Inclusive classrooms: 3 ways tech creates belonging in higher ed

Tools that create a culture of belonging and make space for anonymity will help educators increase classroom participation.
Johnny Warström
Johnny Warström
Johnny Warström is the co-founder and CEO of Mentimeter, an audience engagement platform that turns traditional presentations into a real-time interactive experience.

Technology is rapidly becoming an invaluable resource for higher education professionals who want to create inclusive classrooms in the age of digital transformation. More than ever, universities are looking for ways to create an inclusive learning environment for all students, regardless of their backgrounds.

Technology is uniquely designed to support educators in fostering a sense of belonging in the inclusive classrooms. It also has the potential to boost inclusion through anonymity. As the CEO of a tool designed to increase engagement in classrooms, I believe universities should prioritize these two factors when choosing technology.

1. Creating a culture of inclusive classrooms

Classroom culture in higher education is evolving as students enter universities with increasingly diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and expectations. Educators must establish a positive culture in inclusive classrooms that are equitable, inclusive, and respectful. To create an atmosphere of belonging, universities should cultivate a culture of open dialogue, with an emphasis on listening to and valuing all voices.

Empowering students to be curious and ask questions can create a safe space for them to engage in meaningful ways and express their unique perspectives. When educators truly listen to their students’ questions, thoughts, and needs, students are more likely to enjoy participating, ultimately creating a sense of belonging.

Through intentional efforts, universities can ensure their classrooms are places of learning and growth, where all students feel comfortable and accepted.

2. The role of anonymity in the classroom

In a lecture hall of 500 students, raising your hand can be incredibly intimidating—especially for introverts. It’s no surprise, then, that 72% of university students recently surveyed felt more confident participating in classroom discussions through anonymous engagement platforms. Anonymity can help create a more open and honest environment as everyone’s voice can be heard, rather than just the loudest in the room.

In particular, anonymity eases difficult conversations, as it allows for students to express their opinions and ideas without fear of judgment or intimidation. Anonymous tools also help facilitate open dialogue between students from different backgrounds, as they can reduce the potential for bias or discrimination.

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T Delfín, an educator at California State Polytechnic University , needed a way to increase participation in the classroom. In a case study, she noted that the fear of saying the wrong answer in front of peers prevents engagement, but anonymous tech tools reduce this fear and increase participation. Similarly, a study of online learning environments found that anonymity allowed students to be more honest and open with their comments and feedback.

Keeping these factors in mind, here are three things universities should consider when evaluating technology for inclusive classrooms:

    1. Accessibility: Ensure the tool is accessible to students and teachers alike. Students across cultural, age, ability, and demographics can have different experiences with the same technologies. Accessibility is a much more technical consideration than usability and relates to the visibility of text and the provision of audio versions for the visually impaired. Ensuring students with disabilities can see, hear, and understand how to use digital teaching tools should be at the top of your priorities list.
    2. Usability: You should also evaluate technology tools to ensure they are easy to use and understood by all students. Understanding how students from different cultures or age demographics may interact with some tools should also inform how you introduce tools into your practice. For example, some students assume a rigid hierarchy between students and teachers, while others are more likely to view educators as their peers.
    3. Security: A final consideration for classroom technologies must be security and the protection of user data. This includes evaluating the tools for vulnerabilities, ensuring data is encrypted and stored securely, and that user authentication is properly implemented. This should be the role of IT professionals at your institution.

When implementing engagement tools, university educators should be mindful of how their students will interact with the new technology. Tools should be user-friendly so that students will actually want to engage with the tools and, tangentially, the curriculum. While distractions may occur when introducing technology into inclusive classrooms, overall it can be used for good to create an environment where students feel safe, focused, and engaged.

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