Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Tips to Create an Inclusive Classroom

The 2020 census made it official: America is an increasingly diverse country. And while that finding confirmed what many college instructors had been seeing in their classrooms for years, addressing the needs of such a diverse student body can be overwhelming.

Enter inclusivity in higher education, a movement that strives to improve pedagogy to meet all students’ needs, especially those in marginalized groups. This ongoing process seeks to transform learning systems, and campuses across the country are tackling the situation.

A recent pedagogy workshop at Johns Hopkins University addressed how to accommodate the needs of disparate learners. Instructors explored best practices for creating inclusive classrooms. Led by Dr. Karen Fleming, a nationally recognized expert who works to overcome biases against women in STEM, workshop attendees first examined their own biases by completing a series of surveys designed to illuminate unconscious biases. [The tests are available to anyone and results are confidential.]

Many instructors were shocked after the surveys revealed their own unintentional prejudices, but they learned that accepting this reality was the first step to overcome them. Then the group brainstormed strategies to make their classrooms more inclusive. Some of their results are shown below.

  • Establish classroom protocols for discussions and group activities, whether teaching online or in person. Revisit these procedures during the semester to both remind students and to adjust the rules.
  • Encourage students to speak up when they sense that a mistake was made, even an unintentional one, so the entire class can learn from the error.
  • Invite guest speakers from a broad mix of cultures, backgrounds, and identities.
  • Include a mix of course materials and content using video, images, research papers, and graphs.
  • Incorporate frequent classroom activities that consider differences in learning acquisition.
  • Follow accessibility guidelines such as including closed captioning or transcripts.
  • Provide opportunities for students to respond anonymously so they can express themselves without fear of judgment.
  • Conduct small group activities so students can learn about one another. [Refer to our post on best practices for group activities online, which are easily adapted to the live classroom.] Urge students to form study groups with their classmates.

College instructors possess a unique opportunity to model as well as encourage inclusive behavior that will benefit students long after they leave the academy.

Strategies for an Inclusive Classroom. (2021, July 28). The Innovative Instructor Blog. Retrieved from https://ii.library.jhu.edu

How to Form Groups in the Business Communication Classroom  

The value of group work in the college classroom is well established, with decades of research demonstrating its benefits for attainment of cognitive skills as well as deep learning. In business communication courses, group work is even more essential because it emulates the way in which organizations expect their workers to complete projects.

Nevertheless, assigning students into groups can present a dilemma. Should students pick their own partners? Should groups remain the same throughout the term? Although no one method works for all situations, research points to four ways to create groups, each with advantages and disadvantages.

Randomly generated groups  In this method, the instructor decides the number of groups and students count off to form the groups, which sit together in various areas of the classroom. (If teaching remotely, use Zoom’s breakout room function and choose Assign automatically.)

Advantages

  • Introduces students to unknown classmates, thus encouraging viewpoints from multiple perspectives and improving students’ social skills
  • Aligns with “real life” assignment of roles in workplace team projects

Disadvantages

  • May create unequal distribution of student abilities
  • Possibly cause poor group cohesion in long-term projects since some students may feel that random distribution is unfair

Self-selected groups  Best for brief, in-class activities, this method works well when the instructor wants to avoid taking time to divide the class up. Students often just turn to their neighbor and pair up.

Advantages

  • Eliminates instructor involvement
  • Allows students to partner with prior acquaintances or study group members

Disadvantages

  • May result in lack of group diversity
  • Could cause inequitable distribution of student abilities
  • Potentially lead to groupthink as a result of members’ need to cohere to the group

Instructor-generated groups  Instructors gather data about students’ skills and interests prior to assigning groups and use that data when creating groups.

Advantages

  • Nets positive outcomes for team projects as a result of diverse groups with complementary skills in most situations

Disadvantages

  • Consumes more time for instructor
  • May lead to resistance and resentment due to the seemingly arbitrary nature of the teams

Mixed method groups  Students chose their groups but must work with new individuals each time group assignments are given.

Advantages

  • Works well for classes with under 30 members and for repeated activities performed in pairs or threes (i.e. low-stake grammar exercises, post-lecture activities, discussions)
  • Improves teamwork skills critical to the workplace by requiring students to work with all group members
  • Provides opportunity for instructor to discuss inclusiveness to assure that perceived less desirable team members feel welcome

Disadvantages

  • Risks alienating students with less developed social skills
  • Requires instructor to keep track of partners for each assignment
  • Allows students to pair up with known classmate without instructor’s knowledge during the classwork

The business communication classroom provides ample opportunities for students to practice the kinds of real-world workplace situations they will experience. Teams that work well—and even those that do not—provide business communication instructors with teachable moments that relate to situations students will face after graduation.

Understanding Post-COVID Learners

Over the past 18 months, we’ve been flooded with information about our students’ anxiety, their shaky or lacking Internet connections, and everyone’s Zoom fatigue. But what do we really know about the post-pandemic learner? One thing we can assume is that the pandemic learning experience will most certainly shape the way students view their educations moving forward.

To gauge students’ thoughts about their educational futures, The Chronicle of Higher Education performed a survey of 400 high school students and 400 college students to discover how institutions and instructors should reach and teach post-pandemic students. The findings contradict many previously held assumptions about remote learning.

Overall, the results show that students’ beliefs about virtual learning have changed over the course of the pandemic. Both graduating high schoolers and current college students say they now expect their future education to include some degree of remote learning. When given the choices of online, face-to-face, or hybrid learning models, in-person classes remain the preferred method of learning. However, even students who would rather take face-to-face classes say colleges and instructors deliver “quality online education.” In fact, nearly 70 percent of the respondents consider online learning a positive or somewhat positive experience, and almost two-thirds said they would take online courses after the pandemic.

Perhaps most interesting were data that showed that more than one-fourth of both high school and college students say they prefer online learning over face-to-face—this despite the fact that online learning still claims last place of the three choices of how to learn. In fact, over half of students surveyed would still attend college in the fall even if all classes were online.

Another interesting finding concerned what students expect from a college education. The survey found that students consider college critical to becoming competent using technology they will need for future jobs. What’s more, they believe institutions are the key to learning those skills.

Not surprising to many instructors, the survey also discovered that students are not as adept at using technology as colleges have believed. What’s more, post-pandemic students expect colleges to teach them the skills in which they feel deficient, including giving effective presentations, learning to use a computer for work, dealing with computer technology issues, and using Excel proficiently.

A prime takeaway from this timely survey is that although students may think that colleges are doing a passable job with remote learning, many experts disagree that this has been the case. But because students increasingly require flexibility in their educations and schedules, colleges and instructors must continue to upgrade online programs, the researchers conclude.