In a time of rapid change, these tactics can help higher education faculty “center the needs of the students” and “ensure equitable and inclusive experiences.”
For the past few months, I have been thinking about the future of higher education. Recently, I have learned from books like the Great Upheaval and at conferences like OLC Innovate that higher education is in a rapid period of change.
I feel, as I am sure many others do, that this change has accelerated as a result of the pandemic. We had to quickly transition our courses and support services online; it felt as though it were practically overnight. I am just beginning to wrap my mind around what we collectively experienced and what that means for our future.
At the OLC Innovate Conference, I was introduced to a guide titled the Blended Institution for Higher Education: A Model for a Sustainable Institution. The authors state that this guide is intended for higher education administrators so that they can effectively plan for the digital futures of their institutions (Joosten, McGuire, and Weber 2021, 6). The guide centers students, especially historically minoritized and underrepresented groups of students, in the strategic planning process for institutions.
The creation of this guide was the result of a collaboration between three organizations dedicated to promoting excellence in teaching and learning, especially in online spaces. Those organizations are the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancement, the Online Learning Consortium, and Every Learner Everywhere.
Finding Space for All Campus Stakeholders
While this guide is meant to assist administrators, I see opportunities for each member of our campus community to live into this vision. As an instructional consultant and not a university administrator, my work currently lies in the first two items on the list. For that reason, I will be focusing my attention there:
1. Center the needs of the students
2. Ensure equitable and inclusive experiences
3. Integrate modalities across the institutionJoosten, McGuire, and Weber 2021, 15
Centering the Needs of Our Students
You might be asking how you are meant to keep up with students’ ever-changing and individual needs. I would offer a few suggestions:
- Administer a needs assessment
- Provide regular student check-ins
- Get creative with your office hours
Begin with a Student Goals Survey
There are multiple methods for administering a needs assessment, but I might recommend that you provide a survey at the beginning of your course to learn more about your students’ goals for the course and more broadly for their education. Moreover, you can gather information about the larger items that are important to them (e.g. climate justice, professional goals, etc).
Check In with Your Students Throughout the Semester
Providing regular student check-ins gives you an opportunity to gather leading indicators. Most of our praxis for course reflection is post-delivery. We get our student evaluations after the semester, and we use that in conjunction with other reflection to update our courses, but this is a lagging process, albeit an important one.
The leading indicators provided by periodic check-ins give you an opportunity to make changes in real-time. This is especially important in an online course environment where you lack the ability to gather information on body language and student demeanor.
Creatively Rethink Office Hours
If there is one thing that we all can agree on, it’s that we wish students would take more advantage of our office hours. I remember time and time again pleading for my students to come see me during that time not realizing there are barriers for our students no matter how approachable we think we are.
In his TEDxCambridge talk, Dr. Anthony Jack opened my eyes to the cultural assumptions that I make about our students. He aptly explains that getting diverse groups of students into our universities isn’t truly inclusive. In a small portion of this talk, he explains that some students felt that office hours were dedicated times for the professor to quietly work and didn’t want to be disturbed.
This is why I think creative office hours can be super helpful. We often want students to come as they need it, but perhaps they don’t know that they need the support or they aren’t even sure how to ask for that support. I know of faculty who will announce a topic for the office hour and anyone who shows up can be prepared to discuss that topic. I have also heard faculty in conferences state that they do a coffee hour instead of an office hour.
These slight changes to the traditional office hour give students opportunities to network with you and their peers, and it creates a lower stakes environment for them to approach you. An office hour may feel super official to some, and it can create anxiety to talk with an expert in your field one-on-one.
Ensure Equitable and Inclusive Class Experiences
The authors of this model assert, “Consideration in developing institutional structures, including anti-racist policies, governance, resources, staffing, budgeting, and planning, will allow academic leaders to shift institutional behaviors and activities to those that are more accessible, inclusive, and equitable” (Joosten, McGuire, and Weber 2021, 28). How can we envision this in our individual classroom contexts?
For me, this is work that we all can do. As educators, we can always do more to make our courses more accessible and inclusive. We can incorporate Universal Design for Learning. We can reflect on who is represented (or not represented) in the reading we choose. Are the authors I choose predominantly white, cisgender, heterosexual males or do I include diverse voices in my course materials? If I can’t find diverse voices for my materials, how do I address that?
The teaching innovation team strives to offer opportunities for faculty to dig into some of this work. I, personally, learned a lot about inclusive teaching and ungrading in the 2022 summer book clubs that Kathy Jacobi, director of faculty development, facilitated. There are faculty learning communities facilitated by our team where you can explore these concepts and engage with your colleagues to find creative solutions. It does take work, but our team is dedicated to helping make that work easier.
What can I do?
I want to end this piece with a short reflection of how I see myself living into this model, understanding that this guide is not necessarily written for someone in my role. I see opportunities to center the student voice and perspective in my work. For example, when I am collaborating with faculty, I can be an advocate for the needs of our students and strategize on how we can remove the unintended barriers our students face in our learning environments. I believe if we each take steps toward our students’ needs, we will be able to actualize a university community that works for all.
What about you? What work have you done to increase access to the work that you do? Are there areas that you have identified that require a creative solution to better serve our students?
Jack, Anthony. “On Diversity: Access Ain’t Inclusion,” TEDxCambridge, June 13, 2019, video, 12:42, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7w2Gv7ueOc&t=1s.
Joosten, Tanya, Abby McGuire, and Nicole Weber. 2021. “The Blended Institution for Higher Education: A Model for a Sustainable Institution.” Every Learner Everywhere. https://www.everylearnereverywhere.org/resources/the-blended-institution-for-higher-education-a-model-for-a-sustainable-institution/.
Shane Lanning is an Instructional Consultant in the Division of Online and Strategic Learning. Their academic background includes an MA in Linguistics and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), which they earned at Ball State, and they are currently pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition. They previously taught as an Instructor of ESL in the Intensive English Institute where they developed a passion for international students and internationalization efforts; moreover, Shane strives for an inclusive teaching practice and is interested in exploring how to best achieve community in a rapidly evolving educational landscape.