Teaching with CARE: Supporting equity and inclusion with academic technology

14 March 2024
By Don Vosburg
CARE Wheel

An inclusive and equitable learning environment is one in which all students feel welcome, valued, and respected. It is also an environment in which improved learning outcomes, increased engagement and motivation, and social cohesion and belonging are better supported. 

In order to foster such a learning environment, Andy Saltarelli, and Kritika Yengashankara introduced the CARE framework as part of an Educause 2023 Learning Lab. CARE is a flexible set of principles with which educators can use research-supported best practices to provide a more inclusive learning environment, and create better opportunities to improve learner outcomes.

Why use CARE?

CARE is an easy to remember acronym consisting of a constellation of four elements that encompass good practices for supporting an inclusive and equitable learning environment. The four elements of CARE can be found in various inclusive teaching and learning frameworks that have been applied to learning environments including Universal Design for Learning (UDL, CAST.org), studies in belonging, research into social and emotional dimensions of learning, self-determination theory (ex. Ryan and Deci, 2000), stereotype threat (Claude Steele), accessibility studies, trauma-informed pedagogies and instruction (ex. McMurtie, 2020), and Pedagogies of Care. A potential advantage of this overlap is that CARE may provide a more accessible, common vocabulary when sharing ideas, or labeling inclusive practices when sharing across our varied backgrounds. And if you are someone who has already been engaging in some form of these elements, CARE may provide additional validation of practices you have been employing, and perhaps provide one or two more ideas. Or maybe you have yet to directly connect your practices to inclusive and equitable research, and this framework may provide a starting point for engaging in discussions around equitable and inclusive teaching, or ways in which you can start framing your practices on a syllabus, or even public-facing materials or reports for your department.

So what are the four main elements of CARE?

C: Community

A: Agency

R: Representation

E: Equal Access

What does the research into each element of CARE show?

Under each dropdown below, you will find more information about each element of CARE. Each dropdown section will also contain a few possible strategies, and if you wish, there will be a space presented via Poll Everywhere to share with our community any strategies you have successfully used. Please be aware, general content moderation may be on, so your shared strategy responses may be delayed.

C: Community

“Almost all human beings – and students are a subset of that category – need some sense of belonging” (Kurt Baker, as cited in Eaton, et. al., 2023). 

The classroom serves as a microcosm of society, a space where diverse individuals converge, interact, and shape their understanding of the world. In this setting, fostering a sense of community emerges as an essential ingredient for effective learning and engagement between students, faculty, and the classroom space. Creating a sense of community and belonging with students is important, and a feeling of being disconnected from your fellow students and instructors has been shown to “impede learning, and disproportionally impacts underrepresented students” (Saltarelli and Yengashankaran, 2023). A sense of belonging within the college community supports an environment in which students feel valued and respected, allows learners to be more engaged, motivated, participate more actively in class, seek help when needed, take more ownership of their learning process, and persist through academic challenges (ex. Baker, 2010; Berry, 2019; Cooper et. al., 2017; Li and Xue, 2023; Lohr & Haley, 2018), all which have the potential to improve academic outcomes. 

Building classroom community can be done using a multifaceted approach. Instructors can learn students’ names and pronunciation along with confirming pronouns; they can learn with the students and from each other (group work, icebreakers, peer feedback), collaborate on syllabus construction or labor-based contracts, and/or include students’ backgrounds and experiences as part of the class or homework assignments. This is a minor sampling of initial steps I have heard of from others regarding community building strategies, and could be a place to start. To some extent, everything we talk about regarding CARE can create some feeling of a shared learning community. However, C: Community will focus on general community building strategies for both in and out of the classroom space on campus.

Want to help others out with community building strategies? Please enter your strategies in the Poll Everywhere section below. As a reminder regarding personal or sensitive information, your strategies will be available to those who visit this site.

A: Agency

Agency is about providing some alternatives and control for your students in their learning process. Research in self-determination theory, universal design for learning (UDL), and accessibility studies indicate that students benefit from being given some choice and control in how they encounter, engage, and express their learning (Saltarelli and Yengashankaran, 2023). Furthermore, by making alternative resources available, you can help reduce barriers to learning and understanding for all students, and thereby creating more equitable learning outcomes. You might be thinking, this sounds great, but how do I manage the extra work of creating alternative assignments and resources? 

Acknowledging the extra work of providing alternative assignments, assessments, projects, etc., is important. It is not often an easy ask to create more when time, and often energy, is limited. Many times, small adjustments can help tremendously, and here is where following a +1 approach (Tobin & Behling, 2018) may help to get started in a more efficient manner. To try a +1 approach, ask yourself what your pinch points are, and are they single streamed? Or to put it another way, do I have an area in my course design where students often struggle, and do I offer that part of my design in only one way or format?1 If the answer is yes to either or both of those questions, then see if you can add one more way for a student to access that resource, engage in that activity or topic, or express their knowledge of that topic. Providing choice and agency is not about giving over complete control of your assignments, but rather providing options or control when it 1) makes sense to do so, 2) can still meet your rigorous standards (i.e. this is not about making an assignment easier), and 3) still achieves your desired outcome.

1For more information on the +1 Approach, and a worksheet on identifying pinch points, please take a look at our UDL/CARE Starter: +1 Approach Worksheet.


  1. Students need to read a text for background information before a classroom discussion. Beyond understanding the background information, is the activity of reading itself, or some aspect of the act of reading, crucial, and is the act of reading in some way accounted for in your evaluation of the students during the discussion? If not, one option could be to provide an audio version, or html version of that text via Ally.
  2. At the end of the term, students are being assessed of their understanding of a topic, and how that topic can be applied to their major. Historically, you have had them write a term paper to display this knowledge. As part of their assessment, are the elements of essay writing itself also part of the rubric and being assessed? If not, perhaps providing students a choice of a written essay, or an oral presentation may be a possibility.

Looking to give your students some more control and agency in the classroom, but not necessarily additional choices as above? Agency is not always about more options but providing more control over their learning atmosphere. A couple other ideas would be to:

  1. Co-create your class syllabus or develop classroom norms with students.
  2. Solicit frequent feedback and make changes to your course on that feedback. This provides not only a sense of agency, control over their learning, but also helps build community!

Want to help others out with agency-related strategies? Please enter your strategies in the Poll Everywhere section below. As a reminder regarding personal or sensitive information, these will be available to those who visit this site.

R: Representation

Representation is tailored towards creating environments in which we are trying to reduce the impact of cues that send implicit signals about who belongs and who can succeed here at Carleton. Even if we “do not explicitly hold or endorse stereotypes about members of disadvantaged groups, they, like anyone in the culture, are aware of common negative stereotypes […]. Because of this, we are capable of unintended, nonverbal bias in our interactions […] that can be a cue that confirms the relevance of the stereotype.” (Aronson, et. al., 2013), and we have evidence that unconscious biases can lead to differential expectations, encouragement, and support provided to students (ex. Guilberg, et. al., 2018; Matheis, et. al., 2020). Research into stereotype threat (Claude Steele) indicates that learning environments in which a lack of representation, as well as being aware of negative stereotypes and fear of confirming those negative stereotypes, can lead to a feeling of lower self-worth, divert cognitive resources away from the task at hand, reduce attention and motivation, impair memory, lower problem-solving abilities, diminish engagement with learning materials, and reduce general learning outcomes (ex. Grimm, et. al., 2009; Spencer, et. al., 2016). Under this context for R: Representation, the goal is to try and find ways to mitigate stereotype threat by representing and affirming all of our students, staff, and faculty members.


  1. Gender and math performance:

A long-standing stereotype exists that women are less skilled in math than men (Dersch & Eitel, 2022). An instructor may be more likely to provide more positive feedback and encouragement to males than females, who may receive more critical feedback and less guidance. Learners learn these biases as well. One study found that when asked about their gender as part of a demographic question before an exam, women performed worse than those women who were asked after the exam. Furthermore, men showed a slight trend towards performing better when asked before the exam, although the authors stated this was not a practically significant effect (Strickler & Ward, 2004).

So what is a possible suggestion to help mitigate this type of an effect? The previous study suggests one option is to switch demographic information to the end of a survey or exam in order to reduce the chance that learned, implicit biases affect performance.

  1. Racial Stereotypes and standardized tests

Racial-based stereotypes also create a space for stereotype threat to occur. Going back to math, evidence exists that the stereotype of Asian students’ superior math (Aronson, et. al., 2013), or “”natural” STEM abilities” (McGee, 2018) can create pressure for Asian students to perform well in math tests, while stereotypes of lower academic performance among certain racial groups can lead to self-doubt and underperformance.

Studies indicate that when students are reminded of their race before taking a standardized test, they tend to perform lower than when they are not reminded of their race. This suggests that stereotype activation can lead to anxiety and self-doubt, impairing test performance (Alston, et. al., 2022; Aronson, et. al., 2013).

Reducing stereotype threat takes a comprehensive approach and can include many different strategies, including removing potential gender or racial cues before exams as in the above examples. For more strategies, please see this handout on Strategies to reduce stereotype threat, or for tips on representation and diversifying your course materials, please see this site at our Gould library.

Want to help others out with strategies related to representation and stereotype threat? Please enter your strategies in the Poll Everywhere section below. As a reminder regarding personal or sensitive information, these will be available to those who visit this site.

E: Equal Access

Research into accessibility studies and UDL indicate that barriers exist in learning and disproportionally impact students from underrepresented groups (Saltarelli and Yengashankaran, 2023). Some of these barriers could be diagnosed or undiagnosed disabilities and mental health conditions, money, time, cultural differences, and/or linguistic barriers. The more we can reduce those barriers, the more likely students will be able to successfully participate in the learning process. While some of ‘equal access’ does overlap with the ideas under agency, such as when you provide a choice of a text or audio version of a document, creating equal access is not always purely about creating a choice, but it also may be about meeting a need in order to afford equal and equitable opportunities. So what are some ways we can help our students equally access and benefit from our courses, and the college as a whole?


  1. Making it easier to find and access help (offering email, office hours, questions through the LMS, virtual drop-in, etc.).
  2. Make materials needed for courses financially accessible (open-resource, reserving materials in the library, etc.).
  3. Providing various formats of documents (text, audio, ePub, etc.) such as in the example under agency. This not only provides choice, but also ensures better access to those for whom it is a need.
  4. Making materials linguistically and culturally accessible by allowing students to engage with materials in alternative languages (as suitable), and encouraging paraphrase and adaptation to their own lives.
  5. Providing links to resources on your syllabus and direct students to the Office of Accessibility Resources, and Assistive Technology.
  6. Being aware of how various instructional strategies may not in all cases be accessible, even Active Learning (see Gin, et. al., 2020).

Want to help others out with equal access strategies? Please enter your strategies in the Poll Everywhere section below. As a reminder regarding personal or sensitive information, these will be available to those who visit this site.

You may have noticed, that some strategies employed in one element of CARE may also apply to other elements. For example, when you increase a student’s agency, reduce stereotype threats, and/or provide better, more equal access, you also create a more inclusive and supportive classroom Community. In addition, CARE does not rely on an instructor to address each element in order to be more classroom supportive, but rather any constellation of strategies that may apply to these elements help form a web of support. The goal is not to achieve everything all at once, but rather to take and add small steps at a time, where and when we can, in order to continue the journey of trying to make things better in our learning spaces.

How will we use CARE?

With these flexible elements, we have some research and vocabulary we can consistently point to when discussing and applying inclusive and equitable teaching practices, as well as framing inclusive uses of the technology we are using in the classroom, for your students, and when applicable, to the larger campus community. Beyond this blog post, we in Academic Technology is developing an Urgent CARE section under each of our technologies listed in the ITS Teaching and Learning catalog page, and provide a brief description about how each technology can support aspects of CARE.  Below is an example with Poll Everywhere (PE):

Urgent CARE – Need a quick example or description of how one of our tools can be viewed through CARE?

Community: Community building in PE can be done by gathering feedback from your students on a regular basis, and applying that feedback in our course. You can also do check-ins with your students using the emotional scale, or have them approve of and/or answer questions and comments using the Q&A activity.

Agency: PE opens up opportunities for people to answer in a variety of ways. Give your audience a choice in how they answer by typing into PE, or providing a verbal answer in the classroom.

Representation: Select representative images and choose the wording of your questions in order to avoid implicit, negative stereotype clues. Or, by using the anonymous feature in PE, students may feel more comfortable in answering questions or making comments without the fear of their answers, or themselves, being stereotyped by their identity. 

Equal Access: Providing a question in PE creates an opportunity for at least 4 ways to make your question more accessible. There is the 1) written text of the question, 2) helpful images can be added with alt text available, 3) PE is screen reader accessible, and 4) you can also read aloud the question in class.

Under each Urgent CARE section, there will be an open-ended Poll Everywhere question, about how you might apply, or are already applying any of the aspects of CARE. These will be similar to the open-ended questions found above under each CARE dropdown section. While technology may be the direct tool that supports a CARE element, such as using Ally for alternative formats to provide both agency and equal access, technology is often the delivery mechanism for materials you have already created with CARE. The examples you submit will help others imagine how they might also apply CARE or CARE-like strategies.

For more CARE-related ideas, please seek out your Carleton-supported technology on the ITS – Teaching and Learning site, or reach out to Don Vosburg (dvosburg) in Academic Technology.

For more information and ideas regarding universal design for learning (UDL), check out our UDL blog series, and don’t forget we have more equitable and inclusive practices found on the Learning and Teaching Center’s website!


Alston, M., Darity, W., Eckel, C., McNeil, L., & Sharpe, R. “The Effect of Stereotypes on Black College Test Scores at a Historically Black University.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2022.

Aronson, J., Burgess, D., Phelan, S. M., & Juarez, L. “Unhealthy Interactions: The Role of Stereotype Threat in Health Disparities.” American Journal of Public Health, 2013.

Baker, C. “The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation.” Journal of Educators Online, vol. 7, no. 1, 2010, n1.

Berry, S. “Teaching to Connect: Community-Building Strategies for the Virtual Classroom.” Online Learning, vol. 23, no. 1, 2019, pp. 164-183.

Cooper, et al. “What’s in a Name? The Importance of Students Perceiving That an Instructor Knows Their Names in a High-Enrollment Biology Classroom.” CBE—Life Sciences Education, vol. 16, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-13.

Dersch, A-S., Heyder, A., & Eitel, A. “Exploring the Nature of Teachers’ Math-Gender Stereotypes: The Math-Gender Misconception Questionnaire.” 2022.

Gin, L., Guerrero, F., Cooper, K., & Brownell, S. “Is Active Learning Accessible? Exploring the Process of Providing Accommodations to Students with Disabilities.” CBE-Life Sciences Education, vol. 19, no. 4, 2020.

Grimm, L. R., Markman, A. B., Maddox, W. T., & Baldwin, G. C. “Stereotype Threat Reinterpreted as a Regulatory Mismatch.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 96, no. 2, 2009, pp. 288-304.

Gullberg, A., Andersson, K., Danielsson, A., Scantlebury, K., & Hussénius, A. “Preservice Teachers’ Views of the Child—Reproducing or Challenging Gender Stereotypes in Science in Preschool.” Research in Science Education, vol. 48, no. 4, 2018, pp. 691-715.

Kim, W., & Lee, J. “The Effect of Accommodation on Academic Performance of College Students with Disabilities.” Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, vol. 60, no. 1, 2015, pp. 40-50.

Li, J., & Xue, E. “Dynamic Interaction between Student Learning Behaviour and Learning Environment: Meta-Analysis of Student Engagement and Its Influencing Factors.” Behavioral Sciences, vol. 13, no. 1, 2023, p. 59.

Lohr, K. D., & Haley, K. J. “Using Biographical Prompts to Build Community in an Online Graduate Course: An Adult Learning Perspective.” Adult Learning, vol. 29, no. 1, 2018, pp. 11-19.

Matheis, S., Keller, L. K., Kronborg, L., Schmitt, M., & Preckel, F. “Do Stereotypes Strike Twice? Giftedness and Gender Stereotypes in Preservice Teachers’ Beliefs about Student Characteristics in Australia.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 48, no. 2, 2020, pp. 213-232.

McGee, E. “‘Black Genius, Asian Fail’: The Detriment of Stereotype Lift and Stereotype Threat in High-Achieving Asian and Black STEM Students.” AERA Open, vol. 4, no. 4, 2018. DOI: 10.1177/2332858418816658.

Spencer, S. J., Logel, C., & Davies, P. G. “Stereotype Threat.” Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 67, 2016, pp. 415–37. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-psych-073115-103235.

Stanford Handout. “Empirically Validated Strategies to Reduce Stereotype Threat.”

Stricker, L. J., & Ward, W. C. “Stereotype Threat, Inquiring about Test Takers’ Ethnicity and Gender, and Standardized Test Performance.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2004, pp. 665–693.