Equity and Inclusion in Remote Environments: Pedagogy

A Focus on Pedagogy to Build Equity and Inclusion in Remote Learning

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A Focus on Pedagogy to Build Equity and Inclusion in Remote Learning

In the Spring of 2020, we shifted our teaching interactions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The change to remote instruction uncovered new barriers to learning that affect all of our students. And the pandemic, in combination with the social unrest that followed police killings of Black men and women highlighted harmful societal and systemic biases that disproportionately affect some of our students.

Pedagogy — the practice of teaching — is a critical component to how we address these barriers to learning as well as acknowledge the structural and systemic biases that affect our students. In our classrooms and other learning spaces, we can intentionally use approaches that:

  • Actively engage our students;
  • Help them see themselves, and others like them, as relevant contributors to scholarship in our fields;
  • Show them that topics in our discipline are relevant to their lived experiences.

In addition to thinking about our interactions with students in terms of design, access, and building relationship, we need to  consider our teaching practices. It’s a complete package.

Why is a focus on teaching practice important? Intentionality about creating social presence in online teaching is key to building relationship and students’ sense of belongingness. How and what we teach are critical to supporting student engagement in our classrooms and to their motivation to learn.

Framework for Teaching Inclusively

Marchesani and Adams (1992) articulated a framework for teaching inclusively that includes knowledge of four elements.

  • Instructor — Build your self-knowledge. Understand your own social identities and the privileges they convey.
  • Students — Know who your students are, and about their lived experiences and backgrounds. Use that knowledge intentionally to enrich the learning experience for all students.
  • Course Content — The “what” of teaching. Consider whose voices and scholarship we privilege in our disciplines.
  • Teaching Methods — the “how” of teaching. Be purposeful to include all of your learners in the activities, conversations, and assessments for your course or lab.

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Unpacking What it Means to Teach More Equitably and Inclusively

Pamela Barnett (2013) explored the privileges afforded to instructors by their social privilege, able-bodiedness, native English speaking ability, gender, and race. Her article provides a good jumping-off point for building knowledge of self, and the privileges one’s social identities may afford in teaching and learning spaces. This self-knowledge is a critical — and often overlooked — aspect of teaching.

In the classroom, self-knowledge translates into something as simple as how you introduce yourself on the first day of class. For example, “Hi, my name is Alberto, and I use he/him/his pronouns.” Including pronouns signals your awareness about that aspect of students’ social identities and its importance in learning spaces. The Gender and Sexuality Campus Center at UW-Madison has great resources for instructors to help them make classrooms more welcoming for LGBTQ individuals.

One way to acknowledge and value differences in students’ backgrounds and experiences is to have them write and share about how their background can contribute to particular class activities. Recognizing that students come from different personal situations, it is also important as an equity consideration to normalize conversations about students’ basic needs. The Hope Center at Temple University recommends that faculty provide all students with a fact sheet pointing them to basic needs resources that their campus recommends — how to pay their rent, where to get food, etc. You can integrate a basic needs list of resources like this into the UW-Madison template syllabus.

What you teach involves consideration of content and whose scholarship you highlight and privilege by including it in your course. To convey to students that they too have a place as a scholar in your discipline, and build their sense of belongingness, you can:

  • Include authors’ full names, not just initials, in citations;
  • Choose readings that deliberately reflect the diversity of contributors to your field;
  • Emphasize the range of identities and backgrounds of experts who have contributed to your field; and
  • Use varied names and socio-cultural contexts in test questions, assignments, and case studies.

Active learning — engaging students in the learning process — is key to promoting their learning. The Center for Research on Learning & Teaching (CRLT) at the University of Michigan provides an excellent resource that identifies multiple ways you can incorporate active learning into your course from more simple and lower time commitment activities to ones that are more complex and involved. In addition, Haak, HilleRisLambers, Pitre, and Freeman (2011) demonstrate how a highly structured course design, with regular problem-solving and data analysis practice, and other higher-order cognitive skills practice promotes learning and reduced the academic achievement gap for students underrepresented in STEM.

How we teach also includes how we assess student learning. Linda Suskie (2000) describes considerations for more equitable assessments.

  • Have clearly stated learning outcomes and share them with your students, so they know what you expect from them.
  • Match your assessment to that which you teach and vice versa.
  • Use many different measures and many different kinds of measures.
  • Help students learn how to do the assessment task.
  • Engage and encourage your students.
  • Interpret assessment results appropriately.
  • Evaluate the outcomes of your assessments.

Get Started

Consider the different aspects of your course. You can begin by adding a basic needs statement to your syllabus, or if mid-semester, including a separate page on your Canvas course site with these resources. Consider the materials you’ve chosen to highlight and the scholars and researchers whose work you are including in your course. In your syllabus or in a bibliography be sure you have included authors’ full names.

Nest, review your course content and the variety of ways that students will interact with it during the semester. For each of these touchpoints, consider how you are currently or could better emphasize the range of identities and backgrounds of experts who have contributed to your field. Make adjustments now for upcoming class sessions, and make notes to diversify your materials for the next time you teach this material.

Then, review the handout from CRLT about active learning approaches. Identify those you are already using, and choose one or more new approaches to try yet this semester. It may be helpful to consider how you would lead such an activity in a face-to-face classroom first and then think about adjustments you may need to make for online instruction.

Last, consider when during the semester and how you plan to assess student learning. A good first step is to “map” assessments to your course learning outcomes to make sure what you are telling students is important—as indicated by your learning outcomes—is reflected in what you are actually assessing.

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