Inclusive Teaching

At his recent presentation in the Michigan League ballroom, Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur engaged the 250-person audience in an active learning exercise. An expert on the use of peer instruction in college courses, Mazur wanted the many teachers present to experience the power of this pedagogical strategy from a student perspective. So, using an example of question-based instruction from his own field, he provided a very brief explanation of thermal expansion, posed a multiple choice question that required application of the concept, and then guided those present through a 4-step exercise:

  1. Think silently about the question
  2. Commit to an answer (in this case, by using clickers)
  3. Find another 'student' who had a different answer and discuss the thinking behind each answer 
  4. Answer the question again.

The second set of answers was significantly more accurate than the first. Such a result generally follows such a peer instruction protocol, as much research has shown. Why? Through discussion, students shift their focus away from the answer itself and toward the thinking behind the answer, and those with the more accurate logic are generally able to make a more persuasive case. The demonstration also powerfully illustrated how such a technique can engage students emotionally as they become personally invested in learning and understanding the correct answer. The discussion created remarkable buzz in the room about thermal expansion--a topic that Mazur noted would unlikely generate such excitement if simply explained in lecture format. (You can get a sense of that buzz by watching a video of the event.)

In discussing the peer instruction technique, Mazur highlighted several strategies that can help engage all students in active learning, even in a very large course. These included: Read more »

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How can we promote academic success for all students who enter the University, particularly those students from disadvantaged backgrounds? How can we help students overcome their own anxiety about achievement and get past “stereotype threat?” How can we increase retention rates--both for particular majors and at U-M generally--by encouraging students’ to see their abilities as malleable, rather than fixed? In early February, U-M Department of Psychology faculty member Bill Gehring addressed these topics at an LSA faculty seminar on Diversity and Climate. His research-based strategies can provide direction for instructors in all fields to enhance diversity and academic success at U-M.

In his presentation, Professor Gehring described four evidence-based interventions that work to create “identity-safe” classrooms:

(1)  Seeing Students Holistically: It is important for faculty to recognize that students’ performance in class can be affected by many factors beyond intelligence. For example, Professor Gehring’s research on students in his Psychology 111 course found that students’ motivation to do well was positively related to their performance on exams, while their anxiety about testing was negatively associated. To increase motivation, faculty can help students set goals for their learning, and to decrease anxiety, more frequent, lower-stakes assessments may help.  Other “non-cognitive” factors related to performance include discipline (i.e., the ability to resist distractions and procrastination). To reduce distractors, Gehring recommends that students not bring laptops to class, as his research finds a statistically significant decrease in exam grades among students who almost always bring their laptops, compared to less frequent users.

(2)  Framing Disappointment: The first undergraduate year can be a struggle, given that many students come into U-M at the top of their classes yet underperform relative to their expectations. (Incoming student survey data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program indicate that 75% anticipate having at least a “B” average.”) Similarly, many students experience doubts about making friends and fitting in socially.  Read more »

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Recent student activism and statements on diversity from academic leaders have led many U-M instructors to focus new attention on inclusive teaching, seeking ways to ensure all students feel welcome and able to succeed in their classes, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. CRLT provides many resources to help you develop inclusive teaching strategies for your particular teaching context. To browse those, click on the 'inclusive teaching' tag below, or the 'Diversity and Inclusion' link at the bottom of any one of our web pages. 

In this blog, we focus on one strategy for creating an inclusive learning environment: encouraging productive student interactions in your classrooms, particularly when using small groups.

Some of the best in-class learning takes place in small group activities, which can be very effective for prompting all students to engage actively with the course material. Some instructors nonetheless have found that efforts to encourage active learning through peer interaction can sometimes exacerbate students' experiences of identity-based exclusion. This can be a real danger where groupwork is used spontaneously with little guidance or follow-through. If, for instance, an instructor casually instructs students to 'get into groups' and then turns her or his own attention elsewhere, many students who already feel marginalized in the class may find it easier to sit alone than to seek out peers to share with.

It's therefore important to deliberately form and carefully guide student groups, even when you're just using a brief informal peer conversation to get students engaged in thinking about a topic. What are some specific strategies for doing so? The following practices can help ensure that student groups are primed to include all students: Read more »

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The following sets of guidelines or 'ground rules' are examples that can be given to a class for use, or as a basis for a discussion about what the students want in order to develop an atmosphere of mutual respect and collective inquiry. Many teachers also find it productive to have a discussion with their students in which they collaboratively generate a list of discussion guidelines or community agreements to set expectations for their interactions.


Example 1.
(from the CRLT GSI Guidebook.)

Guidelines for Class Participation

1. Respect others’ rights to hold opinions and beliefs that differ from your own. Challenge or criticize the idea, not the person.

2. Listen carefully to what others are saying even when you disagree with what is being said. Comments that you make (asking for clarification, sharing critiques, expanding on a point, etc.) should reflect that you have paid attention to the speaker’s comments.

3. Be courteous. Don’t interrupt or engage in private conversations while others are speaking.

4. Support your statements. Use evidence and provide a rationale for your points.

5. Allow everyone the chance to talk. If you have much to say, try to hold back a bit; if you are hesitant to speak, look for opportunities to contribute to the discussion. Read more »

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You may have heard about the recent trending on Twitter of #BBUM, a series of tweets featuring brief student perspectives on "being black at Michigan." Some of the statements are about numbers while others are about interactions: being the "only one" in a class, or being expected to be a spokesperson.

Knowing such experiences and dynamics are present in U-M classrooms, what can instructors do? Read more »

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