Campus News

Yearlong series offers perspectives on inclusive pedagogy

Instructor and students in a classroom setting.

Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published November 16, 2020

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“If we want all of our students to have the same opportunities to succeed academically, we need to realize that a one-size-fits-all pedagogical approach can impede that goal. ”
Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence

As units across UB make changes to advance racial justice, many instructors are seeking advice on how to make their teaching and curriculum more inclusive.

To support these efforts, the Office of Inclusive Excellence (OIX) and unit diversity officers are presenting a series of programs focused on inclusive pedagogy throughout the 2020-21 academic year. Planning for this initiative began last spring. (For upcoming events and resources, visit OIX’s website on Inclusive Pedagogy.)

“We need to think about who we are and who our students are,” says Raechele Pope, associate dean for faculty and student affairs, and chief diversity officer for the Graduate School of Education and a member of the UB President’s Advisory Council on Race. “As faculty, we often start with content when designing our courses and our classroom experience, and I think inclusive pedagogy asks us to shift the focus just a bit and first think about the learner: What are their experiences? What might they need to learn, and how might they learn it best?”

Pope’s research focuses on multicultural education and creating inclusive campuses. She notes that inclusive pedagogy is a step toward changing the structure of the university to help all students succeed. “These institutions were built with certain people in mind, with certain teaching styles in mind. To really transform that, we need to go back to the roots,” she says.

Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence and professor of architecture, says that while COVID-19 has exacerbated disparities in access to education across the national landscape, “those gaps have been there all along, nestled in the very foundations of educational structures and philosophies.”

“Data show that college completion rates vary significantly, particularly according to students’ race and ethnicity,” she says. “If we want all of our students to have the same opportunities to succeed academically, we need to realize that a one-size-fits-all pedagogical approach can impede that goal. The Office of Inclusive Excellence and unit diversity officers’ yearlong programming on inclusive pedagogy showcases UB’s faculty experts to focus attention on how inclusive pedagogy strengthens our educational mission and benefits all students.”

Chemistry professor Luis Colón is among faculty who practice inclusive pedagogy. In 2015, he was named a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring by President Barack Obama. Read about some of Colón​'s efforts to support and mentor students during his 25-plus years at UB.

What is inclusive pedagogy?

Inclusive pedagogy encompasses a range of issues in course design and teaching.

Cultivating a classroom or remote learning environment that helps everyone feel respected is part of inclusive pedagogy. So is drawing on the perspectives of diverse scholars in course materials, and giving students different options for demonstrating what they’ve learned instead of relying on a single assessment technique like a written test.

“Inclusive pedagogy is a method of teaching in which instructors and classmates work together to create a supportive environment that gives each student equitable access to learning,” says Heather Orom, associate professor of community health and health behavior and associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion in the School of Public Health and Health Professions (SPHHP). “Culturally inclusive pedagogy also critically examines the perspectives, content and viewpoints communicated with classroom materials and discussion, seeking to uncover gaps in inclusivity that privilege white, Eurocentric experiences. It leverages universal design strategies and demonstrates appreciation for varied learning styles.”

Letitia Thomas, assistant dean for diversity in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, says learning to recognize and avoid microaggressions is also an important component of inclusive pedagogy. Microagressions are verbal and nonverbal insults, intentional or unintentional, that can make people feel marginalized. These remarks and gestures can take on many forms, such as repeatedly mispronouncing a student’s name, expecting students of a particular race or background to speak for everyone in that same group, assuming students of a particular race or background all know each other, and using homogeneous, non-diverse examples or readings, Thomas says.

Theresa McCarthy, associate professor of transnational studies and associate dean for inclusive excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences, says teaching the history of people who have been marginalized and drawing on the knowledge, perspectives and scholarship of these communities is a vital part of inclusive pedagogy. She is working to help launch a new Department of Indigenous Studies at UB.

“To me, as an Indigenous scholar in Indigenous studies, being included at all is very important,” McCarthy says. “There have been these profound and longstanding ways that Indigenous people have been not just excluded in mainstream education, but summarily erased. I’ve encountered many people who come to the university or even graduate school with little to no knowledge at all of our history, even in broad strokes. People have no knowledge of the challenges our people face and our experiences over time, including the way we have been dispossessed of our land through the building of institutions, including the higher education system in the United States. We need to change this.”

Events cover wide range of topics

Programs on inclusive pedagogy that have taken place at UB this year include a workshop on microaggressions and a two-day Graduate School of Education teach-in that featured many speakers on inclusive pedagogy. Recordings of most teach-in sessions are available on the event’s website.

More programs are in the works. Examples include a series that McCarthy has organized on Haudenosaunee geographies and land acknowledgement, with upcoming panels planned for spring. In November and December, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute is presenting a series on effective teaching for culturally responsive educators. During the spring semester, Pope and Amy Reynolds, professor of counseling, school and educational psychology, will lead an event on designing inclusive courses. And the Office of Inclusive Excellence is planning an Inclusive Excellence Summit for spring that will highlight the yearlong focus on inclusive pedagogy.

SPHHP is hosting at least two workshops on collaborative learning environments, with one in 2021 that will be open to the entire campus community.

Jacob Bleasdale, a PhD student in community health and health behavior who is helping to organize the SPHHP programs, says a collaborative learning environment is “an equitable, supportive environment where students and instructors work together to enhance learning.” In this model of higher education, the relationship between professors and students takes the form of a mentor-mentee relationship, “rather than a hierarchical relationship,” he says.

“Inclusive pedagogy and collaborative learning environments are essential to student success,” Bleasdale says. “Each takes into consideration the unique perspectives of the students and recognizes that students have different experiences, learning styles and abilities. As educators, it is important that we recognize and value these differences as strengths rather than weaknesses. By incorporating inclusive pedagogy into our teaching, we are ensuring that each student feels equally valued and has an equal chance at success.”

One goal of the SPHHP programs is for people to depart with a few useful ideas that they can implement immediately, says Jessica Kruger, clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior.

“We have to make changes,” Kruger says, noting that SPHHP faculty have developed a community of practice to explore ways to create a more inclusive learning environment for students. “I was a first-generation college student, and I worked while I was in school. I remember those days very well, of coming home, being exhausted from working all day and going to school at night. I had awesome mentors who were accommodating, but I heard horror stories of students who worked with faculty who weren’t willing to budge at all on many things.

“That is something we’ll talk about in these workshops,” she says. “If a student always signs in late for a class, what would you do, as a faculty member? How would you approach the student? Maybe they have a part-time job, maybe they are having problems at home, and the question becomes, ‘How can we help them succeed?’

“Students often don’t feel cared about now, and for me, that’s a big part of what inclusive pedagogy is: making students feel cared for and supporting their learning. If we do this, it will help them be successful.”