With the uncertainty in future university practices brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is certain: Helping students develop the skills to tend to their
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
supportive learning environment
Inclusive teaching involves creating equitable and welcoming educational environments for the diverse learners in our classrooms. Such approaches may involve, but are not limited to:
It’s the first day of class. They shuffle in, spot similar life-forms, and slip in with that group. Hipsters sporting wild hair and tats, buttoned-up and serious young scholars, middle-aged moms and dads, maybe a couple of aging hippies. One or two sad souls choose spots isolated from the others; they don’t want to identify with them for reasons of insecurity, arrogance, or something else.
Here’s a comment that’s got me thinking.
Kristie McAllum writes in Communication Education, “We have created a system that simply replaces helicopter parents with helicopter professors. . . . Through our constant availability to clarify criteria, explain instructions, provide micro-level feedback, and offer words of encouragement, we nourish millennials’ craving for continuous external affirmations of success and reduce their resilience in the face of challenges or failure.”
There are empty chairs in classrooms in Florida this week, at Valencia College, University of Central Florida, and Ana G. Mendez University, spaces left by the youngest victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando. Most of them young gay men, most of them Latino. In the academic world, June is a time of celebration, of convocation, of inspired addresses to graduates ready to take their hard-earned degrees and all that they have learned into the real world. In the LGBTQ communities, June is Pride month, a time to celebrate hard-earned rights, to look back on how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. This year, it is a time to mourn, and as we gather to stand in solidarity, there is that old, familiar feeling of looking over our shoulders for the next threat.
Trying to support students in an online course can create an unsustainable burden on the instructor. “I’ve heard faculty members say things such as, ‘When I first started teaching online, I drowned in my course. I was making myself available 24 hours/seven days a week. If a student posted, I felt I had to reply immediately. They were counting on me regardless of time of day,’” says Dr. Laurie Grosik, assistant professor in the master in health science program at Saint Francis University. In an interview with Online Classroom, she suggested ways to support online students without creating an undue burden on the instructor.
Numerous studies on humor in the classroom acknowledge the important role it plays in the learning process. Humor has been reported to increase motivation, enhance the retention of new information, advance problem-solving skills, encourage creativity and critical thinking, facilitate a positive learning environment, and decrease exam anxiety (Martin, 2007). Given its importance, I’d like to suggest several ways to energize your college classroom with humor.
A line of research (done mostly in Australia and Great Britain) has been exploring what prompts students to opt for deep or surface approaches to learning. So far this research has established strong links between the approaches taken to teaching and those taken to learning. If teachers are focused on covering large amounts of content and do so with few attempts to involve and engage students, students tend to learn the material by memorizing it, often without much understanding of it. This new work involved a 388-student cohort enrolled in a first-year biology course and explored the relationship between the ways students emotionally experience a course and the approach that they take to learning in the course.
A bevy of research establishes that student-faculty relationships are important on a number of fronts. For example, they predict persistence and completion in college. They impact the amount of effort students make in courses. They affect the development of students’ academic self-concepts. The authors of this analysis write: “There is evidence in the literature to suggest that the way students feel about their relationship to the professor may play an even larger role than many faculty know, or—perhaps—care to admit.” (p. 41)
I have long pondered a phrase I learned from a mentor: “Witness the struggle.” Frances, my mentor, used the phrase when she talked about working with students in emotional pain. She was referring to those students who sometimes lash out in frustration over missed assignments, family dynamics, or other stressful life issues. As a career educator, I have a deep desire to help students and a strong tendency to offer solutions and suggestions. I want to fix their problems and tell them what to do. The wise words of this phrase offer a more powerful and profound answer to the part of me that thinks I need to rescue students. Its simple urging suggests that I be fully engaged and present, that I use silence to clear a space, and that I guard against telling students what to do. More often than not, students simply need to know that their voices count, that they have been heard, and that who they are matters.