CRLT Blog

At CRLT, we have been hearing from many instructors seeking guidance on how to talk with their students in the days following the election. Depending on many factors, you may or may not choose to engage students in conversation about the election results. In either case, we hope the following thoughts will be helpful. 

If you do choose to engage students on this topic, it will be important to acknowledge the range of perspectives and intense emotions that are likely present in your classroom. These guidelines on discussing difficult topics may be helpful for framing a conversation where students with diverse experiences and points of view can engage productively with one another. 

If you do not choose to address the topic of the election substantively but still want to acknowledge it, you can do the following:
  • You can begin by recognizing that it was a long night, everyone is likely very tired, different people have strong emotions from a variety of perspectives, and it may be hard to focus.  
  • You can give your students a brief chance to write for a minute or two -- to process their thoughts and feelings and/or identify people they want to reach out to later today, for whatever sorts of connection and processing would be beneficial to them. And then move on to your plan for the day. 
  • You could note the difficulty of focusing and of controlling strong emotions and let students know they can feel free to step out of class if they need a minute to refocus.

If a student raises the election as a topic when you hadn't planned to discuss it, these resources may be helpful if you want to engage everyone in conversation. If you do not feel prepared to do so, you can recognize why the student might want to have the conversation, but explain that you want to think further about whether and how to engage it as a class because it is important to do so carefully given the intense emotions and divergent perspectives around this election. 

Screen shot of UMS logoWith its world-class musical, theater, and dance performances, the University Musical Society (UMS) is often touted among faculty as a signal benefit of living in Ann Arbor. But did you know that UMS can also be a rich resource for your teaching? Now in its second cycle of three-year funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, UMS has been devoting significant resources toward the goal of infusing performing arts into the curriculum across campus. Their initiatives to support U-M teachers in connecting their courses to particular performances include:

  • The guide "Arts in Context: UMS in the Classroom" provides detailed guidance about each performance, including a list of disciplines with which it might intersect, some key topics or themes, resources for exploring and contextualizing the performance, and even reflection questions to guide student responses. The guide also highlights some themes that are shared across several performances, helping faculty think about clusters of events that might be incorporated into their syllabus.
  • Campus Engagement Specialist Shannon Fitzsimons is available to meet with faculty individually to design ways to incorporate one or more UMS performances into their courses. You can contact her at skfitz@umich.edu or 734-764-3903.
  • UMS has a Classroom Ticket policy: $15 tickets are available to students and faculty for performances that are a required experience for the course. 
  • The Arts at Michigan program provides $500 grants to support arts-related learning activities in courses across the curriculum. Funds can be used to buy student tickets to UMS performances integrated into a course. 
  • The new Course Development Grants provide an opportunity for faculty to incorporate UMS more deeply into a course, while sharing best practices with a group of like-minded faculty. The grants provide $1,000 in salary supplement and $500 in course development funds. The application deadline is November 15 for the Winter 2017 semester; for more information and to apply on line, visit http://ums.org/education/university-programs/.

Screen capture image of Wolverine Access interface for designating pronouns As most U-M instructors have probably heard, the university now allows students to designate personal pronouns in Wolverine Access that will automatically populate class rosters. What can instructors do to help make this initiative a success, benefit from it in their teaching, and more generally create learning environments where students of all gender identities feel welcome and valued? 

Now that this tool is operational in Wolverine Access, you can: 

  • Remind students to update their pronoun designations. Consider making a brief announcement in class, and/or sending an email to your students, reminding them that the option to designate their pronouns now exists. Teachers can post or include the instructions for making these designations via Wolverine Access, and take the opportunity to mention that students should always feel welcome to communicate with and correct you if you misidentify them. Inviting students to make use of this policy--and showing you value it as a way to make sure your learning environment is respectful and inclusive--might also discourage students from using the new functionality in disrespectful ways that can undermine its usefulness. 
     
  • Check your course rosters starting in late October for updated pronoun designations, and carefully review your rosters at the start of each upcoming semester. Do your best to honor students requests in all settings, including when speaking of the student outside of their presence.
     
  • Practice pronoun usage that may be unfamiliar.  It can be difficult to adjust to grammatical forms or pronoun usage that feel new or are unfamiliar. The best thing to do is to practice these ways of speaking to become fluent. Draw on available resources such as this page from U-M's Spectrum Center or this guide from the Pensby Center at Bryn Mawr to learn about the pronouns and to practice their use. When you make a mistake, you can simply acknowledge and apologize, and avoid making excuses or expressing frustration about your own need to adjust your language. Similarly, if someone else mis-genders or misidentifies a student—in their presence or not—you can gently remind and correct.
  • On future syllabi, note the opportunity to designate pronouns. On future course syllabi, consider including a gender inclusive statement along these lines:  "All people have the right to be addressed and referred to in accordance with their personal identity. In this class, we will have the chance to indicate the name that we prefer to be called and, if we choose, to identify pronouns with which we would like to be addressed. Remember that all students can and should indicate their personal pronouns via Wolverine access, using the Gender Identity tab under Student Business. I will do my best to address and refer to all students accordingly and support classmates in doing so as well." 

Beyond the policy, here are some more general practices that can help you foster gender-inclusive classroom communities: 

photo of apple on deskIn STEM fields, postdoctoral positions are frequently the launching point into the professoriate. However, given the demands of their research commitments, many postdocs have very limited teaching experience when they begin applying for academic jobs.  To enable postdocs to build their skills in teaching in the sciences, CRLT and Rackham Graduate School collaborated to create a unique opportunity for U-M postdoctoral scholars: the Postdoctoral Short-Course on College Teaching in Science and Engineering (PSC). The PSC has been offered seven times in a face-to-face format since its debut in 2012, and an online version of the course has been offered twice with Rackham and the U-M Office of Academic Innovation.

CRLT is currently accepting applications for the face-to-face version of the course during the Winter 2017 term. The course will meet on Wednesdays from 9:00am-12:00pm from Jaunary 4th through February 22nd, 2017. Applications are due by 8:00am EST on November 11th, 2016. More information about the face-to-face and online versions of the course can be found on the PSC webpage.
 
Feedback from previous participants attests that the PSC can be a transformative experience for postdocs:
  • “I wasn’t planning on teaching as part of my career.  PSC showed me that not only do I enjoy teaching, but that I am capable of doing it well.  It’s changed the type of job I’m applying for.” (from a postdoc in engineering)
  • “During a campus interview, the search committee chair asked me how I would actively engage students in their introductory courses with over 100 students.  After PSC, I was totally prepared to answer this question and could provide examples from my course design project and practice teaching session.”  (from a postdoc in the biomedical sciences)
In order to flexibly accommodate the demanding research obligations of U-M’s postdocs, the PSC uses a “flipped class” model. Before each of the sessions, participants watch short video podcasts and complete preparatory online assignments to establish basic mastery of teaching and learning concepts.  During face-to-face meetings, the postdocs engage exclusively in hands-on, experiential learning, practice applying the concepts, and participate in reflective discussions.  Both online and during class, the instructors model research-based teaching strategies, so that participants can experience these approaches from the perspectives of their future students.