April 23, 2020
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Supported through the President's office and a grant to Kenyon from the Consortium on High Achievement and Success, Kenyon hosted Becky Wai-Ling Packard, professor of psychology and education and director of the Weissman Center for Leadership at Mount Holyoke College and author of “Successful STEM Mentoring Initiatives for Underrepresented Students,” for a lecture at Common Hour on September 7, titled “Inclusive Pedagogy: What We Know And Need To Know.”
Packard used an ecological model of thriving to recognize that various factors affect who thrives or doesn’t in a group. These factors may be individual choices or institutional policies; they may be related to recent changes or the weight of history; they may even come from factors entirely outside the institution.
This ecological analysis poses further questions for our own campus (and every campus). When we talk about “diversity”, who is on the center and who is on the margins? How possible is it to change that? Are we willing to break existing structures and rebuild, or are we only willing (and able) to build workarounds to accommodate “nontraditional” populations?
Packard presented a continuum of support for a diverse community of learners, starting with basic legal and physical access to education. We can increasingly use universal design principles — the same basic principles which allow us all to use curb cuts and automatic door openers — in our courses, to make sure that course material and activities are offered to students in accessible modes by default.
We move from basic access to inclusion by formally recognizing the assets which various people and cultures bring to the curriculum, and actively bringing those assets to the classroom. Inclusive pedagogies recognize that, no matter how equitable we try to make a class, students (and faculty) cannot just leave their backgrounds at the door. People may come into conflict because of their different backgrounds, and inclusive pedagogies anticipate that tension and try to design around it.
Packard identified three areas of pedagogy which have demonstrated connections to inclusive outcomes. Active learning approaches are known to increase student knowledge over pure lecture approaches. In part, this is because classes with a high degree of in-class problem solving provide an “apprenticeship” in learning to solve disciplinary problems. Modeling and quick feedback allow students to build both skills and confidence in those skills, which then lets them use homework time more productively. Packard also asserts that the simple act of participation in a class increases your feeling of being an active member of a community. In active learning environments, students are not only gaining the skills of the discipline, they are practicing thinking of themselves as members of the discipline (or at least of the course as a social group). This feeling of inclusion may be particularly important to members of underrepresented groups in a class.
Packard also looked at transparent teaching as a way to fill in the “expert blind spots” which can hinder communication with novice students. In transparent teaching, teachers annotate an assignment to help explain any jargon, technical terms, or assumptions in the directions. These annotations increase not only student performance, but students’ feelings of belonging in the class, confidence in their own abilities, and perceptions of the teacher’s fairness and empathy. Even annotating a single assignment has been shown to have positive effects, as students do learn to apply those definitions and expectations to future assignments.
The third pedagogical area Packard identified was the recognition of the connections between behavior and identity. How does a student come to see themselves as a successful member of a course, college, or discipline? It starts with behavior - performing their competence - but the student must process that performance to incorporate it as part of their self-concept. This process of self-recognition is significantly aided by recognition from the outside as well. Small gestures which show that faculty members saw a student showing potential in the discipline have the ability to change the way the student sees their own ability. It may take a succession of recognitions from a variety of people before students see themselves differently, and as Packard said, most of those gestures will never generate a thank-you note, but eventually, some small gesture can be the life-changing one. (It occurs to me that we never really grow out of this; as long as we continue as lifelong learners, we also struggle with “impostor syndrome” and benefit from these small acts of recognition.)
Ultimately, Packard argues that this leads to a “full participation” stage, where systems are changed with all participants at the table, instead of a dominant group granting “inclusion” to a less-powerful group. The move from “inclusion” to “full participation” therefore requires us to rebuild systems of power. Rebuilding systems, though, can’t be based on individual entrepreneurial efforts. It will require collective commitments to share priorities and support one another in departments and across campus.