Monday, May 21, 2018

Five Ways to Promote a More Inclusive Classroom

by Kathleen F. Gabriel, EdD, Faculty Focus:

inclusive classroom

The graduation gap continues to exist between traditional and nontraditional students. Although the classroom experience has not been the focus of most institutions’ retention and persistence efforts, faculty can and do play a major role for improving the retention and success of all students. It’s a topic covered extensively in my new book, Creating the Path to Success in the Classroom: Teaching to Close the Graduation Gap for Minority, First-Generation, and Academically Unprepared Students, released earlier this month. While recognizing that there are no easy answers, I offer ideas that can be incorporated in, or modified to align with, faculty’s existing teaching methods. Following are a few excerpts from chapter two, where I suggest five steps for promoting an inclusive classroom:
  • Promote a Positive Classroom Climate: Whether our classes are in a physical or virtual space, a positive climate can have a powerful and constructive effect on students’ engagement and learning. We can start the process on the first day of class and provide a welcoming atmosphere for all students, no matter their ethnicities, social-economic backgrounds, or educational preparedness. In addition to having a “welcome message” in our syllabus, we can set the tone by making a habit of arriving to class at least 10 minutes before it is scheduled to begin to greet students (by name, if possible) as they enter the classroom. This technique also affords opportunities to chat briefly with small groups of students about school or other topics. The greeting can be as simple (and obvious) as “How was your weekend?” or “How are your classes going?” These informal conversations can lead to more in-depth conversations and personal relationships as the semester moves along. Having a personal connection with students can increase class participation and enthusiasm based on a greater mutual respect between professor and students.
  • Embrace Students’ Diversity: We must value and embrace diversity—not just diverse talents, but diversity in ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, language, socioeconomic backgrounds, and even academic readiness for college. Failing to do so can have a negative impact on students’ learning, on the development of their talents, and, in turn, on their retention and persistence. The topics of diversity and inclusion can and should be part of all college classes. As Heuberger, Gerber, and Anderson (1999) explain, “Given the political, economic, social, and educational interactions that are part of our global society, people must develop cultural competence in a world that is increasingly multicultural. That competence includes knowledge of how culture influences stereotypes, perceptions, and actions, along with the ability to communicate across cultures” (p. 107).
  • Increase Our Own Cultural Competence: One way that professors can increase their own cultural competence is to read both nonfiction and fiction material that addresses issues around multiculturalism, diversity, inclusion. Furthermore, part of increasing our own cultural competence also means that we need to engage in self-reflection about our own experiences with diversity and “unpack” any unconscious bias that we may have. “Most of us do not wish to be viewed as bigots or as individuals harboring prejudice, but we simply lack the confidence and expertise to deal with issues of diversity” (Watson et al., 2002, p. xi). Attending conferences or workshops that focus on diversity issues in the classroom and culturally responsive teaching practices can help us face our deficits and biases and increase our sensitivity and skills.
  • Encourage Student Interactions: The more academically and socially connected students feel to their college or university, the more likely they are to persist. Faculty can help support an institution’s student engagement efforts by providing opportunities for students to meet and connect with each other. This includes helping them learn each other’s names and stretching their comfort zones by having them move to different seats and sit with different small groups. The benefits are far reaching—from increasing attendance to building a positive rapport and respect among all those in class. Because most college students are accustomed to choosing where they want to sit, often staying in roughly the same location each class, it is important to share with them why they are being asked to sit in different places throughout the semester. The goal is that our students will have thoughtful interactions and conversations with people from different backgrounds and life experiences.
  • Foster a Community of Learners Within Our Classes: We can foster a community of learners in several ways. First, we can encourage students to collaborate and cooperate with their classmates. As our students start experiencing the benefits of being part of a classroom community, they are more likely to participate and will become more involved in learning the course content. Secondly, we can also confirm and support students by using academic validation practices to foster a community of learners because such practices can give students a sense of belonging, a vital component for improving retention and persistence rates. The concept of validation does not assume that students know how to make connections and get involved, or even know how to ask for help. Traditionally underserved students may also be afraid to talk to their professors, participate openly in class, or even ask questions in class for fear of looking incompetent. As professors, we can make purposeful attempts to actively use validation practices help our students build confidence in their own learning and their capacity to learn. Validation practices can also motivate students to respond to our expectations and the academic rigor of our courses.
Integration and involvement are key ingredients for increasing student retention and promoting success. The type of classroom climate we seek to create and the teaching techniques we use can produce an environment that either supports or impedes our diverse students. Studies continue to confirm the positive impact of open and inclusive classroom environments and the enhanced learning that comes with it. This has a direct effect on students’ sense of fulfillment and their persistence and retention.
Now through Dec. 31, 2018, Stylus Publishing is offering Faculty Focus readers a 20% discount on Creating the Path to Success in the Classroom: Teaching to Close the Graduation Gap for Minority, First-Generation, and Academically Unprepared Students. Visit the Stylus Publishing website and use discount code: FFCP20.
Kathleen Gabriel is an associate professor at California State University, Chico.

When is Enough Reading Enough for a Doctoral Thesis?

Photo: dermabg
Ian Brailsford is Postgraduate Learning Adviser in the Libraries and Learning Services at the University of Auckland. Here he shares insights from his recent research into thesis bibiliographies.  
By Ian Brailsford
If I had a dollar for every time in the last decade I’ve responded to a question in a doctoral writing workshop with a succinct ‘it depends’, I wouldn’t be able to retire. But I could go on a nice overseas vacation. My answer is commonly voiced when running sessions for new doctoral candidates embarking on the literature review when the question relates to how much reading is required. This is one of the core ‘how do I know when it’s enough?’ research dilemmas (recently identified by Dr Inger Mewburn) that experienced postgraduate learning advisers are familiar with.
When it comes to the ‘how much literature is required (or expected)’ question, I have teased out my ‘it depends’ answer with a few questions of my own, not just to the person asking the question, but to the entire group of workshop attendees: are you finding mostly journal articles, books or conference proceedings through your database searching; is your research topic in a fast-moving part of scholarly publishing (such as computer science and bioengineering) or slower paced, such as my former stamping ground of history; is most of the literature in your folders (electronic or paper) from this century or over a longer timespan stretching back into the last decades of the twentieth century (and possibly even earlier); how do you know something that appears in your search results list is actually relevant for your doctoral topic? And so on.
I fully acknowledge that the correct answer to many of these foundational research questions is a version of ‘it depends’. To give a definitive one-size-fits-all answer as to how much reading is expected or required for a doctorate would be far too reductionist and, taken literally, do more harm than good. However, in the last year or so I’ve increasingly come to the conclusion (possibly influenced by my history background) that the body of doctoral work in our university library repository can offer new candidates tangible parameters to work with. ‘It depends’ can be supplemented with ‘but if you are working in this research domain, it’s probable that “x” number of references might be enough’. This knowledge, combined with what we know about thesis examiners’ expectations of the literature review in relation to relevance and coverage, can assist doctoral candidates make sensible choices about how much to read.
To this end I’ve surveyed the reference list or bibliography from a random selection of twenty 2017 University of Auckland doctoral theses. Every item was coded (and then counted) using a simple classification system: academic journal article; book/monograph; chapter in an edited collection; conference proceeding; unpublished thesis/dissertation; and ‘other’ cited scholarly items. ‘Other’ included ‘grey’ literature such as technical reports, official demographic, health, and education statistics compiled by government agencies, non-governmental advocacy groups, university working papers etc. found in open access repositories.
Based on this sample a University of Auckland doctoral thesis – on average – had: 191 academic journal articles; 27 books/monograph, 17 book chapters; 4 conference proceedings; 4 theses/dissertations; and 20 ‘other’. So the non-existent ‘typical’ doctoral thesis has 263 items; the one with the fewest had 80 references and the most 538. In both instances this was ‘enough’ for the two independent thesis examiners.
The academic journal article was the most frequently cited item, approximately 72% of all references in the 20 doctoral theses. There were, not surprisingly, disciplinary differences. In one case (biological sciences) the thesis comprised 363 references of which all but four were journal articles (98.9%). In contrast, a thesis in mechanical engineering drew from 26 conference proceedings and 45 ‘other’ (technical reports), resulting in a lower percentage of journal articles overall (55 journal articles out of a total of 137 items, 40%). Theses in education, Asian studies, and dance studies were more reliant on books and book chapters than those in STEM fields. For example, the education thesis had 224 items in the reference list: 108 journal articles (48%), 52 books (23%) and 41 edited book chapters (18%). Conference proceedings were frequently cited in theses from mechanical engineering, computer science, and engineering science but infrequently elsewhere. In a similar vein four theses (education, education psychology, dance studies, and sociology) had extensive referencing from unpublished theses or dissertations but these were the exceptions to the rule. ‘Other’ was very much subject specific rather than field of study, but if there was a pattern, those in applied research areas tended to draw from ‘grey’ scholarly but not necessarily peer-reviewed sources more frequently. As an example, a thesis from economics had 48 (42%) items out of 114 references from ‘grey’ sources.
Based on this desk-top research I’m confident giving new doctoral candidates more nuance to the ‘it depends’ answer to how much reading is required. I will be telling workshop participants that aiming for between 200 to 300 references would be a prudent reading goal for a doctoral project with about two-thirds derived from journal articles. Once they have this nominal total in mind they can calibrate with more precision by following Cally Guerin’s advice of reading doctoral theses (in their own discipline) to write their thesis and also talking with their supervisors to ensure quantity of reading is balanced with quality.
When it comes to how much time they should be reading, I use a nominal 10% to 15% of their total study time. My ‘ball park’ figure derives from the fact that thesis examiners devote about one-tenth of their written reports to commenting upon the literature review (Holbrook et al., 2007). Moreover, Paul Thompson’s (2009) study of literature review chapters in applied PhD theses indicated that literature review chapters were approximately 15% to 20% of the whole thesis. This ‘rule of thumb’ reading time is about 1200 hours over the whole doctorate. As Dr Ricardo Morais, in his introduction to the ‘Idea Puzzle: design and defend your PhD’ software, points out, the first six months of the doctorate is the ‘best part, the bohemian phase’ where new candidates can immerse themselves into the literature. But this ‘divergent’ phase has to stop at some point. The bulk of this intensive reading time needs to take place in the first few months.
So as an adviser I will carry on with my recommendation of aiming to read for 20 hours per week in the first few months, potentially generating a working (and preferably annotated) bibliography of 100 to 150 items by the six-month mark. ‘It depends’ is fleshed out. However, it will still be qualified by the reminder that one of the most important doctorates of all time, John Nash’s 1950 Princeton PhD dissertation ‘Non-cooperative games’, which gave the world the ground-breaking ‘game theory’ (and subsequently a Nobel prize for its author), contained only two references, one of which was a paper written by John Nash. In this instance two items in the bibliography was enough.
I’m using this blog post to crowd-source the tenor of my advice to both doctoral candidates and advisors: (does it ring true, it is helpful, potential unintended consequences?) and to see if anyone else has calculated the number of references in the doctoral theses in their repositories. Is 200 to 300 items in the reference list or bibliography probably enough?
Holbrook, A., Bourke, S., Fairbairn, H., & Lovat, T. (2007). Examiner comment on the literature review in Ph. D. theses. Studies in Higher Education32(3), 337-356.
Thompson, P. (2009). Literature reviews in applied PhD theses: Evidence and problems. In Academic Evaluation (pp. 50-67). Palgrave Macmillan, London.