Know Yourself

Enhancing Online Education

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How our social identities influence our lives and can influence teaching and interactions with students.

As educators, it is important to be aware of our own social identities and assumptions and help students do the same. Why? Social identities impact the quality of the social and emotional dynamics in our courses, which also impacts learning and retention. A critical consideration of equity- and inclusive-minded teaching is acknowledging that our students come to us with vastly different experiences and those experiences are often tied to their social identities (i.e., race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, first-generation status, etc.). Therefore equity and inclusion should be considered in every aspect of teaching. Building equitable, inclusive classrooms requires ongoing work and reflection.

Sathy and Hogan (2022, p. 11) describe a teaching inclusive mindset by explaining that every pedagogical decision should be countered with two questions:

  1. Who might be left behind as a result of my practice?
  2. How can I invite those students in?
“Our commitment is to create an environment that engages “the whole person” in the service of learning, recognizing that individual differences should be considered foundational to our strength as a community, and at the core of our ability to be an innovative, creative, and adaptable institution preparing leaders for the 21st century. As such, this framework acknowledges areas of individual differences in personality; learning styles; life experiences; and group or social differences that may manifest through personality, learning styles, life experiences, and group or social differences. Our definition of diversity also incorporates differences of race and ethnicity; sex; gender, and gender identity or expression; age, sexual orientation; country of origin; language; disability; emotional health; socio-economic status; and affiliations that are based on cultural, political, religious, or other identities.” — Forward Together, 2015 (from Diversity Inventory)

Our social identities influence our lives and our teaching, as well as our interactions with our students. An important aspect of developing a critically reflective teaching practice (Brookfield 1998), is being aware of how one’s own identity impacts how we teach and how our students learn. Our identities inform the way we understand the world, how we interact with it, and how we are perceived by others — including our students.


Personal reflection questions

So you may ask, how might a greater understanding of social identities be helpful in supporting student learning? Knowing about multiple kinds of social identities can be helpful for understanding one's own and students’ (and colleagues’) perspectives and behaviors. Also, it can be a factor when selecting instructional strategies that foster dialogue, support reflection for increased self-awareness and development, and provide opportunities for learning across differences.

The process of self-examination should be consistent and completed over time with intentionality. Small changes begin with our engaging in the self-work that we need to develop empathy and understanding of our students' lived experiences. So teaching a more inclusive course begins with you. We all benefit from opportunities to reflect on what it means to bring our whole selves into our courses.

Awareness is the first step in being an inclusive teacher. We invite you to take the following steps to self-reflect on your identities and consider how dominant or subordinated can influence your beliefs and actions.

  1. Click on and examine the information in the Social Identities and Membership document. Notice which of your social identities are dominant and which are subordinated and may be less privileged.
  2. Review the Personal reflection questions

Personal reflection questions

  • Which aspects of your identity are particularly meaningful to you now? Why?
  • Which aspects of identity hadn’t you thought of before? Why do you think that is?
  • Which of your identities do you think students are most aware of? Why? Does this affect your experience as an instructor? How so?
  • Which of your identities do you think students are less aware of? Why? Does this affect your experience as an instructor? How so?
  • How might the self-awareness of your social identities and memberships influence your teaching?
  • How might your social identities influence how you interact with your students?
  • What does this make you want to learn more about? How might you continue to do so?
  • Do you have the support or network you need at UW to discuss social identities as they relate to instruction?  Below are some opportunities to consider.

UW-Madison opportunities

Following are other ways to continue to learn more at UW-Madison. We are fortunate that there are many opportunities to continue our growth and collaborate with others across campus.


Our identities help us understand the idea of positionality or the way our social locations and positions are assigned and negotiated based on social factors like race, class, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. They also inform the perspectives we take when we teach.


  • Brookfield, S. (1998). Critically reflective practice. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 18(4), 197-205.
  • Sathy, V., & Hogan, K. A. (2022). Inclusive teaching: Strategies for promoting equity in the college classroom.

Keywords:online, teaching, social identities, diversity, inclusion   Doc ID:122421
Owner:Karen S.Group:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Created:2022-11-09 21:47 CDTUpdated:2023-04-13 09:10 CDT
Sites:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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