For this month’s column, the STP Diversity Committee shares our reflections on what the sudden shift to remote teaching and learning means for equity and inclusion in our own teaching and for the professoriate at large.
Viji: The swift pivot to remote teaching has brought ideas of equity and inclusion to the forefront. As educators, we should ask ourselves which students might suffer disproportionate consequences from any decisions we make. For example, students who live in a different time zone or who have since committed to a job may be left out of strictly synchronous class meetings. Likewise, students who lack a reliable internet connection or a quiet place to study may be disadvantaged by timed tests. I’ve shared some thoughts about this swift move to online teaching and learning in a few places, which you can find compiled here. I hope to continue the discussion with you, so please feel free to stay connected with me via Twitter @vijisathy.
Jennifer: When transitioning online, I was reminded we are not “working from home” or engaging in “online learning” as much as we are home -- or out of school -- during a global health crisis, trying to work and/or learn. This realization helped me to step back and be more mindful with the process. Here are some specific strategies I have used for equity and inclusion in the classroom:
- Gathering Student Input: One useful tool for redesigning my courses involved seeking student feedback. I realized that although many students’ living situations made it harder for them to participate in synchronous meetings, there was a subset of students who strongly preferred synchronous class for accountability and connection. I decided to post video lectures in addition to having a one-hour, optional synchronous class each week. Thus, we can connect in real-time, but it is also manageable for me (I have a 9-month-old out of daycare). I have been gathering feedback every few weeks to see how the course can be improved.
- Increased Communication and Structure: I have increased communication (via email and announcements) and improved the online structure of my courses to help students feel a sense of control and predictability. Juggling everything online has been a challenge for many of my students, and reminders have helped.
- Integrating Current Events and Topics Relevant to Diverse Identities: I facilitate reflections and discussions around social justice issues and COVID-19 (e.g., xenophobia, racism, access to healthcare, houselessness, etc.). Identifying meaningful readings in addition to applying behavioral science to the current situation keeps students more engaged. It’s already on their mind!
- Building Resilience: I view this as an opportunity to help students build their resilience. I emphasize topics relevant to self-care, coping, social justice advocacy/activism, solidarity practice, social support/connection, posttraumatic growth, and character strengths. On a broader level, I also think it is important to help students navigate University systems (e.g., grade options) and identify how to use their resources to be successful during this “new normal”.
Sasha: Many universities serve nontraditional students employed in essential jobs, a particularly vulnerable population during this time. Put yourself in their place, navigating longer work hours, caring for dependents, concerned about bringing COVID-19 home from work, all while trying to complete course requirements.
Just as we learn to communicate to our students the purpose behind assessments and how they connect to learning objectives, we must communicate to our students the pedagogical choices we make now. For instance, if you are cutting down one of the longer research papers because you understand there are students in your courses who are writing and researching papers on their phones, share this with them. Listen to your students’ concerns and let them know you are listening. Echo what you have learned about their situation and connect it explicitly to actions.
Continue to check-in on your students’ changing situations. Monitor whether they are logging-in to the course and completing the requirements, email them just to ask how they are doing. Many students struggling with depression will not initiate contact.
Finally, make notes of all that you are learning about your students, their lives beyond the classroom and their needs. Because many of these needs will continue to exist after the pandemic is over. If you have a faculty institute or development day scheduled for the Fall, I encourage you to suggest this as a topic of discussion. From one another we can learn even more about our students and strategies for inclusion and equity. Turn this tragedy into a learning opportunity to better provide for your students.
Teceta: The shift to remote learning was incredibly swift, and was unfolding during a global tragedy that was having impacts on our students- and on us as educators- in direct and indirect ways. I found that flexibility, adaptability, and grace were particularly relevant to recognizing the differential impacts of inequity. This unprecedented time is impacting people in different ways- by group identity, as individuals, in different regions of the country and different parts of an area, from one day to the next, and from one hour to the next. Our emotions and thoughts are shifting rapidly, and the consequences of coronavirus and Covid-19 are impacting us in ways that are structurally different and humanly the same. I need to be flexible and adaptable in allowing for the very human responses to the virus on the emotional, psychological, financial, and physical health outcomes of my students. I also need grace- and asked it of my students towards me on the first day of the quarter- in recognizing that we are all doing the best we can under extraordinary and deeply painful times. The final piece- suggested by one of my students- is to check in with them each week, to see how they are doing and to provide a space for coming together in community and fellowship.
Leslie:Everyone has given such great concrete suggestions for how to inclusively adapt our teaching to our current circumstances. I won’t repeat them, but I will say that one thing I keep thinking about is the hope that faculty can continue to teach with flexibility, compassion, and grace well after this all passes. “Your well-being is more important than my class” has, thankfully, become a common refrain. However, in speaking with a number of my students, very few of their professors have previously conveyed this sentiment in an explicit manner. Our students face a number of individual struggles on a regular basis and, although those struggles might not be as apocalyptically evident to us, that doesn’t make them any less real for our students. Even under better circumstances, we can still personally check in with students who have fallen off the gradebook or design our classes in such a way that acknowledges that, as I like to say, “life happens” and provides students with multiple different options for satisfying course requirements. Looking back on our classes, our students may or may not remember key terms or concepts, but they will certainly remember how they were treated. Academic rigor and basic compassion are not mutually exclusive, and I encourage everyone to reflect on what that balance might look like in your own teaching practice.