How Inclusive Are Your Courses? Tools for Self-Assessment

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

As part of the Reinert Center’s ongoing focus on inclusive teaching, we continue to add just-in-time resources and tips to our website, in order to help faculty act on their commitments to design and teach courses with inclusion as an explicit priority.  In spite of our best intentions, we can sometimes find it difficult to imagine, in practical terms, what inclusive courses and course materials look like.

Our newest resource — Before/After Course Materials — provides concrete examples of course materials in two forms, how they appear before they were revised to be more inclusive and how they appear after revisions. These materials supplement our brief Resource Guides and other practical resources.

For those who want resources more directly applied to their own courses and teaching, we recommend the following tools:

Strategies for Inclusive Classrooms (Linse & Weinstein): This checklist activity reflects the literature on inclusive teaching practices and asks instructors to take stock of which practices they already use or might use in the future.

Inclusive Teaching Checklist (Univ. of Tasmania): Adapted from the University of Calgary, this checklist also includes concrete inclusive teaching practices, also reflecting the literature on inclusive teaching.

Inclusion by Design: Survey Your Syllabus (Brantmeier, Broscheid, & Moore): Inspired by the learning-focused syllabus rubric developed by the University of Virginia, this self-survey tool explicitly adds the focus of inclusion. Faculty may find it beneficial to use this tool to structure self-reflection on their own courses.

Each of these tools provides a way to self-assess how inclusive their teaching and courses are, while also prompting new ideas for additional strategies that may be adopted. You might find one or more of these tools helpful as you reflect on your spring courses over the winter break.

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

Transparent Assignments

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Sandy Gambill, Sr. Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

What if I told you it was possible to “increase academic confidence, a sense of belonging, and mastery of skills that employers look for when hiring,” in your students, simply by implementing a couple of small changes in the way you present assignments?

That was the challenge given to 35 faculty at 7 different institutions in a joint project by The Transparency in Learning and Teaching Project and the AACU, as part of a study of what would happen when faculty dealing with underserved students (primarily first generation, low income, minority students) redesigned two assignments to be more transparent and project-centered.

Redesigning an assignment for transparency may sound complicated, but it is a relatively simple matter. It’s what Mary-Ann Winkelmes, principle investigator on the study, referred to as decoding “the secret, unwritten rules of how to succeed in college,” and there is a template for it.

The Transparent Assignment Template utilized by the project uses these prompts:

  1. Purpose of assignment: what skills are practiced and what knowledge is gained.
  2. The Task: What to do and how to do it.

  3. Criteria: a checklist or rubric for self-evaluation and annotated examples of excellent examples of the assignment.

Faculty in the study taught two sections of the same course, one with the redesigned assignments and one without. Approximately 1,800 students were involved. Faculty reported that they saw such gains in all students’ learning that it became difficult to keep the redesign out of both sections, and many of them ended up using the template for more than two assignments. Students who took part in the survey around the assignments made statements such as “I knew the purpose of each assignment” and reported increased confidence in “learning on their own” and “applying skills and knowledge from different contexts.” Sections with the re-designed assignments also had significantly higher retention rates.

The complete study is available in the Winter/Spring 2016 issue of Peer Review available here. (http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2016/winter-spring/Winkelmes)

So, would you be interested in helping your students achieve more through assignment redesign? Contact the Reinert Center for more information.

Resources

Transparency in Teaching and Learning Project
https://www.unlv.edu/provost/teachingandlearning

Peer Review, Winter-Spring 2016
http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2016/winter-spring/Winkelmes

The Unwritten Rules of College
http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Unwritten-Rules-of/233245

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

Mindful Minutes: Towards a Contemplative Pedagogy

theRiverby James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

I recently attended a workshop* on contemplative pedagogy at the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD) conference in Louisville, Kentucky. Facilitated by Dr. Michael Sweet from Northeastern University, participants were invited to practice, discuss, and develop mindfulness activities for any teaching situation.

Contemplative pedagogy emphasizes “the natural human capacity for knowing through silence, pondering deeply, beholding, witnessing the contents of consciousness and so forth” (Hart, 2004, pp. 29-30). Situated in the context of higher education, studies suggest it improves cognitive and academic performance by fostering “the development of the whole person, including capacities such as creativity, empathy, compassion, interpersonal skills and self-awareness” (“Contemplative Pedagogy,” 2016). During the workshop, I learned that many instructors who use mindfulness techniques in their classrooms are being affirmed by their students (e.g., through course evaluations) that these moments of contemplation aid in “focusing attention, improving concentration and accessing self-knowledge” (“Contemplative Pedagogy,” 2016). Moreover, several participants in the workshop said they developed deeper, more transformative relationships with their students through classroom mindfulness practices.

For those interested in trying contemplative pedagogy with their students, Dr. Sweet suggests beginning each class with mindful minutes (anywhere from 1-5 minutes). He communicates the following instructions before (but not during) the mindful awareness practice:

  • Be quiet and intentional (phones on silent/no-vibrate)
  • Relaxed, good posture (“lifted from the crown of the head”)
  • Eyes closed to the extent that you are comfortable
  • Focus on body relaxation, breath sensation (“count”)
  • Accept distraction as it occurs (“thinking”)
  • Re-focus on relaxation, breath-sensation
  • Re-focus on relaxation, breath sensation (“repeat until end of practice”)

Consider setting a timer on your laptop or phone to chime when the mindful minute is over. Then, continue with your course plan for the day. If time permits, you could also try using a mindful minute at the end of class. Simple practices like this are increasingly “considered a vital complement to critical reasoning, rebalancing liberal education to include head and heart, mind and body” (“Contemplative Pedagogy,” 2016). It is important to note that not all students will want to participate in this type of activity, so be sure to offer an alternative option. Dr. Sweet recommends asking them to be respectfully quiet during the mindful minute but engaged in the conscious practice of preparing to learn.

If you would like to discuss strategies for practicing contemplative pedagogy with your students, contact the Reinert Center to schedule a teaching consultation. To learn more about contemplative pedagogy and mindfulness practices, explore some of the references and resources listed below. Please also share your experiences using contemplative pedagogy in the comments section of this post.

*Sweet, M. (2016). Classroom mindfulness practices to increase attention, creativity, and deep engagement. Workshop facilitated at the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education Conference, Louisville, KY.

References

Hart, T. (2014). Opening the contemplative mind in the classroom. Journal of Transformative Education, 2, 28-46.

Contemplative pedagogy (2016, November 15). Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/2010/04/contemplative-pedagogy/

Additional Resource

Barbezat, D. P., & Bush, M. (2014). Contemplative practices in higher education: Powerful methods to transform teaching and learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

Reflecting on Diversity Discussions in the Classroom: A Praxis Workshop Follow Up

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Mitch Lorenz and Yang Li, Graduate Assistants, Reinert Center

In our final Praxis Workshop of the semester, attendees explored the challenges of broaching the topic of diversity with students in class discussions. Participants reflected on how diversity discussions fit in their classrooms and what challenges they face when planning diversity discussions or when they occur spontaneously. In continuing the Ignation principle of reflection, we are revisiting the major points of the workshop and reflecting on our insights as teachers.  See James Fortney’s blog post related to the content of this Praxis Workshop for additional context.

What is “diversity?”

A working definition put forward in the workshop identified diversity as individual differences or similarities that are also characteristic of an individual’s social identity. The use of the words “difference” and “similarity” highlight that diversity can take almost infinite forms, sidestepping the notion that diversity is only important for race, gender, sexuality or other forms of difference most commonly associated with the term “diversity.” Secondly, the clarification within the definition that these similarities and difference must be related to social identity is what really solidifies the “diversity” component, as difference in shirt color is unlikely to be social identity related, but many other visible and less obvious components of identity may be relevant in the classroom.

Why Diversity Discussions?

This question represents the most challenging aspect of the topic of the recent Praxis Workshop: WHY should I prepare for diversity discussion in my classroom?  As a psychologist (Mitch and an international student in School of Education (Emily), we found it easy to imagine ways in which diversity discussions would be important in our teaching. In psychology, many topics in the course content are specifically related to diversity, providing numerous opportunities for discussions related to diversity. For Emily, her experiences as a student provide great insight into how diversity discussions, even when not directly necessary for class content, can help make students feel more comfortable engaging with each other, and the course material. She shares this example:

As an international student, sometimes in a course, such as American Educational History, you still feel that diversity discussions will enhance learning. Discussing diversity may help students realize that one individual country’s history or character is not only relevant within their borders, but also the whole world. In a curriculum theory course based on understanding and analyzing the American economy, politics, and culture, it would not have been necessary to engage in diversity discussions to teach the content. However, our professor did engage students from different countries to discuss their countries’ educational history and create a global dialogue to ease the misunderstanding of the clichés and stereotypes associated with various countries. By the end of the class, we all had a more open-minded and friendly relationship with one another. We understood that every method and way of teaching has advantages and disadvantages and when we all cooperate and share more thoughts and concerns about our education, we see more similarities than differences.

This example illustrates how the addition of diversity discussions when they were not necessary based on the course content helped ease discomfort of international students, allowing for more productive work in the class. For teachers in some fields (e.g., physics, math), diversity-specific course content (e.g., bias, stereotypes) is unlikely but engaging in discussions related to diversity may still help students learn more effectively. Remember, diversity discussions are not only initiated by instructors but may also occur spontaneously through prompting from a student question, comment, or reference to a recent event. This alone necessitates at least being prepared for diversity discussions should they arise. Here are a few other reasons we think diversity discussion are important in STEM classrooms in which the link between diversity and the course content may not be obvious:

1)      Avoiding diversity discussions altogether ignores differences between the instructor and students and between students. How students interact with course content may differ depending on how aware they are of these differences and how they interpret them. An example of this is differences in how majors interact with course content compared with non-majors, who may feel an acute difference in their status in the course.

2)      STEM fields are rife with stereotypes. For example some groups are commonly stereotyped as low achieving (e.g., women in math) and others are stereotypes as high achieving (e.g., Asian students in math). See this relevant post on stereotype-threat as an example of one way in which diversity has a direct impact on achievement, especially in STEM fields.

Preparing students for the “real world.” Course content is only one aspect of preparing students for life after college and awareness of how difference can impact your field will lead to graduates better equipped for navigating diverse workplaces.

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

New resource guide on Avoiding Microaggressions in the Classroom

inclusive teaching banner_FINALA new resource guide on Avoiding Microaggressions in the Classroom[LINK] has been posted to the Reinert Center website [LINK].

If you want to talk with someone about microaggressions in your own classes, you may request a teaching consultation by completing this form [LINK].

If you have ideas for resource guide topics you would like to see posted, share them here [LINK].

Academic Rigor and the Inclusive Classroom

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

For some time now, I’ve been reflecting on the idea of academic rigor – what it is, where it comes from in our courses, what kinds of practices promote it. And in light of the Reinert Center’s theme this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own evolving conceptions of academic rigor, and how these intersect with a commitment to inclusive teaching.

What is Academic Rigor and Where Does It Come from?

Virtually all of us are committed to this thing called “rigor.” We believe in it. We broadcast our commitment to it. We assume that we design courses that have it.

We just can’t always define it.

When you ask someone what academic rigor means, you often hear answers like “challenging students” and “holding high standards.”

But “challenging” them how? High standards for what, exactly? And “high” in what ways?

In “The Anatomy of Academic Rigor: The Story of One Institutional Journey,” Draeger et al. (2013) explore some of the different ways “academic challenge” or “academic rigor” has been defined. They start with a consideration of questions from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) that aim to capture “academic challenge,” questions that ask college students to report on the number of books or pages of reading students have been assigned, the number of pages they’ve been asked to write, and the extent to which the courses they have taken foreground higher-order thinking skills (e.g., analysis, evaluation, application). Draeger and colleagues offer a nice summary of the literature on what academic rigor is (see p. 269), and they lay out the methodology by which they studied faculty conceptions of academic rigor at their own institution. Their conclusion offers a “multidimensional model of academic rigor,” which includes that includes “at least four primary dimensions of academic rigor: active learning, meaningful content, higher-order thinking, and appropriate expectations” (p. 272).

Ultimately, the authors conclude – and I suspect many of us would agree – that the amount of reading or pages written or time spent on a course cannot tell us much about rigor. Those things may be signifiers of how “challenging” the workload is, but not the intellectual stakes of that work. The consensus arrived at on Draeger’s campus is more likely to resonate with us: “learning is most rigorous when students are actively learning meaningful content with higher-order thinking at the appropriate level of expectations within a given context” (267, emphasis added).

Personally, I am much more interested in this way of thinking about rigor and challenge, in particular because it highlights the importance of context. Our conceptions of academic rigor are always situated: in a first-year undergraduate course, “rigor” looks different than it does in a culminating graduate-level course, even when both contexts involve “actively learning meaningful content with higher-order thinking.” For me, this is where considerations of inclusive teaching come into play.

How Does Inclusive Teaching Promote Academic Rigor?

Before I address this question, I’d like to tackle one common misunderstanding about inclusive teaching — that it undermines academic rigor. I have noticed that people sometimes worry that inclusive teaching involves a reduction of rigor, a kind of watering-down of high academic standards to the lowest level of performance in a course.

For example, if an instructor de-emphasizes grammatical correctness (choosing instead to privilege critical thinking) when providing feedback on essays written by English language learners, his colleagues may see this as proof that he isn’t holding international or multilingual students to the “same high standards” as he is her American or native English speaking students. Or, if a STEM instructor decides to move from traditional exam-based assessments to alternative forms of assessment as a way of addressing achievement gaps for underrepresented students, her colleagues may see this as a kind of “coddling” that only delays the “reckoning” these students will experience when they discover they aren’t “suited” to STEM fields.

But holding high standards for grammar isn’t the same thing as promoting academic rigor. And neither is assuming there’s only one way to demonstrate success in a course. Indeed, often, what feels like academic rigor may actually be code for a different kind of academic challenge: that of identifying the sometimes-hidden habits of critical thinking or studying that can best help students to meet our high academic standards.

Looking back, I now see that when I was a less experienced, less confident teacher, some of the “rigor” in my courses probably came from expecting students to read my mind. Those who could intuit – by instinct or by educational training – what I “was looking for” were more likely to succeed. Those who – by virtue of different educational or cultural backgrounds and experiences – had not yet been trained to decipher what college instructors “were looking for” were less likely to succeed.

Once I learned to be more explicit and transparent in my teaching — by articulating the high standards I was aiming for, by naming the specific kinds of higher-order thinking I wanted to see, by sharing observable criteria for success, and by explaining the processes for achieving success — my students could rely less on intuition and mind-reading. And this meant they all had a fairer shot at meeting the high standards I set. Even more importantly, it meant that my students were learning transferable skills and that I was assessing all my students on high standards of learning.

At its best, inclusive teaching allows us to articulate what academic rigor looks like and to empower our students to achieve the high standards we are establishing for them. Inclusive teaching demands that we set high standards, prepare all students to be able to achieve those standards, provide honest feedback to help students understand where they are falling short, and help students identify where they may have knowledge/skill gaps and how to work toward filling those gaps.

There will always be students in our courses who are in over their heads or whose past educational experiences have not prepared them well for our courses (perhaps because those experiences were not as rigorous or as inclusive as they could have been). But some students fail to meet our high standards because we don’t expect them to, or because we haven’t yet made it clear what those high standards really are, or because the students have not come from backgrounds that offered them a common understanding of the very elements that constitute academic rigor.

The  aspects of academic rigor that Draeger et al. advocate for — meaningful content, appropriately high expectations, active learning, and higher-order thinking — are, after all, situated concepts. What they mean may differ according to cultural or disciplinary norms. What constitutes analysis and evaluation and application looks different even across different courses within the same discipline, taught by different instructors. Helping students to understand what these activities look like in your course is an aspect of inclusive teaching. It’s also a way to promote the kind of rigor you are hoping students will achieve.

Reference:

Draeger, J., P. del Prado Hill, L.R. Hunter, and R. Mahler. (2013). “The Anatomy of Academic Rigor: The Story of One Institutional Journey.” Innovative Higher Education, vol. 38: pp. 267-279.

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

What Should We Know about Stereotype Threat?

inclusive teaching banner_FINALRecently, the Reinert Center hosted two book group discussions on Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. A readable distillation of Steele’s social psychological research on stereotypes and identity (as well as subsequent research inspired by his work), the book can help us to understand educational performance gaps between students of differing identity groups.  In our discussions, both graduate students and faculty members wrestled with the practical implications of this research for classroom practice.

To help instructors better understand what “stereotype threat” is and what we can do about it in our classrooms, the Reinert Center has created two short resource guides: Understanding Stereotype Threat [LINK] and Reducing Stereotype Threat in the Classroom [LINK].

To talk with someone about how stereotype threat may be operating in your classrooms and ways you can reduce these effects, contact the Reinert Center for a consultation [LINK].

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

Facilitating Diversity Discussions

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

For me, inclusive teaching often begins with the selection of a text that engages diversity as a significant theme (e.g., Alvarez, Bauer, & Eger, 2015). By text, I mean anything from research studies to YouTube videos to service-learning sites. How I select a text depends on the goals of the course and the specific context in which I want students to engage with diverse voices and experiences. For example, when I teach qualitative research methods I ask students to discuss qualitative studies conducted with vulnerable populations (e.g., people with disabilities), in critical settings (e.g., homeless shelters), that aim to impact some type of social change (i.e., political in nature). The overarching goal is for students to discuss the methods employed by the researcher – but in and through the complexities of diversity that are central to the study. Selecting the text, however, is the easy part! Engaging in discussion of diverse course content can be a challenging and uncomfortable experience for instructors and students alike. Below, I offer a few evidence-based strategies for facilitating diversity discussions in any course.

Be mindful and proactive (Allen, 2011; Dannels, 2015)
As I already noted, select a text that is meaningful for the goals of your course. In doing so, begin developing your “facilitation toolkit” of questions and content that will help you reinforce those goals throughout the discussion. For example, you may wish to draw students’ attention to theories, contributions, or critiques that are particularly important for your course. You may also find it productive to pose your own questions during the discussion as a way of modeling the type of critical thinking and participation you want from your students.

One way I try to be proactive when facilitating diversity discussions is to imagine possible moments when issues or tensions may arise and then reflect on how I will react as a facilitator. Deanna Dannels (2015) encourages instructors to ask themselves the following questions:

  • What will I do if a discussion about a controversial topic gets too heated?
  • What do I say if a student makes a racist, sexist, or any discriminatory remark?
  • How can I create a “safe” classroom where all views are respected?

Each instructor’s response to these questions will be different – and will depend on the specific text, context, and course goals for discussion. But generally speaking, do not ignore these moments. Find ways to “walk into dialogue” about diversity with your students (p. 166).

Create and use ground rules for interaction (Dannels, 2015)
Provide an example of a code of conduct, statement of ethics, or oath of inclusion at the start of the semester as a way to begin communicating with your students about participating in diversity discussions. Consider revisiting these commitments at the start of each discussion to re-create and re-enforce ground rules for interaction. I frequently use the Credo for Ethical Communication endorsed by the National Communication Association. The Oath of Inclusion in the SLU 2016-2017 Student Handbook is another excellent resource to help develop these rules with your students. Ask yourself, “How will I hold myself and others accountable to these commitments during our discussions?” Again, try to be mindful and proactive.

Have students engage in perspective-taking activities (Dannels, 2015)
Throughout the discussion, model and encourage students to “consistently look for and consider various perspectives on an issue” (Dannels, 2015, p. 157). Below are three questions to add to your “facilitation toolkit” to help prompt students to engage in perspective-taking:

  • If you were to argue the opposite of what you just said, what would it sound like?
  • Can you think of a counterargument to your point?
  • How might someone who disagrees with you respond to that statement?

Build in opportunities for reflection and action (Johnson, Johnson, & Tjosvold, 2006)
Finally, it is important to create a structured and safe space in which students can practice disagreement and intellectual conflict (Dannels, 2015). One way to help create this space is to check-in with students throughout the discussion about how they are experiencing the discussion. These check-ins provide opportunities for you to clarify the goals of the course, your intention for introducing diversity-related topics, and affirmations of the ground rules for interaction. They also provide a nice “break in the action” for everyone (including you!) to breathe, stretch, and regroup before continuing the discussion.

These are just a few strategies to help you develop and facilitate diversity discussions with your students. If you would like to learn more about this topic, I encourage you to explore some of the resources cited in this post and referenced below. You may also wish to attend the Reinert Center’s praxis workshop on Tuesday, November 1 from 1:30-3:00 pm in BSC 253 A&B. The topic for that workshop is “Facilitating Diversity Discussions for Any Discipline” and it will build upon several ideas introduced in this post.

References

Allen, B. J. (2011). Difference matters: Communicating social identity. Long Grove, IL: Waveland.

Alvarez, W., Bauer, J. C., & Eger, E. K. (2015). (Making a) difference in the organizational communication undergraduate course. Management Communication Quarterly, 29, 302-308.

Dannels, D. P. (2015). Eight essential questions teachers ask: A guidebook for communicating with students. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Tjosvold, D. (2006). Constructive controversy: The value of intellectual opposition. In M. Deutsch, P. T. Coleman, & E. C. Marcus (Eds.), The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice (2nd ed., pp. 69-91). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

New Resource Guides

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214

Two new resource guides have been posted to the Reinert Center website:

If you want to talk with someone about either of these topics in your own classes, you may request a teaching consultation by completing this form [LINK].

If you have ideas for resource guide topics you would like to see posted, share them here [LINK].

Instructor Identity: Part I. Student Implicit Bias

id-wheelby Gina Merys, Associate Director, Reinert Center

As part of our year-long theme, Inclusive Teaching, we have been focusing on ways in which instructors can create equitable learning environments for all of their students. While we examine the variety of student needs and identities in our classrooms, it can be easy to forget that instructor identities, and how they are perceived by students, are also an integral part of the learning context.

When an instructor’s identity and a student’s implicit bias[1] are mismatched, an undercurrent of dissonance can occur, which can lead to small and large disruptions of the teaching and learning that occurs in a class. For instance, a friend of mine who identifies as Asian-American, discussed with me the fact that although she has lived in the U.S. since she was a very young child and speaks perfect English, she receives at least one comment in her teaching evaluations each semester that states, “Because Dr. Blank is foreign, I cannot understand what she is saying in class.” Regardless of how clear and articulate her language is, some students will register her as unclear because the way she looks matches an implicit bias those students have toward people who look like her.

Other common biases that instructors talk to me about on regular occasions are notions about how “nurturing” female instructors should be and what that looks like in a classroom setting, or about what type of hairstyle or attire is “professional” for an instructor. The list goes on and on, but what makes these biases so powerful in the classroom is that, for the most part, they are subconscious[2]; students often do not realize they have these preconceived ideas nor that these biases are getting in the way of their learning. Not only does students’ implicit bias impede their own and other students’ potential learning, but also it can be extremely damaging to instructors who are working against stereotype threat[3]. The implications for instructors in these situations can be quite stark both personally and professionally.

Assisting students in uncovering their implicit biases by taking some class time in the first week of the term to discuss expectations for teaching and learning as well as to present some common biases that instructors experience and witness can go a long way to setting up the course to be a positive experience for both students and the instructor.  Presenting a mixture of both identity bias and content bias in the conversation works as a way to triangulate those ideas that may hinder learning, as well as to make it clear why this conversation is an important and useful one to have regardless of the subject area of the course.

One way to enter into this kind of discussion is to start with students’ own identities. It is common to use one of the many different identity “inventories” to start students down the path of uncovering who they are and which values impact their identities and viewpoints. In order to add another layer of insight to the discussion, these inventories can also be modified to be inventories of the “identity” of a content area, which will uncover some of those implicit biases students have about a course as well as who and how that course “should” be taught. Some areas to examine are: Who is a (scientist, journalist, nurse, philosopher)?, What type of knowledge is learned in (insert course or subject area)?, How is knowledge in (insert subject area) used? Who benefits from knowledge in this area? Who teaches (insert subject area)? How do I learn (insert subject area)? Adding this new layer of exploration can be the essential component to moving the discussion into effects on teaching and learning that implicit bias may exert.

If you would like to discuss the effects of implicit bias on the teaching and learning happening in your classroom, contact the Reinert Center to set up a teaching consultation.


[1] To learn more about implicit bias, read Sandy Gambill’s Notebook post here. [LINK]

[2] Certainly, not all bias is implicit. Many instructors also face very real, very explicit bias on a daily basis from their students and colleagues.

[3] To learn more about stereotype threat in the classroom consult the following resource guides: “Reducing Stereotype Threat in the Classroom” [LINK] and “Understanding Stereotype Threat” [LINK], or join our conversation of Claude Steele’s book, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do.

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.