Resources for Teaching and Justice

by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) steering committee on justice was created in 2002 with a charge “to coordinate, convene, communicate, and connect persons and institutions devoted to justice in Jesuit higher education” (Justice Web, 2018). A valuable resource that has emerged from that initial charge is a regularly updated website containing information that supports this year’s Reinert Center theme: teaching and justice.


Over fall break, consider setting aside time to explore the “Classes” tab on the website. It includes examples of course syllabi from various AJCU departments and programs that explicitly address the topic of justice. The syllabi are organized around academic disciplines (e.g., humanities, social sciences, business) and justice-related topics (e.g., law, environmental justice). You will discover the intersection of teaching and justice at the course level (i.e., goals, objectives, assessments), as well as situated in readings and different learning activities. Additionally, at the very bottom of the “Classes” web page is a template for Ignatian reflection that is designed to help students make connections, find meaning, and engage justice in any course (Denk, 2006). These and other resources available on the website can help you think (differently) about the topic of justice in your own courses, as well as the important role justice plays in shaping how, why, and for whom you teach.

In the Reinert Center, we are committed to supporting your development as an instructor at Saint Louis University. If you would like to talk with someone from our instructional development team about teaching and justice, or any other teaching-related topic, you can request a confidential consultation by completing this online form.

Have a wonderful fall break!



Denk, K. M. (2006). Making connections, finding meaning, engaging the world: Theory and techniques for Ignatian reflection on service for and with others. Towson, MD: Maryland Province Society of Jesus.

Justice Web (2018, October 16). Retrieved from:

An Invitation for Mid-Term Reflection

by Gina Merys, Acting Director, Reinert Center

The middle of the term is often a time when we take a collective deep breath; we (faculty, students, and staff) have been racing through our days with never enough time, always looking toward the next item to achieve, to complete, to check off our list. At mid-term, however, we have the opportunity to pause for a moment and contemplate what has happened thus far, and look for ways to realign ourselves and our courses for the next half of the semester.

In honor of this mid-term opportunity for reflection, I offer this well-known poem by Langston Hughes as an invitation to consider: who we are as teachers; how our identities shape every part of our courses; what we are asking of our students, implicitly and explicitly; how their identities shape their understanding of and responses to our assignments; and how we take into account the parts of the Ignatian pedagogical paradigm (context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation) as it relates to our students and their learning.


Theme for English B

Langston Hughes


The instructor said,

Go home and write

a page tonight.

And let that page come out of you—

Then, it will be true.


I wonder if it’s that simple?

I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.

I went to school there, then Durham, then here

to this college on the hill above Harlem.

I am the only colored student in my class.

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,

though a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,

Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come the the Y,

the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator

up to my room, sit down, and write this page:


It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me

at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what

I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:

hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.

(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like wo are other races.

So will my page be colored that I write?


Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white—

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.

Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

But we are, that’s true!

As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—

although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.


This is my page for English B.


From, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Knopf and Vintage Books, 1995.

In-class Discussions

by Konnor Brennan, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

In-class discussions are one of the most frequently used pedagogical activities. While they are very popular in classrooms, most instructors know that implementing an effective and productive discussion takes time and planning.

Designing and implementing an effective discussion activity can sometimes be challenging. One of the key components of good discussion is active engagement by the students, which cannot always be guaranteed. Discussion activities also require the instructor to relinquish some of the control over the content and direction of the class. This leaves the door open for some discussions to go on tangents or in directions the instructor is not prepared for.

Here are some tips for designing and implementing effective discussions.

  1. Start by looking at the learning objectives of the course/class to see if any would be best achieved through a discussion activity. Some impromptu discussions can feel unorganized or can appear to lack a clear goal to the students. By designing the discussion activity around the learning objectives, the instructor can ensure that the discussion has a clear goal and direction that is apparent to the students.
  2. If discussion activities will be large part of the course the instructor might consider using discussions early and often in the course. In doing so, the students can get comfortable with sharing their ideas with their peers, and be more likely to participate.
  3. Summarize the main points of the discussion for the class. Due to the open-endedness of some discussion types, there is a chance the conversation could get off topic. If so, it is a good idea to summarize the main points of the discussion for the class to make sure the students leave with the information the instructor intended.

In-class discussion activities can be incredibly effective when designed and implemented with intent and the goals are clearly communicated with the students. The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning offers many resources and services for instructors interested in this or other teaching topics. Email us at with questions or use our Google form to set up a consultation.



Brookfield, S., & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Huang, L. S. (2005). Fine-tuning the craft of teaching by discussion. Business Communication Quarterly.


Student Attendance Accommodations

by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

An attendance accommodation is an understanding that a student’s medical diagnosis may impact their ability to attend class. It is also a way to support students whose absences may require flexibility as they complete course requirements. As such, an attendance accommodation is an opportunity to work with students to form a plan of action and shared understanding concerning how their absences will be handled throughout the semester. Importantly, this accommodation is not a waiver for attendance or an exemption from completing essential academic requirements for a course (e.g., in-class work, assignments, group projects, etc.).

The process of providing attendance accommodations will vary depending on the student, the instructor, and the design of the course, but there are a few pedagogical questions to consider that can make the process more effective for student learning:

  1. What is the relationship between the goals of the course and student attendance (either face-to-face, online, or in the field)?
  2. What are the implications of this relationship for students who require attendance accommodations in your course?
  3. What reasonable options for attendance modifications are possible?

Reinert Center staff are prepared to consult with instructors to respond to these questions in ways that complement their academic and pedagogical goals. This includes (re)designing courses and assignments for greater accessibility, incorporating more inclusive teaching and assessment methods, and considering the accessible implications of teaching with technology. You can schedule a confidential consultation with someone from the Reinert Center by completing this form [LINK]. For more information about resources at SLU to support instructors working with students who require attendance accommodations, please visit the links provided below.


Links to additional resources:

Disability Services – Faculty and Staff Resources

Reinert Center – Inclusive Teaching Resources

University Counseling Services – Crisis Resources and Warning Signs

Who is Learning Online?

by Sandy Gambill, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

When I signed up to write this blog post, I thought it would be a simple matter of finding some statistics and framing them in the context of the Reinert Center’s annual theme– justice. After several false starts, I can tell you it was not that simple.

There was no difficulty in finding statistics. Enrollment data reported to the federal government in fall 2016 indicates that 13% of all undergraduate students and 28% of all graduate students in the US exclusively take online courses. Students who take both online and face to face courses make up 18% of all undergrads and 9% of all graduate students.  Combined that tells us that 41% of undergrads and 37% of graduate students have taken online courses.

What the statistics don’t tell us is much about the motivation of these students–why are they taking online courses? I’m sure you can list reasons like flexibility and convenience, but  how does that square when we think about justice? When I think about distance education, I’m excited by framing justice in terms of access. Online learning provides access to education that many people would not otherwise have. This means opening the opportunity for better paying jobs and different ways of looking at the world.

Think about that 13% of undergrads who take all their courses online. I wonder how many of them fall into the category of adult learners. Many institutions offer online degree programs to adult learners, and limit traditional undergrads to the traditional classroom. For example, according to their website, SLU’s School for Professional Studies (link requires students to be over the age of 22 and have had at least three years of work experience.

It’s easy for me to relate to that group because I was one of those students.  I was well into my 30s and working full time, when I did an online Masters degree program that allowed me to advance in my career.  I wasn’t in a position to leave my job to go to school, and couldn’t find a traditional program that was flexible enough to fit my schedule.

There is a long tradition of working adults taking correspondence, and now distance courses, hoping for better jobs and higher pay. If you were a fan of Downton Abbey, you might remember the character Gwen Harding, a housemaid who took correspondence courses to learn to type, and was able to leave service to become a secretary. That story line was historically accurate. The first well-documented correspondence course began around 1840 when Isaac Pittman offered stenography courses through the UK’s Penny Post system. (Britain’s Uniform Penny Post Act of 1840 created affordable prepaid postage through the issuance of the first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black. See the Wikipedia: for more on this.)

What about adult students who want access to education to learn one new skill or connect intellectually with others? MOOCS (Massive Online Open Courses) aren’t as trendy as they were a few years ago since no one has really figured out how to monetize the model, but Coursera and EdX, the most popular MOOC platforms, still have a few thousand free courses on everything from 18th Century Opera to Justice, the Harvard course taught by Michael Sandel.  I don’t think you can discount the impact one of these courses could have on someone’s life, whether they’re trying to improving their accounting knowledge, or enrich their personal time by connecting with others interested in postmodern European literature. Sometimes learning for the sheer joy of learning is a powerful motivation.

I can’t help but wonder if some of the students in MOOCs are motivated by the same forces that drove students to enroll in the televised courses taught by Father John Francis Bannon, SJ, of SLU’s History Department. KETC, aka Channel 9, started broadcasting in 1954 and by 1955, Father Bannon was on the air, teaching “The Great American West to 1848,” the same course he taught for students matriculating at SLU. This was the first of several courses he taught over the KETC airwaves.

I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the artifacts from Father Bannon’s televised courses in Saint Louis University archives. Syllabi for the Father Bannon’s courses were sixty page booklets that included detailed instructions to the students, in addition to printed versions of the lectures and supplemental reading lists. They proclaim: “You are becoming involved in an experiment in education which is still in its infancy, college credit courses by television. Perhaps, your experience can contribute in very valuable fashion to the growing fund of data regarding the validity and practicality of this great new potential medium of organized learning. In all, events, it is our hope that you enjoy and profit by the experience.” Students in these courses had the opportunity to attend live discussion sessions and then if they wanted credit, take an exam in a room on the first floor of Du Bourg Hall.

Little demographic information is available about Bannon’s students. A 1957 Jesuit Bulletin article asserts that Bannon “counts his students in ten and twenty thousands.” While this is probably an overstatement, the courses were distributed across the United States as part of National Education Television and Radio Center Network. The article says the shows were used by public and private high schools of St Louis, and that Bannon frequently had requests for his reading lists from public libraries in other cities where the shows were available. Predictably, he also faced questions from other faculty members about what he was doing and why he was doing it.

When we think about undergrads taking online courses, the issue of motivation seems murkier. Are they trying to fit in required courses that otherwise don’t work into their schedules? Are they taking an online course somewhere they think it will be easier than at their residential institution? Did they fail the course and are trying to fit in a convenient do-over?  Are they go-getters, doing everything they can to graduate quickly? Is justice different for these students?

If we look at teaching as situational and context driven, I have a challenge for you. Ask your students why they’re in the course. This could be a discussion board  icebreaker, or if you want to give students the privacy to disclose to you things they may not want to say to their classmates, ask them in a journal post or paper assignment the first week of class. Their responses might help you form a more just course by modifying times assignments are due, selecting readings more applicable to their lives and interests, or simply by showing that you care about them as an individual. In a future blog post, I’ll explore these strategies and other pedagogical tips for making your course more just.



The Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE)Chloe 2 Report:

Mackenzie, O. (1971) The Changing World of Correspondence Study. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press


Universal Instructional Design (UID)

by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Universal instructional design (UID) is a pedagogical framework used to help design courses that are accessible for all students, including students with disabilities. We have described this approach to course design in previous blogs [LINK] and considered ways to apply it to different teaching contexts and situations (e.g., online learning [LINK]). Here are three additional online resources to help you think about the important role of accessibility in your courses:

Because we are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion as values rooted in Ignatian spirituality, we believe UID is an important pedagogical framework to re-consider in and through this year’s theme of “Teaching and Justice.”

If you would like to discuss ways to apply the principles of UID to your courses, you can request a confidential consultation with someone from the Reinert Center by submitting our online form [LINK].

Teaching and Justice

by Gina Merys, Acting Director, Reinert Center

The university must carry out this general commitment [to transform and enlighten the society in which it lives] with the means uniquely at its disposal: we as an intellectual community must analyze causes; use imagination and creativity together to discover remedies; communicate to our constituencies a consciousness that inspires the freedom of self-determination; educate professionals with a conscience, who will be the immediate instruments of such a transformation; and continually hone an educational institution that is academically excellent and ethically oriented.

–Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J., The Task of a Christian University

Jesuit universities have stronger and different reasons, than many other academic and research institutions, for addressing the actual world as it unjustly exists and for helping to reshape it in the light of the Gospel.

–Peter Hans-Kolvenbach, S.J., The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education

The start of an academic year is a time for new beginnings; faculty and students alike have renewed energy to devote their minds to what happens in their courses, and a greater capacity to see with new eyes the many ways to ignite a thirst for learning and how an education can be used to transform the world.  I see the ideas from Ellacuria and Kolvenbach, in the epigraphs above, as models for how we can approach the Reinert Center’s theme for the year, “Teaching and Justice.” Such a theme draws on and from the many facets of a university, specifically the variety of disciplinary knowledge and skills, theoretical perspectives and concrete practices present in the classrooms, offices, residences, and social spaces here. Simultaneously, this theme of teaching and justice taps into the multiple perspectives of humanity through the scope of the Jesuit mission that calls us to use what we draw from the university in the service of bettering the immediate community around us as well as the world beyond, for everyone.

The goal of focusing on the intersections of teaching and justice neither supposes it is a singular topic nor one that can be (un)covered in one academic year. It does, however, give us an occasion to exercise the particular context of the university to refocus our ways of being in relationship with our content areas and how we invite our students into that relationship as well. Regardless of the place on the spectrum of novice to expert we encounter students, we have the opening to create spaces for them to make connections with ideas, to develop proficiencies, and create new knowledges through our own unique courses and classroom spaces. When we see learning experiences through the lens of Ignatian pedagogy, each meeting with student minds is a great gift and immense responsibility to their humanity and the humanity of all those they encounter through the lenses we design with them; therefore, the partnership between teaching and justice becomes all the more important to examine.

Throughout the academic year, the Reinert Center will create opportunities to encounter the theme through several subtopics as a way of exploring, scrutinizing, and developing teaching and justice including: Student Identities, Ability and Accessibility, Classroom Practices, Course Content and Curriculum, Technology, Experiential Learning, Assessment, and Mentoring. We invite the Saint Louis University community to discover the multiple layers embedded within our theme and the ways in which we can use those layers to teach ourselves to embody, enact, and engage the gifts of the university context to, in the words of St. Ignatius, “set the world on fire.”


Icebreakers in the Classroom

by Gina Merys, Acting Director, Reinert Center

Icebreakers, often defined as techniques to introduce people to each other, are frequently used during the first week of classes to help instructors and students get to know one another. While this can be useful, when designed with the skills and knowledge of a specific course in mind, icebreakers can introduce students to the content of the course as well. Learn how to use “icebreakers” to build community and introduce skills in this brief resource guide:


You can find additional resource guides on our website at

New Semester Resources

As you prepare for the year ahead, consider reviewing some of the online resources available on our website.  For example, the Reinert Center’s brief Resource Guides offer a few practical strategies for a number of teaching topics.  While they are far from comprehensive solutions, they may be useful suggestions as you prepare to teach this semester.

Below are a few sample guides.  The complete list of Resource Guides can be found on our website.

Starting the Semester: Student Engagement

The Syllabus as a Communication Tool

Using Ground Rules to Support a Diverse Learning Environment

Two Paths to Student-Centered Rubrics

Supporting Active Learning in Large Classes with PowerPoint

Seeing the Diversity in Your Classroom

Also, consider checking out our ejournal, Teaching with Technology.  The journal is a semi-annual publication from the Instructional Developer team.  Each issue explores innovative ways technology might be used in teaching.  The current issue includes an interview with Dr. Mary Gould, Associate Professor in Communication.  Dr. Gould talks about digital storytelling and how to create, assign, and assess video-based assignments.  Those who may want to incorporate video and/or digital story telling into their courses will likely find Dr. Gould’s thoughtful insights helpful.

If you would like more information about these topics or anything related to teaching, we’re here to help.  You can request a confidential consultation with someone from the Reinert Center staff by using our online form.

Book Review- Robot Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

by Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

The rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning brings the promise of increased productivity, efficiency, safety and access to a wealth of new information; however, these technologies also raise difficult questions about the nature of work.  What jobs, skills and labor will be needed when most work has been automated?  Furthermore, how do we better prepare college students to enter into a heavily automated work environment?

Joseph Aoun, renowned scholar in linguistics and president of Northeastern University, explores the impact of AI and higher education in his book, Robot Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.  In order to prepare college graduates for an automated workplace, Aoun proposes a new educational framework centered on humantics – inter- and intrapersonal-based skills in creative thinking, empathy, teamwork, and judgment.  While these skills are familiar outcomes for liberal arts education, when paired with the coming AI workplace, they take a context that is more vital than aspirational. Aoun states [humantics], “enables learners to understand the highly technological world around them that simultaneously allows them to transcend it by nurturing the mental and intellectual qualities that are unique to humans – namely, their capacity for creativity and mental flexibility” (Aoun, 2017, p. 53).

In order for higher education to help students develop these skills, Aoun describes a learning paradigm that prioritizes three literacies: technical literacy, or the understanding of how technology works; data literacy (big data, media, analytics) which is the ability to understand how information is generated; and finally, human literacy which is the human capacity to engage with others, and “tap into our human capacity for grace and beauty” (Aoun, 2017, p. 59).

While there are many ways educators can help build technical, data, and human literacy, Aoun suggests one of the best ways to prepare for the AI workplace is for educators to create experiential learning experiences that connect learning with the outside word.  Not only does experiential learning help students build the relevant skills in a rapidly changing workplace, but they offer a way for students to build lifelong learning skills through the connection of others.  “If students are to be lifelong learners, they must engage with a diversity of perspectives, including ones that challenge their presuppositions.  Only though the full and respectful including of people of different backgrounds, identities, and creeds can we learn, cooperate, and create to our full potential” (60).

While the rise of artificial intelligence offers a complex set of questions, thinking about how higher education can/should respond is a worthy pursuit.  While some of the aspects of Aoun’s book may seem to nod to some familiar work within higher education, the book underscores how the process and context of learning are profound components to the educational experience found in higher education.  As we head towards a new semester, consider how students are experiencing learning as much as the content that will be taught in their class.

If you want to discuss experiential learning, ways to incorporate inter/intra personal skills into your course or to address how to facilitate deeper learning contexts in your teaching, you can always request a confidential consolation with someone from the Reinert Center.




Aoun, J. E. (2017). Robot-proof: higher education in the age of artificial intelligence. MIT Press.