Advancing Connection: How our Higher Ed Team is Approaching Inclusion + Diversity

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DEIBLearning Design
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By Erin Joyner, SVP, Course Solutions Product, Cengage


Most people who go into education—whether teaching, administration or some other route—do it for the “aha!” moments, when the light bulb goes on and a student finally “gets it.” The pride and triumph a student feels at that moment is infectious, and it’s what drives many educators in their work. It’s a pride we feel at Cengage, too. We’re here because we truly believe in the power and joy of learning.

So, when I recently saw an email from a student who, instead of having that proud moment, was feeling alienated from learning because of content in one of our texts, it was not a proud moment for me.

Of course, we worked with the student and quickly implemented changes to the text. However, it reinforced for me that if we want to continue to drive those light bulb moments, we must consistently create a sense of inclusion and belonging for all students and provide a positive learning experience with high-quality, fact-based content.

Areas of Focus for Quality Learning

To bring this to life, our higher education product team has focused on four Quality Learning Principles that prioritize Intentional, Authentic, Personalized and Inclusive learning experiences. Our team is trained in these principles as well as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and accessible design.

Quality learning also means creating a diverse and inclusive learning experience, one that advances the way all students learn in and out of class. Learners have a need for social belonging, and it’s our duty and responsibility to create inclusive and diverse learning experiences with perspectives that represent the fullness of human diversity. This includes ability, language, race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status and other human differences students may bring to the classroom.

While we know there are areas where we need to improve, we are and have been committed to fostering a better, more inclusive learning experience. Within our higher education product team, our work is built on three important commitments:

  • Recognize and reduce implicit bias
  • Be intentional in our learning design
  • Include diverse sources of scholarship and authorship


Driving Progress with Action

Commitments are important but even more critical are the actions we take to support them. Our team has several initiatives underway, including:

  • Engaging Experts and Establishing Advisory Councils. We have consulted outside experts in I+D in the development of our product guidelines and are establishing discipline-specific advisory councils to provide us with ongoing advice, direction and expectations. These councils will consist of educators whose work embodies a deep understanding of—and commitment to—diverse and inclusive scholarship.
  • Instituting I+D Guidelines. We have I+D content and authoring guidelines that our authors and content teams use as we develop new products, including print, digital, narrative, assessment and supplemental materials.
  • Auditing Our Products. Currently, we’re assessing our products set to publish in 2022 (copyright 2023) against our I+D rubric to ensure they adhere to our robust Inclusivity Guidelines and reflect our commitments. We’re also conducting audits of existing products across several disciplines to retroactively update material wherever needed.
  • Training Our Team. Our Product team members have already participated in I+D trainings and will continue to build out our training program to ingrain our I+D standards.

I+D from the Inside Out

The diverse learning experiences we aim to deliver for students are a natural output when our workforce reflects the diversity of our customers. As an organization, we’re also committed to a programmatic and sustainable approach to inclusion and diversity. We’ve recently held a series of townhalls and Employee Resource Group-led discussions, creating an open forum for leaders and employees across the company to share, listen and learn. These discussions have been important in driving our work. You can learn more about that here.

As we seek to create quality learning experiences and drive more of those “light bulb moments,” a more focused approach to I+D will be a benefit to all students and educators. I’m proud of the dedication and commitment of my Cengage team to improve education for students today and for generations to come.