Can’t Let it Go — Inclusive Pedagogy With #Gedivt

We are deep in the heart of the Contemporary Pedagogy Syllabus and last week’s session on Inclusive Pedagogy left me reeling — in a good way. Talking with a diverse group of people about how to cultivate inclusive and diverse classrooms is always interesting, and often quite challenging, but this session was especially noteworthy for the thoughtfulness and respect that carried us through the evening. We did not talk directly about some of the issues that usually come up in these sessions, but instead  learned about Prof. Christine Labuski’s classroom technique of “Universal Precautions” and let that framework shape the discussion that followed.

We tried to distribute the opportunities for questions and discussion throughout the evening, but the group is large (forty people), and not everyone is comfortable speaking in front of the whole class. So, as people were packing up I asked them to write down a “Can’t Let it Go” — one thing they would continue to think about, one thing wanted to work on some more, or one thing they wished we had addressed during the session.

Reading through the cards, I was struck by the themes that emerged from the responses. Nearly all of them turned into “can’t let it goes” for me as well. So in the spirit of fostering connection and community (and blogging back, since I’m asking everyone to do so much “blogging forward”) I thought I’d collate some of the groups reflections so we can return to them down the road:

Theme 1: How to cultivate inclusive pedagogies in different kinds of classrooms (large, small, STEM, socially homogeneous, socially diverse, etc.) And related to that were questions about how to handle microagressions and not so micro-aggressions (discrimination). What are specific techniques, tools, approaches for these contexts?

Theme 2: People want to know how to mitigate structural inequalities that present themselves and support spaces where everyone can feel comfortable about being uncomfortable (h/t Jyotsana – whose approach was cited as an example). They want to meet their learners where they are and acknowledge the different strengths that different kinds of learner bring to the table (in terms of preparation, prior schooling, cultural capital, etc.) And they want to know, “How, why, when and what will happen when we talk about social / ethical issues in science classes?” Also a key theme of the discussion lingered in questions about how to incorporate Universal Precautions (UP) into STEM courses.  Dr. Labuski thought more about this as well, and sent me this follow-up, which I hope helps:

“I’ve also been thinking a lot about their questions, and about how I might have been better able to ‘translate’ UP for other disciplines. I know that UP was developed with ‘sensitive’ topics in mind, but I also know that part of why I developed (and practice) it is because it’s ultimately about expanding everyone’s imagination(s) about who is who and who does what in this world. So, for the students teaching engineering and agriculture, for example, I think UP might be more about not assuming who are the people who ‘have’ the world’s problems and who are the people who ‘fix’ them. I think that comes in at the beginning of the semester, with classroom discussion guidelines and (maybe) formalized UP, but it also comes in via language throughout the semester, where the words “we” (as the people doing the solving) and “them” (as the people in need of solutions) are minimized and transformed in ways that denaturalize and destabilize those relationships of dependency. “

Theme 3: Keep all kinds of diversity in mind. What are the implications of inclusive pedagogies for students (and teachers) with disabilities?

Theme 4:  “What’s the reason behind ignorance and how do we deal with it?” That’s the most succinct formulation of several reflections about the complacency or lack of curiosity we sometimes encounter in higher ed classrooms in this country.  This concern focused on the challenges of facilitating deeper engagement with the broader structures / systems of power, cultivating interest in and curiosity about difference — curiosity about other parts of the world, other cultures, even other parts of the United States. Some people also expressed concern about wanting to do these things in ways that wouldn’t be offensive.

Theme 5:  The value of being multilingual and the relative prestige of the “native” language when that language is English.  We need to problematize the idea that “American” refers only to English speakers in the United States and push back against assumptions about different kinds of accents. At a time when we are promoting coding and other abstract communication mediums, we need to assert the importance and value of being proficient in more than one language. This connects back to Theme 4 in that many US citizens only speak English and see little reason to learn another language well.

Theme 6: White Supremacy. We need to talk about it. How do we balance out the constitution’s commitment to freedom of expression against the power of ideologies of hate and prejudice — especially in the classroom. (Recognizing that context matters — that the relationship between student and instructor is about privilege and power.) “Can someone truly separate their principles and beliefs from their teaching?”

Theme 7:  The challenges of being an international student. This was a BIG theme with lots of permutations. From struggles with micro-aggressions and misunderstandings, to the vast differences in educational systems (between the US and one’s home country), to the challenge of communicating verbally in English when your native language is far-removed from English and your field of study is very technical or has a very specific common vocabulary, international students encounter a daunting array of issues. On the other hand, hearing about those issues during class definitely raised awareness among other groups in class, with some people noting they had been unaware of these things, wanted to hear more, and wanted to do more to mitigate these challenges.

Theme 8: Acknowledging and appreciating privilege. How inclusive can our learning environments be when the class lacks socio-economic diversity?  One person appreciated  Zachs idea of “donating privilege” (which references a terrific blogpost about what cycling can teach us about white privilege.

And finally, there were two nuggets worth noting:

One hopeful: “The ability of social media and technology to connect people across cultural divides and enable them to maintain those connections indefinitely.”

The other about letting go.

It’s all about attachments.

Contemporary Pedagogy at VT: A Conversation with Shelli Fowler

Orange Sneakers

Working with the Open Learning cMOOC  (#OpenLearning17) has given me the opportunity to re-connect with one of the most inspirational and talented educators I know. During her long tenure at Virginia Tech Dr. Shelli Fowler developed and taught a graduate course  called “Pedagogical Practices in Contemporary Contexts.”  A jewel in the crown of certificate programs in Transformative Graduate Education and Training the Future Professoriate, Contemporary Pedagogy brings together graduate students from across the university in a seminar devoted to developing a distinct teaching praxis. Shelli designed the course, which is known across campus as “GEDI” (the Graduate Education Development Institute) to help graduate students acquire the diverse and flexible skill sets they need to succeed and lead as teacher/scholar/professionals in the changing landscape of higher education. It works at multiple levels — as a professional development forum for early-career teachers, as an interdisciplinary discussion of the challenges and commonalities of engaging undergraduates at a Research I university, and as a site of critical engagement over the connections between the philosophical underpinnings and practical application of pedagogy (praxis). Continue reading “Contemporary Pedagogy at VT: A Conversation with Shelli Fowler”