Inclusive Teaching

The Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) is one of my favorite organizations producing regular, asynchronously available, digestible webinars on interrogating academic biology as we know it and creating a more inclusive environment.

Dr. Bryan Dewsbury gave a SABER talk and a workshop at UMass through the Inclusive Excellence Program. In this workshop, he walked us through several activities including “letter to a first year” in which you reflect on how you would advise a newcomer to navigate your institution. Then we worked through what challenges are presented that require such advice and how to change the system and decrease the obstacles facing each newcomer. To make these changes, we must ask

  1. How will we measure the impact of our efforts?
  2. What are our action items to accomplish this mission?

Clear measures of effectiveness will help bring bottom up pressure to the dean of a university, and coming to them with a plan to scale up the data-supported efforts of individual instructors will increase the likelihood of positive change. These data-supported efforts involve comparing the performance of his students against those of a second instructor using his activities and a third instructor who doesn’t use his activities. These analyses can help to visualize that marginalized students have greater change of success using the suggested methods. Note that these performance metrics are not exclusively grades. They include exit interviews with seniors across different identities as well.

The methods:

Dr. Dewsbury described the difference between directly addressing issues and allowing students to see issues through the data or information being taught. To that end, he encourages instructors to include diverse examples and topics that disproportionately impact members of marginalized groups. Before the class has even begun, you can direct students to to complete a writing prompt that will help individuals identify their own biases and frameworks. He has compiled reflections to reframe your curriculum, as well as the following resources to provide data that you can use to bring social justice issues into teaching:

Group work is another important component of reframing the class mindset. It is an opportunity for dialogue and engaging peers, so be mindful when composing group members. Affinity groups are valuable and important, but there is value in learning from those of different backgrounds and experiences. As an instructor, you have an opportunity to model acceptable group behavior in how you respond to your students’ answers.

The suggestions above are what Dr. Dewsbury has found to be effective in creating change toward a more inclusive educational environment. They are not an exhaustive list.

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