Communication in teaching


In the following sections you will find suggestions for gender- and diversity-reflective teaching communication. You may have already used many of them "just like that".

You can signal your readiness to answer questions in advance of a course, e.g. on the course's learning platform page or by e-mail.
With phrases such as "Please tell me what I should know as a teacher in advance of the course", you give students the opportunity to clarify their concerns confidentially before the event without having to explain themselves to fellow students.
This can include questions about the accessibility of courses, the possibility of being addressed by a first name other than the one stored in the electronic student file, workload and possibilities of compatibility or examination formats and performance requirements.

Include contact and time information on how, when and where you can be reached, and if applicable, when you cannot be reached or what minimum amount of lead time you need to process enquiries. Make sure and communicate that you will treat the information received confidentially or inform students in which cases you want or need to call in support from superiors or colleagues to deal with the request.

You can establish an agreement for teaching and learning together and prepare it yourself and/or work on it together with the students. In it, you can record what all participants want and expect from the event and its atmosphere, how they want to communicate with each other, how they want to deal with conflicts and heated discussions, and what framework conditions you want to set in your event for a climate that promotes learning, for successful communication and for protection against discrimination. In this way, any conflicts that may arise can be addressed and resolved more easily because a framework has already been created for them.
An example of such "communication support" (but in the context of social justice training) can be found in Czollek/ Perko et al., 2019:65, an example of an interdisciplinary code of conduct for online events can be found at the FU Berlin.

Not only for students who want/need to make use of compensation for disadvantages but also for all others, it is important that requirements for performance, especially examination formats and dates and conditions of participation, are communicated as early as possible.
Furthermore, it can be helpful, especially for students who are new to the university, that formal and content-related requirements and assessment criteria, e.g. for assignments, handouts, essays, presentations or other written and oral participation and examination formats, are made transparent. A "Guideline for the Preparation of ...", which is already available at many faculties and institutes, can be helpful here.
Written papers should be discussed as bindingly as possible in advance, at least with regard to the choice of topic and structure, in order to spare both lecturers and students a "rude awakening".
When justifying a grade, it is also worthwhile to provide brief (written) feedback based on the initial criteria, so that students can better assess their own performance and use hints for personal improvement.

There can be various reasons for reluctance and silence in courses. In order to give everyone who wants to participate the opportunity to speak, methods are offered that lower the threshold for participation, such as group work, murmur rounds, collection of previously written down key points (collection of metaplan cards), or digital tools (an overview of these can be found at the Digital Learning and Teaching.
The Section for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education also offers workshops on activating methods.
However, it can also be important to create an atmosphere in which questions can be asked and mistakes can be made. Again, a joint -> agreement (see above) is well suited for this framework.

Even more than in face-to-face teaching, good moderation of discussions is helpful in online teaching. On the one hand, they structure the students' discussion: in this role, lecturers can, for example, ensure that as many students as possible can participate in the discussion, that contributions do not become long monologues, that the same people do not always speak (first) and that the discussion does not go round in circles or digress.On the other hand, teachers may have to explain or correct facts, be addressed as experts or contribute to the discussion themselves.
It is advisable to clarify the possibilities for participation and roles at the beginning: Do those who speak get to speak immediately, or is there a list of speakers (who may give preference to those who speak for the first time)? Can only the teacher bring forward his/her own contributions, additions and interjections, or can this also be done by others, e.g. by giving short opportunities to respond or by asking for still pending contributions on the old topic before moving on to a new one?

In addition to a list of speakers that the teacher only keeps for him/herself in face-to-face events, in online events "raising hands" can also be posted in the chat for all to see. As a lecturer, it is worthwhile to reflect again and again on whether all students have equal opportunities to contribute or whether there is (unconscious) unequal treatment.

A language that addresses everyone opens up horizons of imagination and creates space for the linguistic representation of more than one gender. Moreover, it is not any harder to understand than the use of the so-called "masculine generic form". (z.B. Pöschko/ Prieler 2018, Friedrich/ Heise 2019 sowie Braun et al. [1998] 2009, Stahlberg/ Sczesny [2001] 2006, all in German).
in the manual Inclusive Writing (in German) of the University of Göttingen, you will find suggestions and tips on inclusive formulations with neutral terms (e.g.: "students") or asterisk/ gender-star ("her*his" - all examples in German)
A short explanation of two frequently asked questions in both contexts (the german version is the authoritative version for these guidelines.):
There is nothing to prevent students from using inclusive writing in their written work.
Teachers are free to make recommendations on the use of inclusive spelling when writing papers, in accordance with the Presidential Board's resolution on inclusive spelling of 18 February 2020 (in German). In principle, however, the adherence or non-adherence to inclusive writing or to a recommendation or instruction issued by a lecturer in this regard does not constitute a criterion for the assessment of examination or study performance at the University of Göttingen.

If there is an intention to use inclusive writing as an assessment criterion by way of exception, a factual reason and a specific regulation in the examination regulations are required in each case. In addition to the General Examination Regulations (Allgemeine Prüfungsordnung (APO), in German)), these include the respective study and examination regulations or module descriptions of the degree programmes or the respective doctoral regulations.
Contact points for legally binding information on the assessment of examination results are the departments Student and Academic Services and/ or Law and Foundation .
An inclusive ( visual ) language should in principle address all people in an equal way. When writing or speaking, it may also be possible to avoid other linguistic inequalities, disparagements or discriminations which, for example, originated in or are based on colonialism, racism, anti-Semitism, hostility towards people with disabilities or National Socialism, or which convey other ideologies of inequality.

The Handout for teachers on dealing with discrimination in language, self-definitions and terms defined by others is an information service provided by the Equal Opportunities and Diversity Unit for anyone who has questions about dealing with discrimination in language and is looking for ways to take action to reduce discrimination wherever possible.


In occupational psychology studies, the concept of friendliness towards mistakes is seen as suitable "to focus on the characteristic of individuals to use mistakes as a developmental principle" (Gartmeier 2010: 118, own translation from German).
Urmila Goel points out in her discussion of the concept for higher education that it seems trivialising to "speak of friendliness when it comes to dealing with structural power inequalities and their violent consequences".
Following Paul Mecheril (2004), she describes friendliness towards mistakes as something that enables shared learning in spaces where people have had different experiences of discrimination and privilege. It is about "always assuming that problematic actions and expressions will occur and that these must then be dealt with. It also means that 'mistakes' can be used to advance the learning process." (Goel 2016:42, own translation from German).
But it also means that "reproductions of power relations have as few negative consequences as possible and that there will be fewer reproductions in the future. This means that those who have been excluded by the reproductions of power relations are not left alone with them. They should experience that these reproductions are addressed and dealt with (without being the centre of attention). They should be assured that there will be consequences when reproductions of power relations take place. And they should be reassured that they are not (solely) responsible for pointing out these reproductions and demanding that they be dealt with ..." (ebd.: 43, own translation from German).


Literature used and further resources
Last updated 14th October 2022