Madison Mann, Kaylee Koss, and Madison Wischmann

A syllabus is often students’ first introduction to an instructor and a course.

Combining student perspectives with evidence-based literature, the new Using an Inclusive Syllabus to Build Connections with Your Students handout—developed by three University of Iowa undergraduate students—addresses simple strategies to create a more inclusive, transparent syllabus.

Madison Mann, Kaylee Koss, and Madison Wischmann connected with the OTLT Center for Teaching through their Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies practicum. They met weekly with Anna Flaming, director of the OTLT Center for Teaching, and Anastasia Williams, assistant director in the OTLT Center for Teaching, during the fall 2021 semester to develop the project. 

“Madison, Kaylee, and Maddie merged their student perspectives with their interdisciplinary academic training in frameworks related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice,” says Flaming, who also has a faculty appointment in the department of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies. “Their curiosity and thinking about issues of equity and belonging in the classroom led to this handout, which will be useful for faculty teaching in any discipline.”

The project marks the first time undergraduate students have worked with the OTLT Center for Teaching to develop a resource for instructors. OTLT Center for Teaching staff directed the students to evidence-based literature and coached them through the development of the handout. Mann, Koss, and Wischmann analyzed research and drafted the handout, which also incorporates their experiences as students.  

“The handout is an exploration into a new genre of teaching development content that is rare among our peer institutions,” says Williams. “While students may have been quoted in articles, generally students haven’t been deeply involved in creating a teaching resource for faculty that connects evidence-based literature to our teaching context.”

Student Voices

A common theme of appreciation for instructor’s efforts to enhance student learning emerged when Koss, Mann, and Wischmann were asked about the project. 

“It was amazing to see how the university's professors really want to learn how they can better our experience as students! This resource can be used by instructors to make minor adjustments to their syllabi in order to create a more inclusive, welcoming document that will hopefully lead to building connections with their students before classes even begin.”

Kaylee Koss, a student in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program who is also earning a minor in Gender, Health, and Healthcare Equity.

“One thing that surprised me while working on this project is how many simple steps can be taken to make a student feel more welcome in a course. Specifically, I hope instructors can reflect on their own syllabi and use the examples we provided to make changes when needed. It is our hope that instructors are not overwhelmed by our suggestions but instead use them as motivation to further engage and include their students through their syllabus.”

Madison Mann, a student in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program who is also earning a minor in Gender, Health, and Healthcare Equity.

“Working with the Center for Teaching has really opened my eyes to how many instructors are looking for a lot of ways to better themselves as teachers and find the best way to make students’ learning environment. I hope that instructors are able to read this and understand what we are trying to tell them as students, and then hopefully take it into consideration when creating syllabi and assignments in the future—especially because it contains information that many students would agree with, and not just the three of us who worked on it. It’s always a good feeling to see teachers doing everything they can in order to make sure our learning environment is inclusive.”

Madison Wischmann, a junior double majoring in criminology and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies with a minor in Spanish.

The handout is the first in a series developed by OTLT Center for Teaching practicum students. The Center is collaborating with more undergraduate students in spring 2022.

This handout is also part of the OTLT Center for Teaching’s DEI in Practice initiative. To learn more, visit the DEI in Teaching Practice web pages. Watch for more developments in fall 2022.