The Research Basis for Equity-focused Teaching

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Research Basis for Inclusive Teaching
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How do we know equity-focused teaching is effective teaching?

At CRLT, we use “equity-focused teaching” as an umbrella term to name a complex network of pedagogical issues and strategies. Drawing from a large body of research, much of it foundational scholarship on teaching and learning, we can feel confident that equity-focused teaching cultivates environments where students:

  • Have equal access to learning
  • Feel valued and supported in their learning
  • Experience parity in achieving positive course outcomes
  • Share responsibility for the equitable engagement and treatment of all in the learning community.

The evidence basis for equity-focused teaching in this sense includes research on:

  • the relation between classroom climate and student learning (as reviewed by Ambrose et al in chapter cited below)
  • stereotype threat as a barrier to academic success (Steele)
  • social belonging as key to student learning and persistence (e.g., Hausman; Hurtado & CarterWalton & Cohen)
  • the benefits of transparency for creating equitable learning environments and supporting the learning of historically underserved college students (more here; see also Eddy & Hogan and Winkelmes et al, below)
  • contributors to student persistence and retention in STEM fields (CRLT Occasional Paper #25)
  • best practices for utilizing student groups and teams (as reviewed in CRLT Occasional Paper #29 -- focused on STEM fields but relevant in all disciplines)
  • the benefits of cooperative learning (as reviewed in the Johnson meta-analysis cited below)
  • the negative consequences of identity-based microaggressions for learning (e.g., Solorzano et al; Verschelden; Wing)
  • mindsets about intelligence and their relation to student persistence (e.g., Aronson; Yeager and Dweck; Paunescu)
  • student development, including development of reflective judgment and intercultural maturity (e.g., King)
  • best practices for difficult dialogues in higher ed (more here)
  • Universal Design principles (National Center on Universal Design for Learning)

Almost all of this research directly speaks to the fact that what we call inclusive teaching practices are helpful for all students’ learning but especially beneficial to students who are members of groups underrepresented in their fields or traditionally underserved by institutions of higher education. This page provides specific teaching practices aligned with the insights from this research. 

Selected Scholarship Pertaining to Inclusive Teaching

Ambrose, S., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., & Norman, M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Chapter 6: “Why do Student Development and Course Climate Matter for Student Learning?”

Aronson, J., Fried, C., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the effects of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligenceJournal of Experimental Social Psychology 38: 113–125.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset. New York, NY: Random House.

Eddy, S.L. & Hogan, K.A. (2014). Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work? CBE--Life Sciences Education, 13, 453-468.

Gurin, P., Dey, E.L., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G. (2002). Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes. Harvard Educational Review, 72(3), 330-366.

Gurin, P., Nagda, B. R. A., & Zúñiga, X. (2013). Dialogue across difference: Practice, theory, and research on intergroup dialogue. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Hausmann, L., Ye, F., Ward Schofield, J. & Woods, R. (2009). Sense of Belonging and Persistence in White and African American First-Year Students. Research in Higher Education 50(7): 649–69.

Hockings, C. (2010). Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education: A synthesis of research. York: Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from

Hurtado, S. & Carter, D.F. (1997). Effects of college transition and perceptions of the campus racial climate on latino college students' sense of belonging. Sociology of Education, 70(4), 324-345.

Johnson, D., Johnson R., & Smith, K. (2014). Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 85-118.

King, P.M. & Baxter Magolda, M.B. (2005). A developmental model of intercultural maturity. Journal of College Student Development 46(6), 571-592.

Lawrie, G., Marquis, E., Fuller, E., Newman, T., Qiu, M., Nomikoudis, M., Roelofs, F. & van Dam, L. (2017). Moving towards inclusive learning and teaching: A synthesis of recent literature. Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 5(1), 10.

Nagda, B.A., Gurin, P., Sorensen, N., Zuniga, X. (2009). Evaluating intergroup dialogue: Engaging diversity for personal and social responsibility. Diversity & Democracy 12(1), 4-6.

Page, S. (2007). The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Solorzano, D., Ceja M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical Race Theory, Racial Microaggressions, and Campus Racial Climate: The Experiences of African American College Students. The Journal of Negro Education 69(1/2), 60-73.

Steele, C. (2011). Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. Reprinted. New York: Norton.

Stephens, N. M., Fryberg, S. A., Markus, H. R., Johnson, C. S., & Covarrubias, R. (2012). Unseen disadvantage: how American universities' focus on independence undermines the academic performance of first-generation college studentsJournal of personality and social psychology102(6), 1178.

Sue, D.W. (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life:  Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.

Svinicki, M. & McKeachie, W.J. (2011). Active Learning: Group-Based Learning. In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. (13th ed.).  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Tanner, K.D. (2013). Structure Matters: Twenty-One Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity. CBE--Life Sciences Education 12(3): 322–331.

Verschelden, C. (2017):  Bandwidth Recovery:  Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Racism, and Social Marginalization. Sterling, VA:  Stylus.

Walton, G.M. & Cohen G.L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science 331(6023), 1447-1451.

Winkelmes, M., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J. & Harriss Weavil, K. (2016).  A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success. Peer Review 18(1/2), 31-36.

Wlodkowski, R.J. & Ginsberg, M.B. (1995). Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Yeager, D.S. & Dweck, C.S. (2012). Mindsets that Promote Resilience: When Students Believe that Personal Characteristics can be Developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314.

Yeager, D. S., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., Apfel, N., Brzustoski, P., Master, A., & Cohen, G. L. (2014). Breaking the cycle of mistrust: Wise interventions to provide critical feedback across the racial divideJournal of Experimental Psychology: General143(2), 804.


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