3 Ways to Be Culturally Responsive in Online Teaching

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In March 2020, higher education institutions required instructors to move their course content online for delivery. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that with “the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19), school districts, institutions of higher education, and educators are finding themselves in unchartered territory” (AACTE, 2020, para.1). Many instructors, including those culturally responsive face-to-face courses, were unprepared to teach courses online. Some of these instructors needed more experience with classroom technology and even less experience designing content for online delivery. Even with professional development support, gaps in online instructional design experience heightened the need for instructors to find practical ways they could be culturally responsive in their online classroom practices.

Now, three years later, instructors continue to look for ways to offer online courses that address the needs of diverse student populations. This article presents three practical ways instructors can continue to be culturally responsive online. Each of the suggested practices below is provided to help instructors find ways to engage students through culturally responsive online classroom practices.

Instructional Practice 1: Represent Student Diversity in Visuals

Make sure your visuals represent the diversity of students in your classroom. The students should see themselves in the images you use in your online classroom. Include pictures of your face-to-face class to remind students that the online environment is just an extension of their traditional classroom. Include racially and ethnically diverse images on module and description pages. “An instructor who approaches online teaching through a multicultural lens will use pictures, videos, and stories that respect the races, ethnicities, and cultures of all students and also understand the contexts in which they were made” (Woodley et al., 2017, p.49). By creating an online environment that includes diverse representations of students, the instructor creates a learning environment that values each student’s uniqueness.

Instructional Practice 2: Add Storytelling Assignments

Create assignments allowing students to share their experiences and expertise through storytelling. Baldwin and Ching (2017) found that including interactive storytelling in online courses allows students to create their own personalized learning experiences. These interactive storytelling opportunities can motivate and encourage learners to “construct knowledge in an immersive fashion.” (Baldwin & Ching, 2017, p. 185). Storytelling supports diverse students’ learning styles by allowing them to speak from their experiences as experts.

Instructional Practice 3: Create a Safe Space to Build a Caring Community

Have your online course be a safe space for students to build caring committees online. Include places where students can share their experiences during these tumultuous times. “Whether your institution uses Canvas, Blackboard, or any other learning management system, most systems include different tools you can use to engage students in conversations about social issues” (Woodley, 2018, p.40). Use discussion boards and journals to allow students to share in public and private ways about their experiences. Public spaces create opportunities for students to share their personal experiences while providing supportive and insightful comments to their colleagues. Private journaling between the student and instructor can strengthen bonds between instructors and students. By creating caring spaces online, the instructor elevates student-student and student-instructor interactions.


Meeting the needs of diverse learners online requires more than just moving readings and handouts to an online environment. It also requires that instructors design curricula that respect and value students online, similarly to how they did in face-to-face instruction (Woodley & Rice, 2022). By focusing on creating a culturally responsive, caring, and empowering environment, instructors can better meet the needs of diverse student populations online.

For more information about criticalities, like culturally responsive online teaching, feel free to pick up a copy of my book, Designing Intersectional Online Instruction: Critical Teaching and Learning Practices. Please send all questions about this article to Dr. Woodley at womanists@gmail.com


AACTE. (2020). Special Education Equity in the Era of COVID-19. Retrieved from https://aacte.org/2020/04/special-education-equity-in-the-era-of-covid-19/

Baldwin, S., & Ching, Y. H. (2017). Interactive storytelling: Opportunities for online course design. TechTrends, 61, 179–186.

Woodley, X.M. (2018). Authentic Dialogue in Online Classrooms. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 22(4), 38–43. Retrieved from http://www.rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/5898-how-to.pdf

Woodley, X.M., Mucundanyi, G., & Lockard, M. (2017). Designing counter-narratives: Constructing culturally responsive curriculum online. International Journal of Pedagogy and Course Design, 7(1), 43–56. doi:10.4018/IJOPCD.2017010104

*Woodley, X.M. & Rice, M.F. (2022). Designing Intersectional Online Instruction: Critical Teaching and Learning Practices. New York: Routledge.

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