Faculty Share Perspectives and Ideas on Inclusive Learning and Designing for Student Success

In Fall 2022, as part of our new professional engagement pathway “Inclusive Learning: Designing for Student Success”, CLT hosted one of our first community circles of the academic year, where faculty explored challenges, limitations and opportunities around integrating “teaching strategies that support academic success and student wellbeing. The goals of this session were: 

  • To discuss the challenges and limitations encountered when attempting to support and promote students’ wellbeing. 
  • To craft simple and accessible strategies for supporting personal and academic student success through making small changes to the planning and design of the learning experience.

Participating faculty members started by discussing what might be considered a reasonable extent of involvement of faculty members in supporting student wellbeing and in turn their academic success, and what such a role might entail. Many of the faculty members who attended this session suggested that individual faculty members should not and cannot interfere with the specifics of the students’ psychological or life problems. Some of the reasons were the lack of expertise in supporting students effectively and the sense that instructors are not necessarily equipped or expected to listen to private details nor counsel students on their non-academic issues. In the discussion that ensued, most faculty agreed on  the need to adopt an inclusive approach, supporting the wellbeing of all students. According to the community circle participants, faculty roles could possibly include the following:

  • Observing patterns of behavior and performance and being proactive in identifying students who are struggling
  • Directing these students to seek professional help from the appropriate AUC resources including the Center for Student Wellbeing (CSW). Mentoring students and offering alternative/additional resources and support when deemed appropriate or helpful. 

During the discussion, participants highlighted enablers that may promote wellbeing; these fall into three main categories: 

  • Approach to course and assessment design
  • Choice of teaching strategies
  • Establishment of teacher-student rapport early on and throughout the course. 

Approach to Course and Assessment Design  

The relevant design factors were ensuring good course organization and the clarity and comprehensiveness of the course syllabus including the instructor’s expectations, requirements and sharing detailed grading rubrics for performance, assessments and deliverables. This reduces uncertainty and can reduce student anxiety.

Another major point was the intentionality of assessment planning for a more balanced workload which can be achieved through:

  • Reviewing the course syllabus and learning outcomes to critically assess “must haves” and avoid trying to achieve too much in one course.
  • Reviewing course assessments against the learning outcomes to avoid assigning excessive or repetitive work. After the first review step, another possible measure is to merge a few course assessments into a longer cumulative term project that integrates the targeted learning outcomes of these assessments divided over stages. Students start the project early on in the term and add parts to it as the semester and their learning progress. Each assessment would be a milestone of the larger project that students receive feedback on and build upon in the following phases and corresponding deliverables. This could help remove some repetitive tasks that students may have traditionally had to do within each new assignment, and perhaps engage them more in-depth with the project theme or concepts. Moreover, this break-down of tasks with periodic guidance and check-point feedback could alleviate students’ feelings of frustration or inadequacy when working on larger challenging projects that they may not have felt fully prepared for.
  • Distributing  assessment milestones over a reasonable time span to avoid unnecessarily adding to learner stress. This would avoid allowing too little time between major assessments or cramming all important deliverables during the last few weeks of the term. Also, sharing the course assessment plan well ahead of time can help students with time management. 

While not reducing the course workload, rigor or compromising the learning outcomes, this intentional and mindful approach to assessment design avoids inadvertently adding to student stress levels. 

A few participants also spoke of the importance of balancing learning with engagement and clarified that having a dynamic and interactive course that integrates aspects that are engaging to students and/or relevant to their real-life experiences will build a “positive social emotional learning experience”.  To this end, several ideas were explored including:

  • Activities and selected course material should be curated to motivate interaction with peers, the content and the instructor.
  • Assessment rubrics may be modified to reward creativity and insightful interaction with the content.
  • Elements of student agency and choice can be introduced by offering alternatives whenever possible.

Teaching Strategies

To promote learner wellbeing, workshop participants suggested using diverse instructional tools and means to content delivery and assessment, to avoid “monotonous” courses and to accommodate different student strengths and learning preferences and enhance accessibility and inclusion. 

One suggestion was to utilize audio-visual aids to convey new information and use multiple types of assessment tools throughout the course including reports, presentations, quizzes, or introducing various non-traditional or creative assignments. Each assessment method targets a different skillset, thus avoiding evaluating student performance on a single assessment type that may showcase some students’ abilities but not others’. 

Other strategies to support learner wellbeing, engagement and academic success include allowing space for students to share personal experiences and facilitating opportunities to relate course concepts to real life situations and applications. The provision of regular and timely qualitative feedback on student work – with clear suggestions on how they may improve – is also an important strategy. Other participants suggested integrating more group activities (for peer support), games and competitions. 

Instructor-Student Rapport

Participants highlighted measures to establish rapport and connection from the get-go and throughout the course; namely being flexible when possible and being reasonably responsive to student feedback, needs and requests without compromising on course rigor. When students consider the instructor approachable, they become more likely to reach out for guidance and advice when needed.

Participants underlined the importance of acknowledging students’ self-reported issues or difficulties. One way to encourage this is by creating opportunities to collect student feedback on their learning experience and what problems they may be facing and responding in a supportive manner by making possible changes if needed.

If you would like support on redesigning your course and/or assessments, or reimagining your teaching strategies to enhance student wellbeing, please sign up for a CLT consultation here. If you would like support on getting feedback from your students in the middle of the semester, please request a mid-semester assessment when it is announced in the second month of each semester (here is the form for Fall 2023 and more information is available here).

If you have ideas on how to support an inclusive learning environment in your classroom, and/or how to support student success and wellbeing please let us know in the comments.

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