ACUE Reflection: Faculty Teaching Strategies to Promote a Sense of Belonging Online

ACUE Certified Faculty April Crenshaw is the author of this article.

Author April Crenshaw became ACUE Certified in 2021.

Like a lot of colleges and universities since the pandemic, my institution, Chattanooga State Community College, has adapted to allow for virtual office hours as an alternative to traditional in-person office hours. Virtual office hours have been an important first step for removing some barriers, but I still face a common issue: Students rarely come to me for help. 

As a participant in ACUE’s Course in Effective Teaching Practices, I wanted to change that.

As I have learned from my colleague, Dr. Ervin J. China, an impactful way to increase student success is to increase the number of students who seek help when they encounter challenges or have questions. Dr. China’s research focuses on academic help-seeking behaviors and recently explored the issue in a study of African American students in community colleges. He found that “students who perceived their instructor to be concerned exhibited less avoidance of help seeking.” 

If I implemented ACUE-recommended strategies that communicate I care about my students and their success, would more of them engage in my virtual office hours? 

In this piece, I share four practical teaching strategies for faculty I implemented en route to becoming ACUE Certified. Underlying each of these strategies is the importance of creating a sense of belonging and connectedness. These basic human needs are often viewed as things to be addressed outside of the classroom, but as educators there is much we can do instructionally as well. 

Ensure Your Syllabus Sets the Tone for Diversity and Inclusion

In the module on Embracing Diversity in Your Classroom, I learned about how to create an equity-minded syllabus based on the Center for Urban Education’s Syllabus Review Guide. Unlike the traditional syllabus which primarily focuses on rules and objectives, an equity-minded syllabus helps students navigate the course and learn how to seek help when challenges arise. My new syllabus uses personal and inclusive language, and provides information for both academic and non-academic support such as counseling, food pantry, and emergency relief. 

Create an Introduction Discussion Forum

In the module on Leading a Productive First Day, I learned about the importance of building a community of learners for a critical part of planning for the start of my course. One of the ways I did this was to welcome students by creating a discussion forum where we could introduce ourselves and students could connect with one another. They could do this either through a written post or a video.

Curate a Course Curriculum that Reflects a Diverse Society

In the Embracing Diversity module, I also learned about how to create a learning environment that is representative of diverse student perspectives. For me, that meant refining my instructional presentations to showcase the unique perspectives and experiences of a wide range of people, from military veterans to members of the LBGTQ community, as well as students of different races, ethnicities and those with visible disabilities and impairments. To begin each presentation, I have been intentional about selecting motivational quotes from a wide range of voices, including humanitarians, scholars, civil rights leaders, poets, hip-hop artists, pop-culture icons, and sports figures. 

Offer Specific and Timely Feedback

In the module on Helping Students Persist in Their Studies, I learned strategies for providing targeted feedback. This semester, I incorporated a weekly “check-in” requirement. On Sundays, students would submit a check-in form where they shared their progress for the week along with any questions or issues. On Mondays, I read those check-ins and responded appropriately. Most students asked about homework, while others asked me to review a specific quiz problem for which they wanted partial credit. Some identified a concept they had trouble understanding. 

Results: More Students in Virtual Office Hours, Improved Success Rates

This last strategy in particular helped me provide tailored support in response to individual needs. Being able to reply directly in a follow-up email, I provide my Calendly link and invite them to schedule a one-on-one appointment for assistance. 

The use of these strategies, along with others such as creating a welcome email and offering regular messages of encouragement, communicated to students that I cared about them, that each one belonged in my class, and that I could be a source of support. As a result, I had more students meet during office hours than any previous semester and also improvement in overall success rates. 

April Crenshaw is a full-time Associate Professor of Mathematics at Chattanooga State Community College. She became ACUE Certified in Fall 2021.

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