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Inclusive teaching

How Victoria University of Wellington promotes the use of inclusive teaching practices that benefit our increasingly diverse community of students and staff.

Inclusive teaching is one way we help students and staff from diverse backgrounds thrive at Victoria University of Wellington.

It’s a method of teaching that lets students know they don't need to become or ‘pass for’ mainstream to succeed at university.

Inclusive teaching has also been shown to result in more genuine and open communication between staff and students, with better learning and teaching outcomes for both.

Learn to teach inclusively

The University expects academic staff to adopt inclusive teaching practices. This is part of the University’s strategy to provide a learning, teaching and student experience that is second to none—outlined in the Strategic Plan.

The Centre for Academic Development has resources and research that can give staff members strategies for being more inclusive when:

  • teaching in lectures and tutorials
  • designing assessments
  • setting group assignments or tasks
  • communicating with students
  • giving and receiving feedback
  • producing information or guidelines for students.

Every student at Victoria University of Wellington is different. Inclusive teaching is an approach that helps us make sure that what and how we teach works for every student. It's about letting students know they don't need to become or 'pass for' mainstream to succeed at university.

Diverse students

The University's community includes students—and staff—from a variety of backgrounds. Find out more about student diversity and resources available to various groups at the University.

Learn to teach inclusively

At the University, staff are expected to adopt inclusive teaching practices. This is part of the University's strategy to provide a learning, teaching and student experience that is second to none—outlined in the Strategic Plan.

Teaching inclusively benefits all students. There is no set method or technique, but here are some ways you can make your course or class an inclusive space. You should consider the diverse ways students learn.

Use our guide to Disability Inclusion and Accessibility in Digital Course Delivery (PDF) when creating digital content for your students. This guide outlines the core concepts and essential elements of disability inclusion and accessibility in digital content, and includes practical steps to creating this content.

Use open communication

Communication is a two-way process. You need to create a learning community where students feel comfortable and confident approaching you or asking questions.

Encourage students to work together in a group and help each other learn so they can interact with other students and teachers in a welcoming and open environment.

Build rapport

Getting to know your class is the basis of good teaching. Students stress the importance of teachers who are friendly, helpful, open and treat students with respect—as equals. Share a bit about yourself, especially aspects of life that relate to your subject. Be genuine and honest about where you're coming from.

Setting an early assignment can be a good way to find out more about your students academically—how they write and interpret information, where they had difficulties and how well they understood the assignment.

Taking tutorials, where you can have smaller group discussions, also helps get to know each student individually.

Assign a class representative

Assigning a class representative (class reps) helps open up communication and feedback between teachers and students. The position holds more value if you support the idea and encourage students to speak to the class rep if they feel uncomfortable talking to staff. It gives students an alternative option if they need it.

Have drop-in office hours

Have an open door policy, or drop-in office hours where students can visit. You can even have your 'office hours' out of your office, like in a café or in the hub. This shows students you're approachable and available. This is especially important for students who need further help or clarity on assignments and those too shy to speak up or ask questions in class.

Give specific feedback

Honest feedback is an important part of two-way communication between teacher and learner. Students prefer clear and specific comments about their work.

For example, international students get a lot of feedback on their grammar and language. They’re usually well aware if their English isn't perfect and may be working on this outside of class, so this feedback may not be particularly helpful. Try to include feedback on the overall idea or concept.

Give them the option to tell you about specific areas they would like feedback on. All students will benefit from this but students who come from different educational backgrounds—with very different experiences and expectations on how feedback works—will find it particularly useful.

Feedback from students in class

As well as formal feedback at the end of the course, gather informal feedback during the course. This gives you a good measure of how well students are coping with the material, workload, and overall understanding.

It's a good way to find out if students don't feel like they are keeping up.

Design your courses

When creating lectures, assignments and projects, think about ‘universal design’. Consider how you can design your courses with students from diverse backgrounds or with different abilities in mind. Refer to our guide to Disability Inclusion and Accessibility in Digital Course Delivery (PDF) when designing your digital course content.

For example, providing audio material as well as reading resources may help students with impaired sight, students who are dyslexic and students who don't have English as a first language.

It's easy to forget how difficult it is for many students to understand all of the requirements for an assignment. Many problems can arise from incorrect assumptions.

For example, students may misunderstand the purpose or goal of assignments, the background to an assignment question or the reasons to reference.

Be clear and explicit in your instructions and give students opportunities to feed back or ask questions in a manner they feel comfortable with.

Delivery of lectures

Using different media, plain English and helpful supporting material when delivering lectures helps students keep up and stay engaged. Get more tips for delivering great lectures.

Supporting material and hand-outs

Students who find it difficult to follow along in a lecture will rely on the work they do before and after class to keep up. This might apply to:

  • international students who don't have English as a first language
  • students who have a disability
  • students from a different learning culture.

If you make supporting material available before the lecture, these students can check vocabulary and key concepts when they prepare.

Try to design your material with all students in mind. For example, when using PowerPoint slides. Here is a good rule of thumb for ensuring that even people at the back of the class can access the information:

  • 7 words per sentence
  • 4 sentences per slide
  • 32 font.

Victoria University of Wellington is committed to equity and diversity across the University for all groups.

Even successful teachers can find it difficult to teach students and content from a culture, religion, or background that is not their own. Using culturally responsive teaching practices are important parts of being a good teacher and supporting minority students.

Students who are often considered to be part of a more diverse university include:

  • Māori and Pasifika students
  • international students
  • students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds
  • men and woman in areas where they are underrepresented
  • mature students
  • refugee-background students
  • students with disabilities
  • students with different religious and cultural identities
  • different gender identities and sexualities.

Teaching resources

Māori students

Māori students make up 10 percent of the student population at the University. Between 2015 and 2019, we aim to add another 1000 Māori students to our ranks—a goal laid out in our Strategic Plan.

You'll find lots of resources for learning about and working with Māori students on the Māori at Victoria hub. This includes links to relevant research and articles.

Pasifika students

Read some useful journal articles, get tips for pronouncing Samoan words, and learn about strategies for Pasifika learners on the Pasifika learning and teaching resources page.

International students

For many lecturers, international students are the biggest and most obvious group of ‘diverse’ students that they teach. The University's international students are drawn from over 100 countries, so they form a very diverse group in themselves.

Often international students are studying in New Zealand on student visas. Some may have moved here and had New Zealand schooling, others might have come straight from school in their own country or started a degree in their own country first. Each student's educational background is different, as is their level of English and understanding of the university structure.

If you want to learn some strategies for enhancing international student learning, download Teaching International Students (PDF), a guide prepared at the University of Melbourne.

If you have questions about international students, the team at Wellington University International are a good place to start.

Mature students

At Victoria University of Wellington, a mature student is over the age of 20 and has been out of education for some years. They may be returning to university after time away, changing courses, starting a postgraduate programme, or just beginning their tertiary education.

Mature students that are New Zealand and Australian citizens can gain special admission into university in New Zealand without any form of university entrance qualification.

Mature students can have some advantages over younger students. They've had some life experience and built strategies for coping. This article by Cathy Stone about the mature-age student perspective (PDF) gives a good idea of some of the issues facing mature students who have never been to university.

Some mature students can be intimidated by the university environment or become worried about whether their academic skills are good enough.

The University provides some orientation activities specifically for mature students and Student Learning also offers some advice specifically for this group.

Refugee background students

There is a network of teaching and support staff across the University, who have a particular interest and commitment to supporting these students. You can read about the support available to refugee background students.

Two reports about refugee background students have been completed at the University, coordinated by Sara Kindon:

  • Supporting refugee-background students to achieve their goals.
  • Refugee-background youth map—Wellington.

This 2010 journal article by Andrew Joyce and others gives a good survey of the situation for RBS students in Australia, which is not dissimilar from that of New Zealand.

In Australia, refugee background students are often described as "culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)". The Cross Cultural Awareness resource provides some very useful background and ideas for working with CALD students.

Students with disabilities

Making sure your teaching is accessible to students, no matter their disability, requires a little extra care and planning.

The University's Disability Services has useful information for staff about working with students who have disabilities. This includes teaching tips, professional development opportunities, and more information about disability at the University today.

They have a useful guide to inclusive learning and teaching in the context of disability. You can also read their guides for staff.

Rainbow students

The University offers a range of services and resources for students who identify with diverse sexual orientations and sex and gender identities. At Victoria University of Wellington, our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual/agender (LGBTQIA+), and takatāpui communities are known as the rainbow community.

Rainbow and Inclusion Adviser

We have appointed a Rainbow and Inclusion Adviser, Georgia Andrews, whose role is to connect students with appropriate services. She will work with the rainbow community to ensure that the University is a safe and inclusive environment for students of all sexualities, genders, and sex characteristics.

Look at our web page for further information about the rainbow community.

During the lecture

For many students, a 50-minute (or longer) lecture is an unfamiliar format. It can be unsettling. Even students who are used to it can find the ‘traditional’ lecture format boring and repetitive—they might appreciate some variety.

Break up the session

Research shows that students don’t like to be ‘talked at’. Make your lectures interactive, fun and engaging or use media (a video or audio track) to break up the session. For example, you could consider using student response technologies such as Go-Soap Box.

Use real life examples

Use good examples and give context that students can relate to. Consider what they already know and their experiences. This can help students better understand the concept and make them feel included.

If they can relate to what you’re saying, it’s easier for them to focus on your lecture.


Think about what students are doing during a lecture, will they be:

  • Taking their own notes?
  • Adding notes to a print out or digital version of your PowerPoint?
  • Trying to listen and take notes at the same time?
  • Adding notes to an outline or hand-out that you have given them?

The material you give students can have a big effect on how they engage in your lecture. Providing hand-outs is particularly helpful for many students, but especially those who might be struggling to adapt to learning at University. Provide a logical structure for them to follow. This gives them an additional information to what you are saying and your PowerPoint.


Try to find a balance—detailed PowerPoint notes are helpful after the lecture but they're dense and difficult to read during the lecture. While video and images that you can talk to may be useful and interactive during the lecture, they're less so after when the student is revising.

After the lecture

Students benefit from having a structured way to review the lecture. This might be a hand-out or work to follow up on.

Students who find it more difficult to follow along in a lecture will rely on the work they do afterward to help keep up. This often applies to international students where English is not their first language and students with a disability that affects their learning.

Designing supporting material

Consider how you can design materials that support the kind of learning you would, ideally, like your students to engage in.

Keep these questions in mind:

  • How do I want students to prepare for my lecture?
  • How will they listen and take notes?
  • How will they use my content after the lecture—what will they take away?
  • Do my support materials work for all students, including international students and those with a disability?

The Student Learning team encourages students to prepare for lectures, listen actively in lectures, and review what they learned after the lecture, as shown in their Suggested Study Routine hand-out (PDF).

Develop your lecturing approach

If you're interested in changing or improving your lectures, talk to the Centre for Academic Development for advice. The team can give you useful feedback and introduce you to new learning and teaching methods and technology available at Victoria. They can also recommend professional and academic development opportunities.