For Tracie Addy, inclusive teaching is essential. Historically, inclusive teaching hasn’t always been at the forefront of conversations around what good teaching entails. Addy’s research focus is to advance the conversation so that inclusive teaching is better understood, effectively implemented, and grounded in evidence.
“Inclusive teaching is excellent teaching. It shouldn’t be something that’s just tacked on,” says Addy, a featured expert in ACUE’s modules for designing student-centered courses. In this interview, she discusses her research, which has been published in a new book called What Inclusive Instructors Do.
Tell us about your research and book, What Inclusive Instructors Do.
What Inclusive Instructors Do is essentially a guidebook for instructors across disciplines and institution types to learn how to be more equitable and inclusive in their teaching. It’s grounded in the literature around belonging and equity. And it features the voices of instructors who have implemented inclusive teaching approaches.
The first part focuses on the significance of inclusive teaching. Why do we do it? The next part focuses on specific inclusive teaching practices. And the third part presents the Who’s in Class? Form, which is a tool to help instructors increase their awareness of the diverse assets that their students bring to the classroom.
Why is inclusive teaching something worth focusing on?
Historically, inclusive teaching and equitable learning have been afterthoughts in conversations about what good teaching entails. This is especially the case in higher education. We want to move inclusion and equity to the forefront with a message that inclusive teaching is excellent teaching. It shouldn’t be something that’s just tacked on.
We initially sought to study the predictors for and barriers to the implementation of effective inclusive teaching approaches. More broadly, we want a comprehensive understanding of what instructors think about inclusive teaching practices that are grounded in research.
You recently published a research article on “what really matters” for the implementation of equitable and inclusive teaching approaches. What are some key highlights?
One interesting thing centered around faculty knowledge as a predictor of inclusive teaching. When faculty completed our survey, those who reported having more knowledge of inclusive teaching practices were more likely to say that they implemented the practices in their teaching. These findings support the idea that the implementation of inclusive teaching approaches begins with faculty developing a knowledge base of different practices that are equitable and can foster students’ sense of belonging.
We also asked faculty about the barriers that existed in advancing inclusive teaching at their institutions. On a personal level, one common barrier was a fear of offending students. Other responses were a lack of awareness of the diverse identities and attitudes that their students bring to class. In some cases, we saw responses where faculty just didn’t want to change their practices.
How can institutions address these barriers?
Well, at the institutional level, one barrier that emerged from the responses was the number of resources being devoted to inclusive teaching. Many felt there was simply a need for more discussions and a commitment to it at the institutional level. That included anything from expanding professional development opportunities to creating incentives that are supported by the administration to actually change instructional practices.
The most effective educational development opportunities are sustained and ongoing. They allow instructors to be part of a community of practice where they are engaged in a process of implementing various instructional practices in their classes. So faculty learning communities that explore one particular topic at a time such as inclusive teaching, engage with it consistently in different ways, discuss and brainstorm strategies, and then actually apply them in the classroom. In-person or online, I think this community aspect to intentionally encourage interaction, is really meaningful.
Why is partnering with students an important piece of teaching and learning?
One issue I’ve had with some of the work that we do is that we don’t necessarily try to hear everybody’s voice. We’re designing courses and instruction, but we don’t always get feedback from the recipients of that work. Collecting feedback from students is important. When we talk about things like inclusion and giving students more of a voice, how are we actually providing opportunities for students to share their perspectives in ways that will help us improve our teaching? So, at my institution, we run an Inclusive Instructors Academy, a semester-long program where faculty set inclusive teaching goals and work directly with students.
It’s been successful because it’s a space where faculty feel like they can get actual perspectives from students that they can use to make their teaching more inclusive. For students, it’s an opportunity to be a partner in their college’s process for improving teaching and learning.
So if we’re going to enact a strategy that we think is inclusive, we should ask our students if it really is. They’re the ones we’re doing this for, so they’re going to be the people to provide feedback.
Addy is Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning at Lafayette College. Dr. Addy directs the Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship and serves in other leadership capacities.