culturally sensitive? It’s a fine balancing act. Also important is that material does not unintentionally adopt one region as an example of good practice over others without good reason. Make sure the choices are measured.

Assess inclusively

Assessments are also not immune. In many institutions, it’s now common practice to allocate extra time to some learners. Others design exam site selection to make sure they’re accessible to all. Be careful of typed assignments – learners using computer systems in their own languages might not be aware that some of the punctuation nuances differ when writing in another language, such as English. 

Recruit fairly

We can think about EDI beyond the classroom. How does it reflect across our higher education working lives? Project team composition and hiring committees are areas where we could be more inclusive and diverse. But recruitment fairness is still just as important – hiring should be competence- and evidence-based as well, with additional considerations such as transparency. 

Focusing on EDI is by no means straightforward in higher education. But opening dialogues and looking at ways we can better promote it does help us to better consider our social worlds – and improve our workplaces too.

Gareth Morris and Joy Edmonson work at the Centre of English Language Education at the University of Nottingham Ningbo.

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