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Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

May 2, 2017

Committing to inclusive teaching at UW Tacoma

Making a positive impact on an inclusive campus climate often begins in individual classrooms. Yet, as instructors well know, adapting teaching practices to meet the needs of a diverse student body is sometimes easier said than done. Such work involves critical self-reflection and attention to forms of systemic oppression, such as racism or sexism, that impact the learning and retention of so many students. At UW Tacoma, faculty recognized the need to learn about and adapt practices toward anti-bias instruction for their increasingly diverse students, and in 2015, launched the Strengthening Educational Excellence with Diversity (SEED) Teaching Institute.

Better supporting students through faculty development

Sharon Parker, assistant chancellor for Equity and Inclusion, UW Tacoma

Sharon Parker, assistant chancellor for Equity and Inclusion, UW Tacoma

The annual institute kicks off with a four-day summer residency, immersing a cohort of faculty participants in the study and practice of inclusive teaching. The participants develop action plans to “increase access, rigor and engagement of students through inclusion and anti-bias education,” says Assistant Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Sharon Parker. She and other UW Tacoma faculty facilitate the institute.

The goals and values of SEED are built around four cornerstones: developing student voice, creating an inclusive classroom, enhancing critical thinking and analysis, and nurturing personal cultural competency.

To implement those goals, participants work together to critically examine and redesign their pedagogy including everything from syllabus construction to curriculum choices and grading criteria. For example, the 2015 cohort of 15 faculty developed strategies to incorporate student input into assignment design, integrate diversity into course discussions and select course texts from diverse authors. “I always understood most of the ‘why’ behind incorporating inclusive excellence,” notes one participant of the institute’s action-oriented approach. “But I was stumped on the ‘how,’ and that is what I learned from SEED, from both presenters and peers.”

SEED participants learn to:

  • develop student voices
  • create an inclusive classroom
  • enhance critical thinking and analysis
  • nurture personal cultural competency

Participant-driven model is critical to success

The success of SEED is largely due to its emphasis on self-reflection, feedback and accountability. During the summer residency, faculty regularly reflect on their learning and their own biases to develop personal cultural competencies. The group shares and receives input on their work every day, and contributes feedback to the program to benefit future cohorts of faculty. That these activities are mostly led by UW Tacoma faculty with expertise in anti-bias teaching increases the impact of the institute. The peer-driven model contributes to participant buy-in.

Activities in the institute are also designed to bring awareness to forms of systemic oppression that affect students — and to then turn that awareness into action. For example, two faculty changed their assessment strategies after reflecting on the potential for bias in grading. They redesigned their curricula to de-emphasize grades and place more value on course learning outcomes. As the instructors implemented the new practice, they found alternative grading allowed for more equitable, holistic student assessment.

Building a community with lasting impact

SEED’s intensive summer residency impacts faculty teaching — and by extension, UW Tacoma students. Faculty share the progress of new curricula and have the opportunity for more peer feedback at a September showcase. Later in the fall, they reconvene for an assessment session to report the impact of revised practices on student learning. The group then attends quarterly check-ins throughout the year to extend opportunities for collaboration, mentorship and input. As many participants reported, one of the primary values of SEED lies in its creation of a professional learning community, which continues to build over several quarters. The institute also fosters connections across cohorts. The 2015 group created a final showcase to inspire and encourage the incoming 2016 faculty.

Participants in the SEED Teaching Institute redesign their courses during a four day residency to meet the needs of the increasingly diverse UW Tacoma student body. Photo: UW Tacoma.

Participants in the SEED Teaching Institute redesign their courses during a four day residency to meet the needs of the increasingly diverse UW Tacoma student body. Photo: UW Tacoma.

SEED is now in its third year. It is led by an interdisciplinary steering committee that is comprised of Parker; Julia Aguirre, associate professor in Education; Ariana Ochoa Camacho, assistant professor in Ethnic, Gender & Labor Studies; Linda Ishem, senior lecturer in Urban Studies; Nita McKinley, associate professor in Psychology; and Sushil Oswal, associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. SEED’s organizers remain committed to the institute’s cornerstone values, as well as to continued adaptation. The 2016 summer residency was restructured toward an even more comprehensive approach to anti-bias instruction.

For Parker, a major goal of the UW’s Race & Equity Initiative is that as soon as students enter UW Tacoma, they know that they are welcomed, respected and valued. This means deliberately creating an inclusive campus climate — beginning in the classroom.