Creating a space that is inclusive is an important part of co-creation. In today’s discussion about co-creation we talked about how to transform teaching and learning by first reflecting on our failures and ideas about what makes a bad learning environment. We used the Making Space with TRIZ liberating structure and focused only on the first step where we list all the things we can do to get the worst possible result (this week). Next week we will talk about making a more inclusive space for learning.

Our Bad ideas

In my breakout room, we drew on ideas from personal experiences as students and teachers well as our own critical thinking to come up with a list of how to make classes feel exclusionary. We thought about the opposite of what we do to make a space feel inclusive. It was hard to avoid talking about what we should do during this activity, but thinking about what a bad learning environment looks like was quite useful for affirming our current practices. Afterwards, I added some of my own ideas. I am not able to explain all the reasons why these are bad practices, but please do not do any of the following:

  • Not asking permission to use people’s ideas (I did ask permission to blog about this list)

Negative Energy

  • When the teacher displays negative energy (Being a role model and setting a good tone is important) 
    • Negative feedback (you didn’t attend, ask questions, not focusing) 
    • Do not tell students what they are doing well – focus on areas where they fell short
    • When someone has an idea explain why it will not work or is a bad idea instead of considering it

Attitudes About Students

  • Making assumptions about students 
    • Energy or intentions (we don’t know what students are going through)
    • The reason they are doing someting like not following APA rules
  • Get annoyed when someone asks a question and/or shut them down for asking
  • Sigh, give students mean looks, and roll your eyes when students try to give you feedback or answer a question wrong
  • Make fun of students, put them down, and mock them either for their lack of knowledge, body composition, or personal characteristics

Exclusive Course Design

  • Overcrowd slides 
  • Small font 
  • Large class sizes with a participation grade 
  • Participation grades in general can create barriers for laerning especially when students may have barriers at home (like kids or a loud background)
  • Assume that everyone learns in one way
  • Ignore privledge
  • Play favourites – always call on the same people with hands raised

Make Them Feel Uncomfortable In Class

  • Singling people out in class in front of others 
  • Make students speak in class, especially if you think they did not do the readings
  • Use non-interactive teaching strategies that are boring 
  • Read every word from the slides (Although, sometimes it is a strategy for inclusion to read slides when closed captioning is not avalible)
  • Ask students from minority groups to talk about what being part of a minoroty group is like (make them educate the class)
  • Force students on Zoom to have their cameras on

Blindness to student personal lives – assume school is THE priority 

That one is huge. In reality, school is often not the main priority in students’ lives. It deserves it’s own heading.

Reject Their Ideas

  • Do not listen to student feedback 
  • Do not acknowledge student feedback 
  • Ask for feedback but make no changes to how you do things now or in the future

Shut Down Discussions

  • Disable chat features so students cannot share ideas
  • Do not use breakout rooms in large classes so students do not have the opportunity to interact
  • Correct people who are sharing their perspective since you know what they mean to say and what their experience is better than they do
  • Interrupt anyone who tries to speak

Poor Communication

  • Do not remind students about things OR remind them multiple time a day
  • Overwhelm students with messages 

Poor Flexibility

  • Not being empathetic about student situations
  • Make students ask for accomodations – repeatedly
  • Do not read accommodation letters 
  • Do not accommodate student needs like closed captioning 
  • Requiring proof for absences (Dr. notes, death certificates) 
  • Do not allow them time to grieve a death 
  • Have strict deadlines that are not at all flexible in any circumstance

Group Work

  • Forcing students into groups – do not let them pick their groups
  • Set up unrealistic group work expectations
  • Create unnecessary conflict by makring them based on contributions
  • Create groups with students who have different schedules

Make Yourself Unavalible

  • Don’t respond to student emails etc. 
  • Have little to no office hours
  • Leave class before the students have a chance to ask questions
  • Do not answer your phone

Textbook Choice

  • Require students to require costly books … and never use them 
  • Do not make them aware of (legal) alternatives to textbooks 
  • Do not allow use of alternative books 
  • Make students pay a fee to access tests or course material

Proctor Tests

  • Use online proctoring and surveillance systems for testing 

Assignment Design

  • Have vague assignment expectations that are open to multiple interpreations
  • Do not explain assignments in class or at all
  • Use the same meaningless assignments for years without updating them (disposable assignments) 
  • Tell them part of their job as a student it to read your mind (instead of explaining the assignment) – Commonly called figuring out the assignment expectations on your own

Have a Disorganized Course Shell

  • Post links without organizing your LMS 
  • Don’t tell students where to find material on the LMS 
  • No breaks in live classes – in person or online 

Be Disconnected With the Program

  • Be inconsistent with other teachers without reason or explaining your expectations
  • Do not consider other course workload when planning assignments/exam dates

What Managers can do

  • Book classes back to back all day long (no breaks)
    • Teachers can ensure there are no breaks so people get really hungry
  • Do not respond to student feedback about the program or courses
  • Train staff to lecture or don’t train them at all
  • Book classes when there is no on-campus supports (technology, food services)

Wow, that sounds like a horrible class. When can I withdraw?

The sad reality is that some of the things we listed as horrible ideas actually happen in academia. 😞

In fact, I am in the middle of some co-creation with students and was having a hard time letting go of an aspect of the assignment that they expressed concern about: “List all presenter names in order of contribution.” It is a real-world situation that they will need to face someday … but I can see how it might create unnecessary conflict. I explained to them that I was grading them on if they did it not for their placement on the list. They are undergraduate students and the order of authorship can be a contentious issue for professionals (when it goes on resumes). As a grad student, I have spent over an hour talking about the order of authorship and it wasn’t a graded assignment. Instead, I can ask them to decide in what order they will list author names and indicate that. Asking them to pick how they will order authors still makes them have the conversation I want them to have upfront and will help them feel less vulnerable. During co-creation, I think it is important to have time to reflect. When they expressed their concerns I asked for time to reflect on them instead of giving a firm answer at the time. While blogging about all the reasons a course can feel exclusionary I realized that even during this co-creation activity I need to be very careful not to make decisions that exclude people. Thankfully my students felt comfortable honestly discussing their thoughts and concerns with me today.

We took a wrecking ball to course design …

A small clip of this song was played by our facilitator, which was a great way to set the tone for destroying the classroom environment. He just played what is on the first slide of this video clip before we went into breakout rooms.
What we did this week (hammer and rubble). What we’ll do next week (hand placing bricks into a neat pile/wall).

Credit to Terry Greene (Trent University) and Jess Mitchell (OCADu) for facilitation as well as other team members: Heather Carroll, Nipissing University
Fiona Rawle, University of Toronto Mississauga
Jennifer Curry Jahnke, Mohawk College



Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit


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