By Robby Griswold
The historic June 2018 agreement between the Lecturers’ Employee Organization and the U-M Regents has impacted many aspects of working life for lecturers, most notably a bump in pay and changes in benefits. What doesn’t get as much notice is the provision made for “an expansion of professional development funding opportunities”, as quoted in the University’s notice about the agreement in the Record in July 2018.
A program launched shortly after the ratification in order to fulfill this commitment. The Lecturers Employee Organization (LEO), led by president RC and Sociology lecturer Ian Robinson, engaged the U-M Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion to hire the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, and the “Inclusive Teaching Program for LEO Lecturers” was born. Its first cohort, led by Victoria Genetin, CRLT’s Assistant Director for DEI, ran in the fall of 2018 with 17 participating lecturers from the School of Social Work, School of Education, STAMPS, School of Information and the Taubman College. Fall 2019 saw its second cohort, also consisting of 17 participants that includes lecturers from Ross, the Ford School, STAMPS, SSW, and LSA - including two lecturers from the Residential College.
The Inclusive Teaching Program cohort kicks off with a workshop in May, and then meets for three “teaching circles” throughout the fall semester to read scholarship on evidence-based inclusive teaching practices, to develop community, and to give and receive input on implementation of new practices the participants study. Victoria chooses the readings, facilitates the meetings, and offers one-on-one consulting for each of the participants who bring a current course syllabus that they aim to revamp. Sascha Crasnow, a lecturer in the RC Arts and Ideas and First Year Seminar programs, brought the syllabus for her first year seminar “Representing Islam” to the cohort. “I was mainly interested in how to make my course more inclusive for the students - for their engagement and accessibility.” Christopher Matthews, a lecturer in the Creative Writing and First Year Seminar programs, brought his “Elements of Detection” first year seminar syllabus in order to “find a way to more consciously construct it around inclusion and representation of multiple identities and backgrounds”, because, he admits, “the detective genre is almost inescapably white-guy-centric” - identities he himself shares with the archetype.
The first teaching circle of the semester explored research on transparency and its relationship to equity and inclusion in teaching. The readings gave Sascha an idea she used on the first day of her seminar: “I included a first day activity where we as a whole class came up with the classroom conduct guidelines together, which I then put on the syllabus. This allowed for the classroom dynamic to shape the way the class would be conducted.” It brought to light that students held different assumptions about classroom etiquette and gave them permission to be less formal and enjoy the relaxed-yet-vigorous culture of the RC that goes back to its founding. Chris opted to amplify his syllabus’ clarity around policies and explanations. “Most visibly, I built right into our daily schedule a series of “Pro-Tips” about things like office hours, giving yourself enough time to draft and rewrite, etc.” in order to, like Sascha, reduce assumptions that students already know how college works, and to “avoid penalizing those students (such as first-gen) not coming in already well trained in the “secret curriculum” of university expectations.”
The second circle focused on recent research on encouraging a growth mindset among students in order to increase students’ sense of belonging. Chris applied these concepts in how he frames the course readings and analytical discussions using a range of critical lenses, intended to demonstrate that “a wide array of identities, backgrounds, and life experiences are more-than-welcome in class” so that, even when they’re discussing something as “conventional” as Sherlock Holmes, the students understand that class and gender and race are “key issues to interrogate” that help the entire class dig deeper into the text’s implications. The outcome is, Chris hopes, to “bake inclusiveness into the course’s DNA in a new way.” The third circle takes place in December and will finish off this cohort, after which Chris and Sascha will be required to submit a reflection on the program and its resultant changes to their teaching practice including those mentioned here, along with an annotated course syllabus showing what was modified.
Prospects for a cohort next fall are as of yet unknown but will be determined midway through the winter semester. Regardless, Victoria and CRLT are champions for inclusive teaching practices on campus and can be hired by departments and units for off-the-shelf trainings or customized workshops based on academic fields or pedagogical concerns.