in collaboration with Janine Meijer and Edith Piqueray (UAntwerp, University & Community Department, Diversity Team) 

​‘Diversity should be a natural part of the question: what are we ultimately educating students for? This is a question we should ask ourselves more often. What should our graduates know and be able to do? This comes first, and only then can we decide what to include in the curriculum. Any reflection on this – especially in big cities – will also touch upon the issue of what do with the diversity of our students, and partly of our colleagues.’- A lecturer at a university of applied sciences and arts in the Netherlands, in Naber & Knippels, 2013

This ECHO teaching tip outlines what diversity-sensitive education is, explains why it’s important, and provides lecturers with tools and guidelines to optimise their diversity-sensitive educational approach.

What is diversity-sensitive education? 

The current generation of students is more heterogeneous than ever before. They have different socioeconomic and ethnic-cultural backgrounds, and they also differ in terms of their prior education, age, world view, gender and sexual identity (Pulinx, Schrooten, & Emmers, 2021). 

Diversity-sensitive education takes into account these differences by tailoring the education to the diverse group of students. This is done by adapting the teaching methods to the heterogeneous group and by making the learning content fit in with the different backgrounds and lifestyles of the students to the fullest extent possible.

The importance of diversity-sensitive education 

Every student has a right to high-quality education. Diversity-sensitive education is the key to ensuring this right can be exercised. It increases the chances of equal educational opportunities for all students.

Investing in diversity-sensitive education also means investing in the quality of education. In diversity-sensitive education, learning content is considered from different angles, and various underexposed voices from a subject area are included in the curriculum. This widens the view of both lecturers and students. 

Equally important is the fact that diversity-sensitive education increases overall student well-being (Siebrecht & Jansen, 2021). By responding to the students’ need for diversity in both the learning content and the teaching methods, students from different backgrounds can be made to feel more at home at the educational institution. They feel seen, recognised, and more connected to the subject matter (Clycq, 2019).

By investing in diversity-sensitive education, the university underlines the societal importance of diversity sensitivity.

Getting started with diversity-sensitive education 

How can diversity-sensitive education be put into practice? Let’s look at four distinct domains and provide a number of guidelines to get started.

1. Lesson content

  • Ask yourself what you consider to be standard knowledge in a certain domain, and whether this is justified. If necessary, adapt the lesson content to start from a shared and sustainable level of basic knowledge.
  • As a lecturer, you should reflect on your own views and beliefs. What’s your frame of reference? How can you break free from it? Are there any blind spots in your knowledge?
  • Provide multi-perspectivity. Consider the authors you mention, the examples you give, the sources you discuss, and the role models you refer to.
  • Give a variety of examples, so that every student comes into contact with something unfamiliar, and is therefore extra instructive.
  • Encourage students to approach problems from different angles, including less familiar perspectives.

2. Teaching method

  • Engage in dialogue with the students. Consider the heterogeneous group of students as a resource you can use to include different perspectives and schools of thought in your teaching content.
  • Involve visiting lecturers in your programme component. This can be done physically, but is often easier to organise online.
  • Communicate clearly about what is expected of the students. Which competences should students ultimately master and how will this be tested?
  • Make sure the lesson content is properly structured.
  • Familiarise yourself with both faculty-specific and university-wide support measures, so you can actively use them or point students in the right direction to find certain information.

3. Language

  • ​Make sure there is a shared vocabulary and that everyone has mastered it.
  • Be aware that cultural factors are reflected in the vocabulary used.
  • During online lectures or feedback sessions, give students a choice between speech or chat.
  • Be aware that the language you use during online lectures or screencasts is often more formal, and therefore more difficult, than in face-to-face teaching. Therefore, be sure to take time to explain difficult concepts. 

4. Community building

Make sure you always stay in touch with your students. Motivate them to engage with your course. Keep activating them and try to prevent social isolation by encouraging social participation.

Do you want to get more concrete tips and examples? Read the full teaching tip by clicking on the button below.