No Time to Waste: Schools Clamor for CourseLeaf’s New Inclusive Curriculum Tool
“It’s our hope that the tool will help us change and replace all examples of outdated language and that this will help our students feel valued and make the curriculum more relatable to them.”
- Patrick Bungard, Administrative Analyst/Specialist III at California State University at San Bernardino
Higher ed administrators testify to the tool’s strengths as their campuses tackle DEIB goals
The first time Patrick Bungard of the California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) heard about CourseLeaf’s Inclusive Curriculum Tool, he wasted no time registering his campus to be a pilot site. Krista Young, at the University of Louisville (UofL) in Kentucky, reacted similarly: “I immediately wanted to be part of the pilot; I didn’t even wait to ask my vice provost.”
Bungard and Young are passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and they recognized right away the many possibilities CourseLeaf’s new tool offered in meeting DEI goals. Here was a tool that could comb through hundreds of course descriptions with lightning-fast speed to find examples of exclusionary, racist, and prejudiced language. They were intrigued and couldn’t wait to test it out.
“We have had faculty find old courses that are still in the catalog that use language that today is considered racist,” says Young, a Program Manager for Academic Decision Support & Operations in the Office of Academic Planning & Accountability at the UofL. “We want to be a university that uses inclusive teaching practices, so it's vitally important that we remove outdated language and labels.”
In her own search of the school’s catalog using an early version of the Inclusive Curriculum Tool, Young found old Special Education courses that were especially offensive, she says. The courses hadn’t been offered in 20+ years, but they were still lurking in old versions of UofL’s course catalog.
“The tool provides an opportunity to ask academic units to revisit course descriptions in a systematic way without having to review language in thousands of courses,” says Young. “We see it as a good way to start conversations on our campus about inclusive language and inclusive teaching practices in all academic departments.”
The Harry Potter effect
At the CSUSB, one of the first words thrown out of the school’s course catalog was “freshman.” And while the CourseLeaf Inclusive Curriculum Tool software did the heavy lifting of locating every mention of freshman in the school’s catalog, students were already pushing for the title to be discarded. They told Bungard and other administrators that they preferred “first-year,” “second-year,” etc.
“The use of ‘freshman,’ ‘sophomore,’ etc., is generational, and this generation was raised on Harry Potter books and films,” says Bungard. “They prefer to be called ‘first-year students’ and ‘second-year students.’ If we want to be inclusive, we must respect this preference.”
CSUSB is one of the nation’s largest and most diverse 4-year public university system, and a majority (70%) of its 17K students self-identify as members of historically excluded groups. Campus administrators and faculty members have worked hard to ensure students’ cultural backgrounds are respected. But there is still more to be done, says Bungard, and the Inclusive Curriculum Tool helps to ensure that the campus reaches all DEIB goals.
“It’s our hope that the tool will help us change and replace all examples of outdated language and that this will help our students feel valued and make the curriculum more relatable to them,” says Bungard.
A customizable editing tool
Young started testing the Inclusive Curriculum Tool at the UofL, an urban campus with 16,000 undergraduates and 7,000 graduate and professional students, in April 2023 and added it to the campus’s production site a few months later.
She appreciates that the tool doesn’t automate changes but flags potentially offensive words and offers suggestions for replacements. For example, if a course description uses the word “fireman,” the software will suggest a gender-neutral replacement such as “firefighter.” Users can add rules to the software so that it skips false triggers.
“This is a tool that you can customize to search for gender terms, religious terms, disability terms, and immigration terms,” says Young, who added that 26% of UofL students self-report as members of an underrepresented racial or ethnic group. “We are working on a dozen specific rules that we hope to roll out soon.”
During the initial pilot test at UofL, more than 200 course descriptions were flagged for potentially offensive language. Young says she and her colleagues are enthusiastic about the potential to work with academic units to create discipline-specific rules to ferret out even more disrespectful words that students could stumble upon.
“We know from experience that students don’t necessarily feel confident enough to approach a professor about an offensive word,” she says.
At the UofL, Young and other administrators are in the process of reaching out to specific ethnic and cultural groups to solicit their input on preferred word choices. Suggestions from these groups will be provided in the Inclusive Curriculum Tool. Young also encourages academic units to ask “their own audience and experts” to ensure inclusivity.
Meanwhile, at CSUSB, Bungard and his colleagues are anticipating the results of a full review of the 2024-2025 course catalog, a massive task that would have required hundreds of hours of analysis by staff members.
“We already feel like the tool has delivered on ROI, even though we have yet to use it to fully review our next catalog,” he says. “We’ve already seen the value of changing certain words, and we know we will save tons in terms of time spent searching through thousands of pages of course descriptions.”
Bungard and his colleagues are also personalizing the Inclusive Curriculum Tool, and he says he is grateful to CourseLeaf for its flexibility.
“CourseLeaf is a great software founded on some great principles, one of which is that the customer’s needs come first, not vice versa,” he says. “That customer-first vision has been very evident during the implementation of the Inclusive Curriculum Tool on our campus, and it’s one of the things that sets the company apart.”