Want to know a secret? Although I’ve been asked to give talks and lead workshops on topics related to teaching, I haven’t taught a course since Spring 2020!
All the pedagogy-related public-facing work that I’ve done over the last two and a half years has been based largely on four things.
First, I’ve reflected a lot on my own teaching (and learning) experiences. You can find some of those reflections in posts I’ve rounded up here.
Second, I’ve heard a lot from my peers about the courses they’re teaching. Sometimes, I’ve even offered advice based on my own experiences teaching those same courses.
Third, since I’m almost always on Twitter, I get a lot of inspiration from discussions of teaching on social media.
And, finally, I (try to) read a lot. Some books I’ve shelved over the years include Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses by L.D. Fink and Start Here, Start Now by L. Kleinrock.
All this reflecting and researching over the years, however, has (finally!) led to this moment. In the fall I will be back in the classroom as I begin my tenure-track position. This means that I can now practice what I preach – and have been preaching for years.
In this week’s post, I’m highlighting some of the ways that I am planning to make my courses equitable and inclusive of all students. Clearly, I haven’t had a chance to test these approaches yet, so you can take them with a grain of salt. But I think that they reflect my overarching teaching philosophy well.
Teaching Strategy #1: Required Reading
First and foremost, with these courses I am changing the way I think about required reading.
The basic premise is this: I’m just assigning less. Or, at least, I’m going to try my best to not assign too much. This is my first semester teaching, after all, so it’s going to be a lot of trial and error.
A mantra I strongly believe in is that if you don’t want to read that much in a week, your students won’t either. According to this article, about 80% of students don’t complete assigned readings!
Lightening up on the required reading makes the workload more manageable both for them and for you.
In addition to assigning less reading in general, I want to experiment – a little – with delivering content in different ways. I don’t want to do too much all at once. But I want to try to incorporate videos, podcast episodes, and Twitter threads occasionally in lieu of traditional scholarly readings.
Teaching Strategy #2: A Little Choice
The second thing I want to do to make my courses more equitable and inclusive is give students choice on most assignments.
It seems like there are two ways to do this, depending on the kinds of students you have. On the one hand, you can give students completely free reign to choose either the topic or mode in which they deliver the assignment (or both). This seems to me the most unpredictable of the two options.
On the other hand, you give students the opportunity to choose from a predetermined list. In courses I’ve both taught and taken in the past, this is often done with essay questions.
In preparing for an exam, for example, a student may be given a study guide with three possible essay questions. They are expected to prepare all three, but only two will appear on the exam. Of those two, they are required to answer only one.
Because this is a familiar practice to me, I plan to adopt such an approach in designing my own assessments.
In addition to exams, I will also assign short essays and presentations in which students will focus on analyzing specific objects, monuments, and sites. Because these assignments aren’t major research projects, I’ll probably give students a predetermined list from which they can choose their topic.
Giving students choice in these different ways allows them to connect with the material more closely. This is because they have some say in what they want to focus on and talk about.
Teaching Strategy #3: Representation
My third and final approach to making my courses more equitable and inclusive might seem pretty basic. In addition to assigning less reading and giving students choice, I plan to include media produced by and featuring diverse individuals.
I intentionally did this once when I taught an art history course in 2019.
We were talking about canons in art and I had my students watch and discuss the music video “Apesh*t” by The Carters. The music video featured several objects that my students had seen already in the class, but in a totally new and modern context.
One course in which I’d like to take a similar approach in the fall is called “Defining the Classical Style.” It’s an honors course that’s basically a survey of Greco-Roman archetypes from Late Antiquity to the modern era, so it’s the perfect course to do this in.
Several of the learning objectives for “Defining the Classical Style” have to do with examining context.
Students must analyze art works in their social, political, economic, and cultural contexts. But they also will learn to describe how the meaning of a work of art changes depending on its context.
What did the subjects depicted by artists like Kehinde Wiley and Harmonia Rosales mean in the past?
How has that meaning been transformed by their works? Why?
Since this is the first time I’m teaching this course, I don’t know what to expect. I hope that it will go well. Maybe the discussion will be as fruitful as the ones I had about The Carters’ music video in 2019. Maybe not. I’m managing my expectations.
How have you ensured that your courses are equitable and inclusive?