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General hints for recognizing heterogeneity

When teaching, we always experience that every class is different. This may be due to a number of factors like the size of the group or the infrastructure. Another important factor is an increasingly hetergeneous student body.


Check if you have a special sensitivity for gender and diversity issues: What is my role as a teacher due to my socio-cultural origin, my gender identity, the colour of my skin, religious confession / philosophy of life, etc.? How important are such features in students for me? What is my concept of a “good” learner? Am I aware of the various qualifications and expectations of the participants? Do I take their contributions equally seriously? Who do I give more time to speak?

Reflect the value system of your own academic culture and the contents in teaching that are sensitive to diversity: Which social models and values are implied in texts and materials? Which cultural contexts do they stem from? How do students from various cultural backgrounds see this very matter? How are they represented in it? What rules of discourse do we follow in our discussions?


The aim of teaching with a view to diversity is not so much making up for disadvantages that may arise from individual situations of life, study contexts and learning needs. Instead, the focus is on taking the opportunity to benefit from the potential of a heterogeneous group of students in a creative and effective way. This potential includes: particularly high motivation and willingness to perform, ability to take stress, awareness of responsibility, conscientiousness, good team spirit, innovative proposals for solution, etc. Integrating the diversity of your students pro-actively into your teaching, topics and questions means that you will reach the individual participants of your class better and receive contributions and discussions that are more differentiated.

There are some simple means by which you can support the participation of students with special needs:

  • Make sure that rooms are accessible without barriers and take care of barrier-free media and didactic methods;
  • Contact the students in your classes at the beginning of the term. Use a short sentence like “If you need support due to a special situation like having to take care of relatives, do not hesitate to contact me, even after class” to tell them that you are willing to support them.
  • Inform about the option of compensation for disadvantages;
  • Make scripts, literature  lists, topics for seminar papers etc. available at an early point in time, if possible in the Blackboard Learning Management System;
  • Verbalize visual presentations and visualize verbal ones;
  • Make sure to use gender neutral formulations;
  • Acknowledge oral statements, address students personally;
  • Ask cautious students to lead workgroups, workshops, etc.
  • Summarize the results of the discussion of the previous meeting;
  • Allow for flexible rules of attendance.


The academic counseling service, too, is increasingly confronted with the challenges of diversity. Students talk about their personal situation which has an effect on the individual course of their studies – in most cases, the effect is negative. On the one hand, information about centralized contact and counseling services offered by Freie Universität Berlin is indispensable. On the other, it would be helpful to listen carefully and find personal contacts for the students, if required.