Between the World and Me
Between the World and Me avatar

Hi Everyone,

I am late for this conversation, but I have really enjoyed reading everyone’s posts. I have a lot of thoughts on equitable teaching practices in the classroom because of the themes and readings that I focus on. I am curious to see what happens when a class migrates to an on-line setting.  To me, the biggest challenge of any class is establishing a warm, safe classroom culture that makes students feel connected.  I have stolen Ta-Nehesi Coates’ book title (which he stole from Richard Wright’s eponymous poem) because I am struck by the challenges that we face as instructors who strive to break the perpetual loop (and for some, this loop is traumatic) that students encounter in formal school settings.  Putting pressure on the phrase, which appears again and again in critical race theory, I think that “between the world and me” captures the challenge of online teaching, specifically equity-minded on-line teaching practices. Here are just a few of my thoughts on Woods’ presentation and the reading.

On-line intrusiveness and performance monitoring:  I understand the idea that we need to intervene before students fall too far behind, and often do that with my students f2f. It’s easy to pull someone aside before or after class, but I’m wondering how one does that online? What are some creative ways to be intrusive?

Empower students: I think that group projects and discussions are a great way to empower students, especially when the group is diverse and students come from different subject positions. Equity-minded practice can simply be showing students how to turn their lens on their everyday life, bridging the gap between what some people have called high and low culture. One way of doing this is to teach culturally relevant texts paired with other texts to show students how each writer is thinking about a similar issue. For example, I have taught William Wordsworth with Tupac Shakur and Eminem. It’s an interesting pairing and makes for a lot of spirited discussion.

Not everyone is a computer geek: One thing I appreciated from the reading is that students need to understand that they do not need to be technical experts to succeed in an on-line class. That point resonated with me because of my own hesitation over migrating on-line. (I tell myself: you don’t have to be a computer programmer or an expert on technology!!!)

Make lessons universally inclusive and accessible: Right now, I have a challenging situation where my current student underwent two neurosurgeries and has significant deficits. I check in with him regularly and am intrusive, but I don’t always feel effective in the classroom. Interestingly, I discovered that communicating with him online is better and more successful. I think that it is because he can take extra time to process his thoughts and reread material. (He can’t move at the same pace as everyone else.) Working with him has made me appreciate what an online teaching environment can offer.

Equity – taking into account prior probabilities.
Equity – taking into account prior probabilities. avatar

As I explore this week’s discussion, I’ll start with Dr. Wood’s two-fold paradoxes.
But, since Dr. Wood and I share a love of statistics, a thought about math…

  1. We teach how we are taught

When I look back on my educational experiences, I consider myself lucky to having experienced a variety of educational methodologies. Reflecting on this I can see how my ever-developing teaching style has been forged from these experiences. Having grown up in Europe my educational institutions drew heavily from Piaget, Pestalozzi and Steiner. My American educational experience introduced me to new approaches and perspectives in educational instruction.  As part of that I’ve also endured the large format undergraduate lecture classes (where I was one among two hundred plus), however, many of my upper-division educators were amazing (UCSC) in how they challenged us to engage, question, think critically and examine the issues we face in our world.  They were builders of individual agency and through that helped empower students to reach new goals. Some of my teachers became mentors, and I ended up working on a research team for one of my professors. However, the experience that made the biggest impact on me was from a year that I had spent at a community college in an Anthropology class. Yes, I was (and still am) a huge Indiana Jones fan and that certainly had something to do with me taking this class initially. But to my surprise, this class uncovered some teaching style artifacts that would heavily influence me as an educator.  This educator’s passion and love of the art of teaching was palpable.  He brought the subject matter to life (no pun intended). This combined with interest in his students was truly inspiring. He was the type of teacher whose class you simply did not want to miss.  So, “we teach how we are taught…” and I continually try to strive to be like those teachers who have and continue to inspire me so that I can make a positive difference in the life of my students.

  1. We ignore the diversity we don’t see

I am an ESL educator so I have the good fortune to experience a tapestry of diversity and culture on a daily basis! I truly enjoy and appreciate the rich learning experience that such a class provides as students share cultural experiences from which I gain new insights. Having grown up in a small country, that speaks four national languages, certainly contributed to my understanding of the value of diversity and how it can strengthen us as a society.

However, I understand that it remains a difficult challenge and needs to be at the forefront of our conversations, not only in the online environment but in f2f classes as well. In addition to the race and gender discrepancies, Dr. Wood’s examination of invisible factors, i.e., environmental pressures (housing and food insecurities) schooling experiences, and structural racism bring to light the increased importance of educators that are guided with Empathy particularly as front line civil rights workers.  That being said, it is a challenge to truly put yourself into the shoes of another person’s experience if you have not experienced those things first hand yourself.

  1. Equity Minded Educators – the 5B’s

Well, based on the 5b’s outlined by Dr. Wood, I am glad to say that I feel that I’m well on my way to being an equity minded educator.  But I’m fully aware that it is an ever-changing landscape and requires continuing education on behalf of us, the teachers. Below are some of the elements mentioned that I try to incorporate into my teaching to be more equity minded:

Be Intrusive

I teach both credit and non-credit ESL classes. For the f2f non-credit classes I particularly emphasize how important it is to be in attendance to avoid falling back.  I have found that placing this emphasis early in class, combined with setting clear expectations and individual accountability have provided good attendance results.  For my hybrid classes I monitor discussions and assignment submissions and follow up with students who did not submit assignments as well as those who partially submitted the assignments.  However, I realize that that might not be enough for all students.

I like Dr. Wood’s example of the “early warning system” to get students back on track rather then having them fall further and further behind. I try to do this, but can certainly invest more energy beyond emails (digital feedback) to make sure that I catch those students who are showing early signs of struggle to ensure they have the necessary resources and support.

Be Relational / Be Community-Centric

As part of the “early warning system,” I really liked the idea of holding office hours using WhatsApp or FaceTime. I know that several of you have done this, so; perhaps it is time for me to explore this so that I can bridge the gap I’ve expressed in my previous posts about that “human” connection.  As for setting up f2f meetings with online classes, I’ve not actually done that as an educator, but as a former student I pursued my online teachers and requested f2f meetings. At the time it was quite challenging because they were not really that interested in the idea of meeting their online students f2f. But, when I did meet them, it changed the dynamic and future online interactions in a positive way.

As for personal feedback, yes, I’m a big believer in that. We’ve covered this topic in prior posts so I’ll keep it short. As do many of you, I feel accountable to students to provide feedback that is personalized to the individual. It goes a long way to building trust and a strong relationship. Because my feedback is mostly in digital form (and I type fast) I can get through it even though it is time intensive. I’ve considered pulling from an archive of prewritten generic feedback statements, but in the end always start writing directly to a student. I know, finding a balance here is important.

Be Relevant

Ok, this post is getting too long so I will summarize how I try to have relevance that students can relate to:

  • In all my presentation materials I incorporate ethically diverse images.
  • I often have students write on a figure of importance in their native community. Finally, they present on those individuals and in the process educate other class members about the value and contributions of their culture to society.
  • The last book I used in my class was Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street.
  • Because I enjoy gamification, I often incorporate options for assignments and assessments allowing students to pick and choose the manner in which they wish to demonstrate the skills learned.

Be Race Conscious

I feel that I “infuse” race consciousness into my classroom and the assignments that we do.  I looked into the CCEAL site as well as the programs that are offered through CORA and am interested in learning more about Racial Microagressions.  If anyone has taken this certificate program, or others, I would like to hear your opinion on the program or the content.

Thinking about Equity in the OW Courses
Thinking about Equity in the OW Courses avatar

Dr. J. Luke Wood’s lecture was really helpful in grounding the overall goals we strive for when it comes to teaching equity focuses classes: Be Intrusive, Relational Relevant, Community Centric, and Race Conscious.

 

Being Intrusive is something I strive for in my f2f classrooms, this is as simple as asking students, “Did everybody understand the homework assignment, anybody need me to rephrase or clarify the objective.” I also go over the syllabus schedule everyday before we transition into the day’s objective. I feel this further enforces students to visually see upcoming deadlines, plug in reminders into their phone, and ask questions.

 

I’m constantly creating micro-interventions when students work on low-stake assignments that aim toward building an essay or a larger project. I intentionally make myself sound like a broken record to welcome students to evaluate their confidence with the course.

 

Thinking about OW Course, I can see myself replicating this by monitoring their submissions, sending friendly email reminders to ‘submit’ assignments, to ask questions, to encourage students to communicate with their instructor when necessary.

 

I also thought about how to build safe spaces for our students via OW courses, and implementing discussion courses on the first or second week regarding microaggressions and helpful tips on how to maintain respect on discussion boards. Normally in a f2f, these are conversations I would have based when introducing the syllabus. But I love the idea of discussion boards where students lead the discussion on the topics and setting some kind of collaborative agreement on guidelines for maintaining respect among their peers via discussion board or private emails.

 

There’s so much more to think about, but it’s exciting to see so many awesome resources on how to execute the practice of equity via OW courses!

I Was Blindly Leading a Student who was Visually Impaired
I Was Blindly Leading a Student who was Visually Impaired avatar

Hi all,

I have to start by telling a story about one of the biggest challenges I have had teaching online thus far in my career. During my second year of teaching online coursework, I was notified that I had a student in my online class that was blind. I had a lot of support available to me to help this student such as getting him Microsoft Word Documents of all of our readings from our text-book and additional readings (his screen reader could only read from black and white MS Word Documents). I eventually solved a huge problem that was preventing him from joining our online discussion forums (I have pictures of modules for students to click on and while the picture was linked the text was not linked and so his screen reader could not pick up the link from the image. Screen readers need to read a text that is linked in order to pick it up and announce to the listener that there is indeed a link.) I e-mailed him MS Word files for the quizzes that were on our LMS Moodle.

Each week I had to carefully review all of my materials and make sure that he had access to everything in a format where he could listen to the lecture, have the reading in a Microsoft Word File, and access other student’s discussion forum responses in a timely manner in order to respond to them.

I e-mailed this student almost every day in the first 2 weeks of the course. An e-mail was one of the best sources of communication for us at that time since the student reported to me that he was having trouble with a phone line and Internet access at the time. I believe by week 5-6 the student dropped the course. I’d like to say that I did everything that I could have, but I’m sure I could have done more.

Long story short, that student got me thinking about how my online courses in English composition would need to get more simplistic looking in nature so that students are not navigating through modules with long lists of files, etc. I currently use texts from a variety of resources and books and the documents can really start to clutter each module. I have a very different looking online course in my teacher education program with Moodle, and each module has just four images to click on with tasks for each week. For my two sections of English 100 this semester, I definitely need to find a way to get rid of all the clutter. I do like how Curry has this course set up with just four pages on the left-hand side, and all of the materials needed for each with stored within the discussion post. What a great way to de-clutter any course in an LMS! Someone with a screen-reader would be able to navigate Curry’s course much more quickly than mine right now!

Weekly Tasks Getting Started Tasks

Ok, my response is getting long. I just want to talk about one more aspect from Wood’s presentation that I have been working on in my ENGL 100 courses this semester. Wood’s point about racially salient images was something that I have typically stayed away from. However, I have just recently noticed how many different racially and equitable images and materials I am utilizing in my coursework. To name a few, I use a short activity from Borcher’s Rhetorical Theory: An Introduction where students analyze part of Christopher Reeves speech at the 1996 Democratic National Convention. I have used this speech to help students get more comfortable with the task of analyzing the rhetorical situation in many different workshops and courses I have taught. But I was hesitant this semester to use it because I have one student who uses a wheelchair in my class. I wasn’t sure how this student would react to the short clip of the speech that we watched and the entire speech, which argued for more financial support for disabilities. Anyway, everything went over smoothly. It is always interesting to see who knows Christopher Reeves among my students, and who has ever listened to national convention speeches.

I also just recently brought in the Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick and demonstrated my own rhetorical analysis of the ad for students before they worked on a practice activity with their own ads they brought in. Curry, since we were talking about that advertisement during the Accelerated Learning Program Conference a few weeks ago you sparked my interest! Racially salient images are more important than ever to utilize in our classes.

I’ll end here with one final anecdote. I recently had a student who came to me and said something like, “I just don’t feel like I am smart enough to be here. I’m ______ (race), and I have so much fear and anxiety every time I open my mouth in class. I just get so nervous when I have to talk to other people in class.” This student of mine has been having tremendous attendance issues to say the least, but I have been accommodating him after our chat this semester about his anxiety. What is so devastating to me is that I had no idea that this student was feeling so much anxiety about his race in the classroom. I have a very diverse class. He is in my ENGL 100 ML (Multilingual) section this semester. I never would have expected one of my students to come to me and say something to me about their race making them feel inferior to other students. I am so glad that he did come to me, and I was able to help set up a plan with him so that he is feeling more comfortable in the class. This recent experience has taught me how important it is for me to address my whiteness among my students, and how to talk about inadequacies that students might be feeling in my classes so that they feel more comfortable reaching out for support to me or other resources on campus.

Equity, Accessibility, and Universal Design: So Much to Consider
Equity, Accessibility, and Universal Design: So Much to Consider avatar

A few years ago, I took J. Luke Wood’s course on Teaching Men of Color in the Community College. Many of the same suggestions made here for the online environment were discussed in that course, but more specifically in the context of how we address and welcome men of color in our classes and in the college community in general. I remember thinking that much of what he advised seemed so inherent to what I was already doing. In particular, one suggestion he made was so simple yet powerful: when you are walking around campus and encounter a man of color, look him in the eye and say hello. Of course my thinking is we should be doing this for every student as basically we are acknowledging the individual and reinforcing that s/he is important, valued, and belongs. As instructors at a community college, I believe that much of our work is assisting underrepresented students gain that sense of empowerment and belonging that may evade some in other walks of life. I suppose because I have focused my career on teaching composition to ESL students, and my classroom is home for underrepresented, often disenfranchised students, much of what he promotes is what I have dedicated my life to ensure happens in my classes.

So as not to have too lengthy of a posting, I will focus on responding to how I address some of these issues in my classes and how it will happen online. First, I was happy to read his take on working with ESL/multilingual students and how the focus should be on communication of ideas (content) over form. This paradigm shift happened in ESL pedagogy back in the 1960s-’70s when the audio-lingual approach was replaced with the communicative approach (and all the later iterations of pedagogical constructs that grew from here.) But this is an important message to share with all educators: a second language learner will always have some “language variation” to vocabulary, syntax, usage etc., that might not be to exacting standard American English, but that should not drive our response to students’ work whether in speech or writing. But the challenge becomes where is that line when these issues interfere with communication? How do we address issues of language proficiency that might still need some development in order to address the higher order concerns? This continues to be a challenge for all of us and it is likely to become even more prevalent as developmental and even ESL classes are no longer viewed as positive or necessary in the era of placing all students directly to transfer courses. But is it equitable to not hold any standard or basic expectation? This is what I have been struggling with to find a quality answer (and sorry, I still do not have one.)

I appreciate that Wood’s also clearly states that as equity-minded instructors we need to continually reflect on our role in and responsibility for student success. I do think we need to be “intrusive” (I wish there were a better word) with regularity in our work with students. The first day of class, I have students complete a basic survey (phone, email, college schedule, work etc.), but one of the most important questions I ask is: is there anything happening in your life situation you would like me to know about? This has been a very eye-opening experience, and sometimes I am surprised by how candid the students are to share some very intimate and personal details with me in the first week. I have learned that some students are temporarily homeless; others dealing with a court issue; some concerned about deportation; others sharing their sense of insecurity or depression. This information helps me understand the student and their larger life and the impacts these can have on their education. Then within the first couple weeks in the semester, I have a mandatory office visit. It is simply a fifteen-minute chat at my office where we see each other outside of the classroom. We can talk about these issues or any other the students might be experiencing. It also gives me an opportunity to offer some personalized feedback of something they have done in class. I think both the survey done electronically and the office hours converted to the online classroom with Skype or Zoom would work quite well.

Another important aspect to equity and accessibility in my classes is ensuring that all students are active, contributing members to our learning community. I don’t want any student to feel invisible and in fact have created multiple opportunities that require that each student’s voice is heard each class. For example, in my first class meeting, students are put into groups of four, and each group member is responsible for recording and then reporting out information discussed in response to one of four prompts. This is a low-stakes way for each student voice to be heard in the class by all. They will receive positive reinforcement for their efforts and this helps build their confidence. I can see this translating online quite naturally in other group work and/or by simply having students record a video doing things like introducing themselves, responding to a reading, or sharing a journal response. Then ensuring that I provide personalized feedback to the students not just publicly but also individually is very powerful. It takes me a few minutes after each class to compose a couple sentence email to individual students identifying something positive they did in class and thanking them for it. Students have regularly told me that this simple email was impactful and a great motivator for them to continue those efforts.

Yikes, this post is getting long, so I will move to my final issue of universal design in an online course. I have commented on this in the past but I think it is critical that we structure our courses so they are completely accessible to view and work through on a cell phone. Yes, this is an issue of accessibility for students who don’t have computers or easy access to them, but most of our students do have smart phones. Even for the students who do have laptops, I think the phone is becoming the device from which students conduct their lives, including school. So it is critically important to me as I design my online class that I pay attention to the details and learn the coding necessary to ensure as seamless transition from a computer or tablet screen to a phone screen. I know I have slowly moved more of my work away from the laptop and to my phone- my email, my calendar, my checking in on Canvas, my composing of ideas. . . I am not at the point of composing lengthy text like this on my phone, but as the cell phone screens get a little larger, it is a distinct possibility. I think for many of our students, the cell phone will act as their primary computer.

Be Intersectional
Kellen

To start, Dr. Woods outlined five pillars that must absolutely structure our course design and interactions with students. I feel pretty confident in floating the hypothesis that none of disagree that we need to be intrusive, relational, relevant, community centric, and race conscious. However, after watching the video and reading the “NCTE Principles for Online Writing Instruction,” I feel like a sixth pillar is needed: be intersectional. As feminists, queer theorists, and Black studies scholars have stated, “intersectionality” refers to the idea that we need to attend to the multiple, intersectioning dimensions of a person’s identity (i.e. gender, class, race, sexuality, religious identity, ethnicity, etc.). As this post unfolds, I’m gonna use just a few of Dr. Woods’s pillars to imagine strategies that push us to be intersectional—at least I hope.

Be Relevant:

When discussing course texts, Woods implores us to make them inclusive of students of color. Every syllabus needs to have Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous writers that are integrated throughout the course rather than segregated to specific sections. This is, of course, a substantive issue that we must to tackle in the early stages of conceiving our OWCourse. However, I think there are some important day-to-day ways that I will take to ensure that I remain culturally relevant.

  1. Proactively Countering Deficit Messages: As Woods suggests, we need to actively push against negative stereotypes that our students encounter. However, as we do this, I need to be sure to think about how these messages differ according to race, class, gender, sexuality, immigration status, age, ability, etc. As we select course texts and images, we must think about the broad range of student identities. Can our course be truly relevant if there are no texts by ciswomen? What if there are no texts by queer authors? What about writers from the working class? If we have gaps in our syllabus, how do we turn these into teachable moments?
  2. Proactively Developing Writing Methods: I think we need to develop assignments and strategies that encourage students to think critically about Standard American English (SAE) AND NON-Standard forms of American English. As we include pieces of writing from various backgrounds, we notice that the grammar, syntax, mechanics, organization, and evidence can change in small and large ways (Borderlands/La Frontera, for example). As we incorporate more perspectives, we need to develop strategies for making our modes of evaluation relevant and responsive while still preparing students to write SAE. What might assignments that critically analyze alternative grammatical forms look like? How might we develop alternative rubrics for various styles of English? What do those look like? How could we get students involved in that process to teach them about the variety and values of English comp?

 

Be Community Centric:

Woods suggests a few strategies for developing a sense of community in our online courses. These range from making introduction forums to sharing reflection essays/videos. Are there ways that we can make these practices self-reflexively intersectional? When thinking about potential answers to this, I recalled an idea proposed by a friend who studies digital media (and something that reminds me very much of Karla’s fantastic post from two weeks ago):

  1. Introductory Tumblrs (or Instagram) Mirror Assignments: To start the class, I will ask all my students to create and curate a Tumblr page that will give the entire class an idea of who they are. They will need to choose a theme. They will need to find and share images that they like or think are interesting. With these images, they will need to write captions that explain why they chose what they chose and create hash-tags to link them to other conversations. I’ll probably get into some pretty heavy restrictions too (ya know, be respectful/appropriate kinda stuff). But I hope this project can teach students about how we carefully and consciously craft digital personalities that respond to various parts of our identity, even when we might just think that we are sharing a meme. I hope this kind of assignment would be a low-stakes and playful way to introduce mirror assignments—assignments where students are asked to reflect critically on their own self.

 

Be Race Conscious:

Representation matters. Woods rightly implores us to embrace race discourse (Black minds matter) and to address microaggressions seriously and immediately. Additionally, we need to ensure that our stock images are racially sensitive and diverse. 100% agree. I think we need to go even farther though to be not only race conscious but gender conscious, sexuality conscious, class conscious and then think about how these different identities link up in an online format.

  1. Monitoring Microaggressions Online: How do we most monitor for microaggressions related to race and to gender? In my f2f course, I have been conscious of making sure that my women students and students of color get to speak in class, that they are not interrupted, and that their perspectives are heard. I challenge myself to ensure that I have gender parity in my course readings and am working to have better racial representation as well. While I’m pretty attentive to gender dynamics IRL, I have to wonder how these might manifest in online formats. Are these issues that are diminished or exacerbated by an online format? How do we ensure that students engage equally with posts by women? How do we ensure that our diction does not cross the line into hostility? How do we ensure that we don’t erase students who do not subscribe to the gender binary? How do we ensure that we don’t erase trans students without forcing them to out themselves?
  2. Analyze EVERYTHING: When selecting “stock” images for our course, I think we might consider how to turn every image into a teachable moment. I’ve been trying to put this into practice more and more in my class as students become increasingly comfortable calling out the gaps in cultural representation. This has been an expected problem this unit, which focuses on children’s toy advertisement (which are disproportionately feature white kids). Because of that, I’ve been working on developing ways of turning gaps into productive moments of teaching that I think lend themselves to online formats!
    1. Follow up example: In my comp class, we talk about race and Barbie (a lot). We discuss the traditional gendered, classed, and racial dimensions of Barbie and how they erase particular groups of people. In particular, we think about the exclusion or Black dolls. However, this semester, students also began pushing on the absence of Asian, Latina, and Native American dolls. In migrating this course, I feel like this assignment could lend itself to having students think about the intersection of race and gender. Students would find an example of a doll and discuss how its representations of femininity are influenced by race (or vice versa). Students will write up their responses and share them with the class to see the variability in answers (especially if they do Ken dolls). By doing assignments like this, I hope to teach students to identify gaps and absence and to think about what those gaps might signify.

 

 

Be Intersectional.

            I feel like I’m rambling so I’m gonna wind down. In the end, intersectionality, taking a kaleidoscopic inventory of a student, is an unacknowledged sixth pillar that must necessarily inform our approach to online course design.

Equity in a Virtual Space
Equity in a Virtual Space avatar

This week’s materials really spoke to concerns that continue to be important when considering the intersections (or lack thereof) between online learning and equity. In both postsecondary and K-12 education, it often seems that “technology” is used as a band-aid or cure all for issues that have deeper causes. As danah boyd suggests, “. . . just because people have access to the Internet does not mean that they have equal access to information. Information literacy is not simply about the structural means of access but also about the experience to know where to look, the skills to interpret what’s available, and the knowledge to put new pieces of information into context” (317).

One approach that I take to address this, especially as I work to integrate Canvas more and more into my f2f classes, is to “become [more] accepting of students as cocreators of content and knowledge” (Chen & Bryer 2012) in the hopes of building community and creating a classroom (both f2f and online) where I become “a learner along with students” (Chen & Bryer 2012). This also helps in addressing some of the concerns I have about Canvas- my first experiences with it led me to think it was very intuitive, but I’m finding opportunities to continue to return to my course pages during class to assure that my students know where to find important information such as prompts, and unit-specific information that I post under the modules tab. Sometimes it’s as simple as demonstrating the need to scroll down further on a page where I’ve posted an important question or reading.

Far too often, in my assumption that students are more familiar with the ins & outs of technology, I don’t account for how students access information online. Often students’ main access point is the smart phone. The Canvas app behaves much differently than the computer version. In my English 52 class, we have the luxury of using chromebooks and there is one for each student and when I teach in 4611 each student has a computer to use, so we can make use of these resources to troubleshoot any issues we might be having with Canvas literacy.

Having taken J. Luke Woods’s Teaching Men of Color certification program, it was really compelling to see how his methods can translate into teaching online courses.

Considering, the self-paced nature of online classes, his push to “be intrusive long before it’s too late” seems especially relevant. This is something I do in my f2f classes. I often feel that I start out strong with this practice, but as the semester progresses and the work mounts, it becomes more difficult to keep up with regular emails to students who may be in need of increased contact.

But I do think there is value in working in “mandatory interactions” – adding credit or points to office hours, finding more opportunities to learn about our students (especially in an online setting). Many of the suggestions seem to be in line with Warnock, -live office hours, personalized feedback and generally making students aware of our humanity.

Most useful are Woods’s suggestions for making online courses culturally relevant to counter the deficit mentality that is often assigned to students of color. I especially appreciated his mention of “mirror books” that are reflective of our students’ lives and experiences. However, in my focus on social justice issues in past semesters, I worry that I included too many texts where African Americans were portrayed in positions of disempowerment and desperation-Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy being a prime example. It’s a powerful book and, in my opinion, a very important one, but I think students were often put off by the harrowing nature of the vignettes about people of color on death row/ serving life sentences. So I’ve shifted to developing units on education, technology, success, and gender- I’ve found these to be much better for developing a climate of openness and accessibility.

Finally, one of the most eye-opening suggestions from Wood was to monitor our virtual discussions for microaggressions. Part of being race-conscious is being aware of students’, perhaps unintended, racially insensitive remarks. This is something I need to be aware of in the f2f classroom- and I think attention needs to be given to acknowledging and addressing microaggressions even when it’s uncomfortable for both teachers and students.Insensitive remarks about gender, disabilities, and mental health issues can’t be ignored- openness and directness are, as far as I can see, the best approach to addressing this. Opening up a class discussion (either in a discussion thread or in a class meeting), and one-on-one interactions with the student who makes the remark are two steps I plan to take in addressing microaggressions.

Many questions and much to ponder still.

Thanks!

Week 3: Inclusion
Week 3: Inclusion avatar

UDL:
While I am happy to note that I include most of the critical elements listed in my teaching, I know that I can improve in Element 3: Flexible Methods and Materials. Dr. Luke Wood’s statement: “We teach how we were taught,” rings true to me. I was taught by lecturers (including priests & nuns), and my way is not to lecture as they did, but to hold socratic discussions. One of my challenges is to hold onto the students who learn best by methods other than discussion. With technology, however, it’s getting better. For example, links to YouTube videos of poets and authors reading their works have enhanced the learning experiences of my students with visual impairments.

Our school’s tips for an accessible online class is exactly the detailed, concise resource for a budding online teacher with some anxiety about the transition. What from the list would I not employ? However, Moore’s suggestion to view the course as an ebook is the first thing I would adopt in a new online class, and I am glad that Canvas makes it easy for us to do so. For my f2f classes, I keep all of the information on the home page, where students can access the course calendar with links to assignments, handouts, images, and embedded videos, without having to go through layers of folders. Additionally, Moore’s list of online pedagogical strategies is valuable for f2f teaching, too.

Equity:

I appreciate Wood’s straightforward explanation of the “Five Bes.” To me, this was a checklist that showed me what I am doing right and what I could do better. I learned that while I do work at being all five things, I can go further in some. For instance, I should add mandatory interactions in f2f, but will absolutely employ this and the rest of the list for my future online classes.

Wood’s recommendations for being relevant got me thinking of the constitution of today’s community college classes. At least the classes I’ve taught.

In many classes, I have had students from backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented, and students from backgrounds that have been both well represented and relatively safe from social as well as institutional discrimination. Sometimes, the “safer” students feel underrepresented and even under attack. You would recognize this faction as they condemn “political correctness” (although they are often unable to define it when asked), affirmative action, feminist arguments, etc. Using Wood’s terms, one reading can be taken as a window looking in by some and as a window looking out by others. The challenge for me has been to make both kinds of students feel included, as well as the large, apparently indifferent, group in between.

One solution I have tried is to include works by ancient figures, such as Lao-Tzu, the Greeks, Machiavelli, etc. and to frame discussions and assignments to emphasize universal themes, generalizations, and their relevance in our time (and place). The response has generally been positive from all sides — except maybe those whose only response was that the text was boring. [By the way, I do understand that students’ reading and thinking paradigms change over the centuries, but sometimes my eyes still want to roll back far enough to see my pituitary. I’m only human.]

However, I still need to balance ancient and modern. When teaching introductory literature, LIT 120, I often use something by Toni Morrison as an example of contemporary American works. A novel such as The Bluest Eye gets a lot of attention from students because of its themes and issues of multicultural relevance. Still, there is the tendency by non-African-American students to otherize the characters, expressing sadness that “they” have so many problems in “their community,” and criticizing the main character for not standing up for herself. Of course, these reactions are always welcomed as teachable moments. My point is, in response to Dr. Wood, that even though it is possible, it is challenging to balance windows looking and those looking out. I would really love for you to share some ideas for texts, activities, assignments that promote a more unified class. Seriously, I would make cookies for you.

Here is another practice I am trying this semester and would like to migrate the practice online. Please tell me what you think:

For the first time, I did not start the semester with a set list of readings, but am selecting as I get to know my students better. They have to be titles that are both relevant to at least  some students and appropriate for the writing assignment. In an online class I would get to know them through conversations and informal writings in which they share their biographies, experiences, and aspirations. Once I know *who* is in the class, I can gather titles that not only provide windows, but possibly also mirrors.

I hope you will forgive my long and slightly ranty post. One thing had me thinking of another, and you know how that goes.

Equity and Accessibility Issues
Equity and Accessibility Issues avatar

I don’t currently teach online for Miracosta, so I will address the issues from the standpoint of what I currently do in my f2f ENG 100 course that I would try to implement online.

I find up-to-date articles and assign one or two every week which provide food for discussions and for short reflective personal essays. Some other of these weekly articles are used to exemplify rhetorical patterns such as argument and cause/effect and are used not only for their content but for analysis. To supplement the readings and spark discussion, I also include videos such as TED talks.

I have grouped examples below of some of the articles and how I use them.

Race Issues:

“Why are people still racist? What science says about America’s race problem” This article is used for background and a whole class discussion, and I could easily see this being used in an online discussion. It is also paired with the next article below which leads to the writing assignment.

“Unconscious Prejudice Worksheet” This is an anonymous online quiz that students need to complete before the writing assignment.  Many students have commented that they never realized their own prejudices before taking the quiz because the survey goes beyond race to looking at their feelings about many groups such as people with various abilities and body types.  This self-analysis writing assignment could easily be used online.

“Four Perspectives on Removing Confederate Monuments” This article is an example of an argument that is used in groups—each group has to take a perspective from the article and present an oral argument from that perspective to the rest of the class. This activity could be used the same way in an online group discussion.

Immigration Issues:

“Why Your Economic Argument against Immigration Is Probably Wrong” This article is  used in groups which need to provide an analysis of the argument using the model of analysis from our text, So What? The Writer’s Argument, and could be used the same way online. I have found it interesting to listen in on how the various groups see this particular argument.

“What happens during a deportation raid in the US? Activists and undocumented people describe the chaos and terror of predawn deportation raids taking place across the US” This article personalizes the topic and provides an example of pathos in a way that leads to much discussion and could also be used for an online discussion.

Beyond first day introductions and other cursory interactions, I now have one-on-one meetings with students that carry points for attendance. In this meeting I not only go over essays in a way not possible with mere written comments, but I also engage them in talking about their lives by noting issues they have raised in their writings. I know some students only do it for the points, but I feel it is important to engage them personally.

From a previous week in this course, I found Curry’s short film clip analyzing a student essay on video most helpful, and I would definitely use that approach for the longer essays in an online course.

I also found Dr. Wood’s address very valuable because it contained suggestions to implement in classes that benefit not only undeserved students but all students. His recommendation of virtual office hours seems to be a way to carry on my meetings with my f2f students into the online environment to provide the support he was advocating.

From the article “Examples of Effective Practices” the ideas of developing online courses with accessibility and inclusion in mind along with the suggestion to offer instructional materials in more than one medium seem important to plan for and  implement. Also I have found that considering that students may use mobile devices to access the course materials impacts both online and f2f class sites.

“Flexible and Diverse Approaches”: The Contingent Nature of Equity-Mindedness
“Flexible and Diverse Approaches”: The Contingent Nature of Equity-Mindedness avatar

Contingencies and Relevance

What strikes me most about the material for this week, both the video and the Conference for College Communication and Composition’s guidelines, is how much it talks about contingent and reflective teaching: much of the advice is incredibly context and situation dependent, modes of intervention that make sure that students don’t feel discouraged and, therefore, fall too far behind. This is always something I’m struggling with and attempting to improve. I ask myself frequently—when and how often should I email students missing class? Missing assignments? Having trouble paying attention or participating in class? Are these behaviors dependent on confusing course design and issues of access? It’s the contingencies that are the most difficult, but often most important. In an online classroom, many of these questions are emphasized by a course design that is in itself contingent and primarily asynchronous.

To address these contingencies, I find that two of the most important tools I employ are what Dr. Wood calls “being relational” and “being relevant.” Woods discusses being relational as providing a lot of contextualized and personalized feedback (and I want to emphasize personalized, since to me another aspect of relationality is the persona with which we engage with students). I do a lot of personalized, 98% encouraging feedback on Canvas discussion board posts and try to bring student posts into my lectures and into our discussions. I want to facilitate an idea of learning as conversational (and textual, thinking about online classes), demonstrating that really they aren’t just posting as busy work—they are starting conversations in an academic setting.

In terms of relevance, I frequently allow students to bring their own interests and expertise into the classroom and assign a wide range of materials inclusive of many communities (including people of color, LGBTQIA+ students, students with disabilities, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, etc.—and I add to being race conscious, “being sexuality conscious,” “being disability conscious,” “being gender conscious,” etc.). I am especially interested in the intersection of a students’ own interests and their tendency to want to find safety and insulation within those interests. I include a rhetoric of music unit in ENGL 202 meant to address the intersection of those two areas. Students tend to want to wade in safe waters when it comes to music, and getting them outside of their comfort zone often becomes contentious. Initial reactions are generally “I don’t like this music/know anything about it, so why bother?”, which prompts a number of important conversations about openness, empathy, and engaging with ideas outside of what we usually engage with. (I used my daughter as an example this semester, who loves consuming all music: Imagine Dragons, Cardi B, Bjork, she finds delight in it all).

The unit, then, is just as much about rhetoric as it is about facilitating academic conversations about popular culture and reveling in, and intervening in, how even music can prompt contentious feelings (and us versus them ideologies). These conversations arise organically f2f, but now I wonder how they would emerge within a purely online space: would it be possible to get students to have these conversations as directly on Canvas? Would I need some other platform to demonstrate the need to engage with interests outside of what we often find comfortable? Though, one practice a fully online space is making me think about is the possibility of having students explore music posted by their peers—I have the most trouble in the f2f class getting students to share musical interests.

Speaking of Canvas…

Equity and Canvas

A lot of what I read from the Conference for College Communication and Composition’s guidelines made me think of Canvas, especially from the perspective of student complaints about Canvas. Accessibility and equity are difficult goals when using Canvas–it doesn’t work the same way on phones and computers and has a much less intuitive organizational structure (I personally feel) than Blackboard. I never had very much confusion about Blackboard–Canvas still perplexes students when we are halfway through the semester. The many options Canvas gives us also seem to be a point of contention for students: I’ve heard many unable to understand why instructors don’t universally use Canvas in the same ways. I try to adapt Canvas as I go, but I am also increasingly aware of the need to decenter Canvas as a hub and to also try to integrate other platforms into the mix (Google docs often serves this function, though maybe in too fluid of a way). But, then, does this just make access more confusing?

Equity—For whom?

This is where I let myself dip into grayer areas.

The balance between the positives and negatives of Canvas also has me thinking about another aspect of equity that has been especially difficult as I try to remain aware and conscious of student lives and experiences while designing courses: sometimes the promotion of equity passes over some students. For instance, one way I try to promote equity is through the course materials I assign. I steer completely clear of textbooks, and mostly try to do zero textbook cost classes (my ENGL 202 is free of anything to buy; I usually assign one relatively cheap print book in ENGL 100). I feel at that level I am promoting equity when it comes to issues of access and socioeconomic barriers. On the other hand, this creates a complex situation that may not be benefiting students who are not digital natives or who otherwise struggle with reading digital materials as opposed to print. An online class, even more digitally textual, compounds this.

I appreciate, then, the Conference for College Communication and Composition’s call to employ “flexible and diverse approaches to the teaching of reading and writing to ensure pedagogical as well as physical access.” I agree with the spirit of what this says, but also (as I often am) find myself frustrated with the vagueness, or even the difficulty of thinking what this could mean when we are too tied to a particular platform (Canvas) or medium (essay-writing).

(This second difficulty, being tied to assessing writing, is also why I laud Dr. Wood’s suggestion that allowing “male students of color…[to] submit a power point, a poem, a written paper, or produce a video demonstrating their learning outcomes” gives them the “opportunity to choose how they best demonstrate what they understand and learn best, often empowering them to produce knowledge,” while also worrying that this choice (for most disciplines, including writing) is not realistic when it comes to the type of writing we might want to encourage as English instructors. This has always seemed to be a dilemma to me, since I’d love to unanchor my classes from “traditional writing” and maybe integrate hypertext novels or poetry, but then poetry is not what students are writing as they go into their transfer institutions and careers, usually)

In other words: moving a class to an online space, I agree, definitely compounds issues of equity and refocuses the need for equity and accessibility, which are important to think about in course design, thinking about materials, and how we interact with students. Achieving consciousness (of a wide spectrum of underrepresented students) may not, I fear, be as simple as slogans like “be relational” and “technological equality.” All of these are excellent, important goals to work towards—but they are also heavily contingent and must be sought contextually and constantly by an instructor willing to adapt, innovate, and de-innovate as necessary, especially when aware of the technological barriers of online spaces.