Implicit Bias in Online Courses: What Can Faculty Do?

Implicit bias refers to unconscious attitudes, reactions, stereotypes, and categories that affect behavior and understanding. In higher education, implicit bias often refers to unconscious racial or socioeconomic bias toward students, which can be as frequent as explicit bias (Boysen, et. al 2009). Instructors can hold assumptions about students’ learning behaviors and their capability for academic success which are tied to students’ identities and/or backgrounds, and these assumptions can impede student growth (Staats, et. al, 2017). Instructors can consider a variety of strategies and benefits for revealing and addressing implicit bias, both in themselves and their students.


  • Instructors may assume that certain students know to seek help when they are struggling, although students at higher risk for struggling academically are often less likely to seek help and support.  
  • Instructors may assume that students from certain backgrounds or social groups have different intellectual abilities and/or ambitions. For example, an instructor might assume that a student from a certain background will be satisfied with lower achievement levels. 
  • Instructors may expect students who speak with certain accents to be poor writers.
  • Students with substandard writing abilities may be stereotyped as lacking intellectual ability. 
  • Instructors might treat students with physical disabilities as if they may also have mental disabilities, and thus require more attention.
  • Students who are affiliated with a particular identity group may be treated as experts on issues related to that group.
  • Instructors may assume that students will best relate to the historical, contemporary, or fictional character who resembles them demographically.
  • Students of certain groups may be expected to have certain participation styles (quiet, argumentative, and agenda-oriented).


  • Self-Assess Implicit Biases – Instructors can review the examples above and self-reflect on their own biases. Instructors may also take an online self-assessment to identify their biases through Project Implicit from Harvard University. 
  • Cultivate Inclusivity – Instructors can work to develop inclusive teaching practices, which can mediate potentially biased attitudes and support developing sensitivity and deepening self-awareness.
  • Solicit Feedback from Students – Instructors can also use feedback from students via mid-term surveys and reviewing student course evaluations to assess whether their unconscious biases manifest in their classroom interactions.

Additional Resources

Student Services at Granite State College – The College offers a variety of supports for learners

Creating Inclusive College Classrooms – UMichigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching


Boysen GA and Vogel DL. (2009). Bias in the Classroom: Types, Frequencies, and Responses. Teaching of Psychology, 36(1): 12-17. 

Staats Cheryl et al. (2017). State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2017. Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.

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