Center for Faculty Development
Center for Faculty Development
Students are diverse. They are neurodiverse. Some may experience disabilities. Some are first-time college students. Others are coming back to school as part of a career change or after serving in the military. Students carry a wealth of knowledge from previous life experiences. An inclusive environment is about creating a welcoming environment for all and continuing to build community. This is especially salient considering that some historically marginalized groups are featured less often in textbooks and research. Creating an inclusive environment is about ensuring all get an equitable education.
Students, especially those from marginalized or stigmatized groups, can be hesitant to participate in class. By treating students’ life experiences and backgrounds (such as those whose first language is not English) as an asset, professors build their confidence. Asset-based pedagogies or culturally sustaining pedagogies stand in contrast to deficit-based ones. In other words, rather than view students as lacking knowledge or as having a deficit, view their experiences and diverse backgrounds as a resource. Why might this matter? People who identify as having deficits have been shown to have lower self-esteem and place blame upon themselves. Teachers’ expectations of students can affect student outcomes. Having a critical awareness, or “understanding of the sociohistorical influences on traditional marginalized students’ trajectories” can affect teacher expectations and their behaviors in the classroom (Lopez 2017: 193).
Example from a Sociology 101 Course: Culture in Pictures Discussion Board Assignment
We often walk around treating our culture as the “norm.” For example, I never thought much about the way in which people tend to walk on the right side of paths until I visited Tokyo. There I saw signs where people were instructed to walk on the left side when moving through public transportation areas. In Scotland, I had to drive on the left side of the road. In Tokyo I also observed a different more traditional toilet design (see picture below).
Therefore, on this board, think more closely about the culture that surrounds you. 1) First, take and post a picture of something that embodies that culture or subculture. For example, I grew up in Miami where Cuban coffee and maté (traditional Argentinian drink) are popular. I could take a picture of one of these. Don’t take any pictures of criminal activity. Take the picture yourself specifically for this assignment and do not take it off the Internet. Don’t take any pictures that include people without their permission unless you are in an area open to the general public. 2) Write a post discussing the picture and how it illustrates culture. You can even reflect on whether your thoughts on the issue conveyed in the picture have ever been ethnocentric. Feel free to discuss your personal experiences. Be careful not to overgeneralize (e.g. just because your grandma had a garden and liked to fry tomatoes does not mean everyone in the culture had that same experience). Make sure to explain relevant class concepts and cite appropriately.
If you do not feel like writing about the picture, alternatively you can post a video of yourself talking about the picture. You must still reference and explain class concepts though.
Example from Dr. Michelle McLeese’s Environmental Sociology Course
Two of the texts I chose specifically because of their tie to issues or matters that our students deal with especially in this region of the country (e.g., cancer alley, Hurricane Katrina, etc.,). Dorceta Taylor's "Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility" is often one that students appreciate for its specific focus on the intersections of race and income. Mary Robinson's "Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future" showcases narratives of people from around the world grappling with the effects of climate change but with a particular focus on the impacts on vulnerable populations (especially women and indigenous peoples). One chapter features a Mississippi resident who survived Katrina and worked to raise awareness and help in the aftermath of Katrina. I then weave the readings into reflection papers on documentaries that showcase/feature important issues around environmental pollution and climate change.
Dialogue provides a chance for students to share diverse perspectives and even resolve conflicts. Some dialogue circles are based on Freire’s dialogical action. These circles should have a focus and provide an opportunity for students to learn from each other, as well as for the instructor and students to learn from each other. Students are understood to make new meanings out of their prior understanding of the world, i.e. cultural intelligence.
Use datasets, for example in math, that deal with topics of relevance to students’ lives. Incorporate diverse examples in your lectures. Utilize pictures that reflect the life experiences of students.
While some educators fear using conflict in the classroom due to fear of potentially negative outcomes, promoting intellectual conflict has been shown to have beneficial outcomes in the classroom.
Example: Constructive Controversy
Constructive controversies occur where people hold incompatible information, views, and opinions—and desire to find a way to agree and move forward.
For instance, this approach might involve the following steps:
- Break students into groups of four, and divide each of these into two pairs
- Assign each pair to an opposing viewpoint on the controversy/social issue. Each pair researches the topic, organizes the information, and makes a persuasive argument to the other side.
- Students then openly discuss the issue.
- Each pair then reverses perspective and constructs a case for the opposing position of the controversy.
- Students then all discuss the issue, dropping any particular position, and strive for consensus on a unique joint perspective.
Caveat: Research indicates that applying these processes works well in face-to-face synchronous settings. Steps likely need to be tweaked for online environments. One alternative proposed by Hémon et al. (2022) is to have instructions on screen as groups engage in the collaborative task.
“Everyone is normal, and everyone has a disability.” (Almog, quoting a student who is legally blind).
Colleges in the U.S. have reported more students with mental health disabilities. University students may experience higher rates of depression compared to the general population. People with mental disorders can face trivialization of their experiences as well as negative judgement and stigma. Students with disabilities can spend more time on assignments and sometimes work harder than other students to manage. Students with disabilities report greater dissatisfaction and graduate at lower rates than peers without disabilities.
In higher education, sometimes we assume a framework where having a disability or mental impairment is outside of the norm. When students experience such, they can request help in the form of accommodations. However, many students experience abilities and mental health problems and do not report these. They may worry about stigma. Others may experience issues that are below the threshold for meeting an official diagnosis. Therefore, one approach you may take is to try to create a more flexible learning environment for all students.
Universal Design of Learning (UDL) is one approach used by educators to address some of these issues. UDL principles involve flexibility in the distribution of information and demonstration of accomplishments, as well as a reduction in barriers to instruction without lowering expectations. UDL is based on universal design principles for the environment as well as research in neuroscience on how people learn.
It is important to set expectations, establish rapport at the start of the semester, and continue to build community as the semester progresses.
Learning is an interactive experience, and I expect everyone to participate actively as much as they can. Everyone will not always agree, but the classroom environment must remain one of respect. We will be covering some sensitive topics so if you ever feel uncomfortable discussing a particular topic for any reason, please let me know and we will work out alternative arrangements. If you do not follow this policy, your grade maybe be negatively impacted. Note that the University of Southern Mississippi offers to all people equal access to educational, programmatic and employment opportunities without regard to age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, gender identity, genetic information, religion, race, color, national origin, and/or veteran status pursuant to applicable state and federal law.
Example from Dr. Jess Valles
Pre-lecture check-ins and "Big Wins": at the beginning of each class, we go over housekeeping items, reminders about deadlines and something called a "Big Win" where I ask students to share their "win" or good thing that has happened to them that day/week. They can be as "big" as a new job or an award or as "little" as being able to fill up their gas tank that day or getting out of bed and making it to class on time.
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