Strategies for an Inclusive Classroom

This summer, the Center for Educational Resources offered a multi-day Best Practices in University Teaching workshop for JHU faculty to learn about evidence-based teaching practices. Participants explored topics such as best practices in course design, active learning strategies, and various assessment techniques. One of the many sessions that generated a great deal of discussion was the Inclusive Pedagogy session, which addressed the importance of accommodating the needs of diverse learners in a supportive environment.  The session was led by Dr. Karen Fleming, a professor in the Biophysics department who is also nationally recognized for her efforts in raising awareness on overcoming biases and barriers to women in STEM.  I played a small role in the presentation by providing a brief introduction and overview of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a research-based educational framework that helps remove unnecessary barriers from the learning process.

During the session, participants were encouraged to examine their own biases by reflecting on an unconscious bias test they took just before the session. Many were clearly dismayed by their own results; Fleming reassured them that we all have biases and that accepting this fact is the first step in addressing them.  She then shared a real-world example of unconscious bias toward women in STEM that is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The shocking results of this study, which show that even women faculty in STEM display a preferential bias toward males over females, resulted in an engaging discussion. The dialogue continued as participants then debriefed about a video they watched, also before the session, which featured a teaching assistant (TA) stereotyping various students as he welcomed them to class.  The video was intentionally exaggerated at times, and participants were eager to point out the “over the top” behavior exhibited by the TA. Participants were inspired to share personal experiences of bias, prejudice, and stereotyping that they’ve encountered in the classroom either as students or instructors.

Toward the end of the session, the focus shifted to thinking about strategies that would mitigate instances of biased behavior and instead encourage a more inclusive classroom environment. hands reaching toward each otherAs a culminating exercise, we asked participants to consider the principles of UDL as well as ideas and discussions from earlier in the session to complete an “Inclusive Strategies Worksheet;” the worksheet would contain concrete strategies that would make a measurable difference in terms of inclusivity in their classrooms. The participants were very thoughtful in their responses and several of their ideas are worth sharing:

  • Administer a pre- or early-semester survey to get to know the students and build community.
  • Include a “campus climate” section in the syllabus with language expressing a commitment to respecting diverse opinions and being inclusive.
  • On the first day of class, have students create a “Community Agreement” to establish ground rules for class discussions, online discussions, and group activities. This can be revisited throughout the semester to adjust what is working/not working.
  • Acknowledge that there may be uncomfortable moments as we face mistakes and hold each other and ourselves accountable. Encourage students to “call in” when mistakes (intentional or not) occur, rather than “call out” or “cancel” so that we may learn from each other.
  • Work collaboratively with students to develop rubrics for assignments.
  • Include authors and guest speakers with varied cultures, backgrounds, and identities. Include images, readings, examples, and other course materials that are diversified. If opportunities are limited, have students do a reflective exercise on who/what is missing from the research.
  • Share content with students in multiple ways: research papers, videos, images, graphs, blog entries, etc.
  • Increase the number of active learning activities to enrich the learning experience.
  • Offer options to students: vary the types of assignments given and allow for a choice of ways to demonstrate knowledge among students when possible.
  • Follow accessibility guidelines: ensure video/audio recordings have closed captioning and/or a transcript, for example.
  • Create opportunities for students to discuss their lived experiences in the classroom and/or on assignments.
  • Provide opportunities for students to participate anonymously without fear of judgement (i.e. using iClickers or Jamboard).
  • Conduct activities that engage students in small groups so they get to know one another. Encourage students to use these connections to identify study partners. Consider switching groups throughout the semester so students meet additional partners.

Do you have additional strategies to share? Please feel free to add them in the comments.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Best Practices in University Teaching Logo, Pixabay

Expanding Students’ Research Skills with a Virtual Museum Exhibit

Morgan Shahan received her PhD in History from Johns Hopkins University in 2020. While at Hopkins, she received Dean’s Teaching and Prize Fellowships. In 2019, her department recognized her work with the inaugural Toby Ditz Prize for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching. Allon Brann from the Center for Educational Resources spoke to Morgan about an interesting project she designed for her fall 2019 course,“Caged America: Policing, Confinement, and Criminality in the ‘Land of the Free.’”

I’d like to start by asking you to give us a brief description of the final project.  What did your students do?

Students created virtual museum exhibits on topics of their choice related to the themes of our course, including the rise of mass incarceration, the repeated failure of corrections reform, changing conceptions of criminality, and the militarization of policing. Each exhibit included a written introduction and interpretive labels for 7-10 artifacts, which students assembled using the image annotation program Reveal.  On the last day of class, students presented these projects to their classmates. Examples of projects included: “Birthed Behind Bars: Policing Pregnancy and Motherhood in the 19th and 20th Centuries,” “Baseball in American Prisons,” and “Intentional Designs: The Evolution of Prison Architecture in America in the 19th and 20th Centuries.”

Can you describe how you used scaffolding to help students prepare for the final project?

I think you need to scaffold any semester-long project. My students completed several component tasks before turning in their final digital exhibits. Several weeks into the semester, they submitted a short statement outlining the “big idea” behind their exhibitions. The “big idea statement,” a concept I borrowed from museum consultant Beverly Serrell, explained the theme, story, or argument that defined the exhibition’s tone and dictated its content. I asked students to think of the “big idea statement” as the thesis for their exhibition.

Students then used the big idea to guide them as they chose one artifact and drafted a 200-word label for it. I looked for artifact labels that were clearly connected to the student’s big idea statement, included the context visitors would need to know to understand the artifact, and presented the student’s original interpretation of the artifact. The brevity of the assignment gave me time to provide each student with extensive written comments. In these comments and in conversations during office hours, I helped students narrow their topics, posed questions to help guide analysis and interpretation of artifacts, and suggested additional revisions focused on writing mechanics and tone.

Later in the semester, students expanded their big idea statements into rough drafts of the introductions for their digital exhibit. I asked that each introduction orient viewers to the exhibition, outline necessary historical context, and set the tone for the online visit. I also set aside part of a class period for a peer review exercise involving these drafts. I hoped that their classmates’ comments, along with my own, would help students revise their introductions before they submitted their final exhibit.

If I assigned this project again, I would probably ask students to turn in another label for a second artifact. This additional assignment would allow me to give each student more individualized feedback and would help to further clarify my grading criteria before the final project due date.

When you first taught this course a few years ago, you assigned students a more traditional task—a research paper. Can you explain why you decided to change the final assignment this time around?

I wanted to try a more flexible and creative assignment that would push students to develop research and analytical skills in a different format. The exhibit project allows students to showcase their own interpretation of a theme, put together a compelling historical narrative, and advance an argument. The project remains analytically rigorous, pushing students to think about how history is constructed. Each exhibit makes a claim—there is reasoning behind each choice the student makes when building the exhibit and each question he or she asks of the artifacts included. The format encourages students to focus on their visual analysis skills, which tend to get sidelined in favor of textual interpretation in most of the student research papers I have read. Additionally, the exhibit assignment asks students to write for a broader audience, emphasizing clarity and brevity in their written work.

What challenges did you encounter while designing this assignment from scratch?  

In the past I have faced certain risks whenever I have designed a new assignment. First, I have found it difficult to strike a balance between clearly stating expectations for student work while also leaving room for students to be creative. Finding that balance was even harder with a non-traditional assignment. I knew that many of my students would not have encountered an exhibit project before my course, so I needed to clarify the utility of the project and my expectations for their submissions.

Second, I never expected to go down such a long research rabbit hole when creating the assignment directions. I naively assumed that it would be fairly simple to put together an assignment sheet outlining the requirements for the virtual museum project.  I quickly learned, however, that it was difficult to describe exactly what I expected from students without diving into museum studies literature and scholarship on teaching and learning.

I also needed to find a digital platform for student projects. Did I want student projects to be accessible to the public? How much time was I willing to invest in teaching students how to navigate a program or platform? After discussing my options with Reid Sczerba in the Center for Educational Resources (CER), I eventually settled on Reveal, a Hopkins-exclusive image-annotation program. The program would keep student projects private, foreground written work, and allow for creative organization of artifacts within the digital exhibits. Additionally, I needed to determine the criteria for the written component of the assignment. I gave myself a crash course in museum writing, scouring teaching blogs, museum websites, journals on exhibition theory and practice, and books on curation for the right language for the assignment sheet. I spoke with Chesney Medical Archives Curator Natalie Elder about exhibit design and conceptualization. My research helped me understand the kind of writing I was looking for, identify models for students, and ultimately create my own exhibit to share with them.

Given all the work that this design process entailed, do you have any advice for other teachers who are thinking about trying something similar?

This experience pushed me to think about structuring assignments beyond the research paper for future courses. Instructors need to make sure that students understand the requirements for the project, develop clear standards for grading, and prepare themselves mentally for the possibility that the assignment could crash and burn. Personally, I like taking risks when I teach—coming up with new activities for each class session and adjusting in the moment should these activities fall flat—but developing a semester-long project from scratch was a big gamble.

How would you describe the students’ responses to the project? How did they react to the requirements and how do you think the final projects turned out?

I think that many students ended up enjoying the project, but responses varied at first. Students expressed frustration with the technology, saying they were not computer-savvy and were worried about having to learn a new program. I tried to reassure these students by outing myself as a millennial, promising half-jokingly that if I could learn to use it, they would find it a cinch. Unfortunately, I noticed that many students found the technology somewhat confusing despite the tutorial I delivered in class. After reading through student evaluations, I also realized that I should have weighted the final digital exhibit and presentation less heavily and included additional scaffolded assignments to minimize the end-of-semester crunch.

Despite these challenges, I was really impressed with the outcome. While clicking through the online exhibits, I could often imagine the artifacts and text set up in a physical museum space. Many students composed engaging label text, keeping their writing accessible to their imaginary museum visitors while still delivering a sophisticated interpretation of each artifact. In some cases, I found myself wishing students had prioritized deeper analysis over background information in their labels; if I assigned this project again, I would emphasize that aspect.

I learned a lot about what it means to support students through an unfamiliar semester-long project, and I’m glad they were willing to take on the challenge. I found that students appreciated the flexibility of the guidelines and the room this left for creativity. One student wrote that the project was “unique and fun, but still challenging, and let me pursue something I couldn’t have if we were just assigned a normal paper.”

If you’re interested in pursuing a project like this one and have more questions for Morgan, you can contact her at: morganjshahan@gmail.com. 

For other questions or help developing new assessments to use in your courses, contact the Center for Educational Resources (cerweb@jhu.edu).

Allon Brann, Teacher Support Specialist
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Morgan Shahan

The New Google Sites

We’re always on the lookout for applications that instructors and their students can use to enhance course work. A previous post We Have a Solution for That: Student Presentations, Posters, and Websites (October 6, 2017) mentioned a new version of Google Sites as having potential as a presentation software that allows for easy collaboration among student team members. Today’s post will delve deeper into its possibilities and use. This post is also available in PDF format as part of The Innovative Instructor articles series.

Logo for Google SitesNew Google Sites is an online website creation platform. It doesn’t require web development or design experience to create sites that work well on mobile devices. The New Google Sites application is included with the creation tools offered in Google Drive, making it easier to share and integrate your Google Drive content.

In 2006 Google purchased JotSpot, a software company that had been creating social software for businesses. The software acquired from that purchase was used to create the first iteration of Google Sites, now known as Classic Google Sites. Ten years later, Google launched a completely rebuilt Google Sites, which is currently being referred to as New Google Sites.

New Google Sites hasn’t replaced Classic Google Sites so much as it offers a new and different experience. The focus of New Google Sites is to increase collaboration for all team members regardless of their web development experience. It is also integrated with Google Drive so that teams working within the Google apps environment can easily associate shared content.

This new iteration of Google Sites is designed with mobile devices in mind. Users are

Screenshot example of the New Google Sites editing interface.

Example of the New Google Sites editing interface.

not able to add special APIs (Application Programmable Interface, which extends functionality of an application) or edit HTML directly. This keeps the editing interface

and options simple to ensure that whatever you create will work consistently across all browsers and devices. While this may seem limiting, you still have the option to use Classic Google Sites if you want a higher level of control.

In a classroom setting, instructors are often cautious about assigning students projects that require them to learn new technical skills that aren’t directly relevant to the course content. Instructors must balance the time it will take students to achieve technical competency against the need to ensure that students achieve the course learning goals. With New Google Sites, students can focus on their content without being overwhelmed by the technology.

In addition to ease of use, collaborative features allow students to work in teams and share content. Group assignments can offer students a valuable learning experience by providing opportunities for inclusivity, exposure to diverse viewpoints, accountability through team roles, and improved project outcomes.

New Google Sites makes it easy for the causal user to disseminate new ideas, original research, and self-expression to a public audience. If the website isn’t ready to be open to the world, the site’s editor has the ability to keep it unpublished while still having the option to collaborate or share it with select people. This is an important feature as student work may not be ready for a public audience or there may be intellectual property rights issues that preclude public display.

Professors at here at Johns Hopkins have used New Google Sites for assignments. In the History of Science and Technology course, Man vs. Machine: Resistance to New Technology since the Industrial Revolution, Assistant Professor Joris Mercelis had students use New Google Sites for their final projects. Teams of two or three students were each asked to create a website to display an illustrated essay based on research they had conducted. Images and video were required to support their narrative arguments. Students had to provide proper citations for all materials. Mercelis wanted the students to focus on writing for a lay audience, an exercise that encouraged them to think broadly about the topics they were studying.

History of Art Professor Stephen Campbell used a single Google Site where student teams collaborated to produce an online exhibition, Exhibiting the Renaissance Nude: The Body Exposed. Each student group was responsible for supplying the materials for one of five topic pages. The content developed from this project was accessible only to the class.

In both cases, students reported needing very little assistance when editing their sites. Typically, giving an introductory demonstration and providing resources for where to find help are all students need to begin working.

Recently, Google has created the ability to allow other Google Drive content to be embedded in a site. This means that you can embed a form or a document on a web page to elicit responses/feedback from your audience without them having to leave the site. This level of integration further supports the collaborative nature of Google applications.

Currently, this iteration of Google Sites uses the New in its title. There may come a time when Google will drop the New or re-brand New Google Sites with a different name. There is no indication that Google will stop supporting Classic Google Sites with its more advanced features.

Use of both versions of Google Sites is free and accessible using your Google Account. You can create a new site by signing into Google and going to the New Google Sites page (link provided below). You can also create a site from Google Drive’s “New” button in the creation tools menu.

It is recommended that students create a new account for class work instead of us­ing their personal accounts. While this is an additional step, it ensures that they can keep their personal lives separated from their studies.

A Google Site as displayed on a desktop, tablet, and smartphone.

A Google Site as displayed on a desktop, tablet, and smartphone.

Additional Resources:

Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Developer
Center for Educational Resources

Image sources: Google Sites logo, screenshots

Considerations for Digital Assignments

Image of the handout on considerations for digital assignments

My colleague in the Center for Educational Resources, Reid Sczerba, and I often consult with faculty who are looking for alternative assignments to the traditional research paper. Examples of such assignments include oral presentations, digital and print poster presentations, virtual exhibitions, using timelines and mapping tools to explore temporal and spatial relationships, blogging, creating videos or podcasts, and building web pages or websites.

Reid, who is a graphic designer and multimedia specialist, put together a handy chart to help faculty think about these assignments in advance of a face-to-face consultation with us. A PDF version of this handout is available for your convenience. The text from the chart is reprinted below.

Learning objectives
♦ Have you determined your learning objectives for this assignment? Deciding what you would like your students to learn or be able to do helps to frame the parameters of your assignment. http://www.cer.jhu.edu/ii/InnovInstruct-BP_learning-objectives.pdf

Type of assignment
♦Will there be analysis and interpretation of a topic or topics to produce a text-based and/or visual-based project? Consider alternatives to a traditional research paper.
http://ii.library.jhu.edu/2016/04/08/lunch-and-learn-alternatives-to-the-research-paper/
♦Will there be a need to document objects or materials for a catalog, exhibition, or repository? Defining meaningful metadata and the characteristics of research materials will be important considerations.

Access and visibility
♦Will you want the students’ work to be made open to the public, seen just at JHU, or shared only with the class? Decide up front whether to have students’ work be public or private in order to get their consent and choose the best platform for access.
♦ Will they be working with copyrighted materials? The fair use section of the Copyright Act may provide some latitude, but not all educational uses are fair use. http://www.arl.org/focus-areas/copyright-ip

Collaboration
♦Will you want students to work collaboratively as a class, in small groups, or individually?
Group work has many benefits but there are challenges for assessment and in ensuring that students do their fair share of the work.
http://www.cer.jhu.edu/ii/InnovInstruct-BP_MakingGroupProjectsWork.pdf
♦ Will you want the students’ work to be visible to others in the class or private to themselves or their group?
Consider adding a peer review component to the assignment to help the students think critically about their work.
http://www.cer.jhu.edu/ii/InnovInstruct-Ped_peerinstruction.pdf

Format
♦ Will you want your students to have a choice of media to express their research or will all students use the same solution?
An open-ended choice of format could allow students to play to their strengths, leading to creativity. On the other hand, too many choices can be daunting for some, and it may be challenging to assess different projects equally.
♦ What would be the ideal presentation of the student’s work?

• spatially arranged content (mapping, exhibition)
• temporally arranged content (timeline)
• narrative (website, blog)
• oral presentation
• visual presentation (poster, video)

Formats for digital assignments are not limited to this list. More than one approach can be used if the result fulfills the learning objectives for the assignment.

Some of the solutions that we have recommended to faculty in the past are OmekaOmeka NeatlineTimeline JSPanopto (JHU), Reveal (JHU), Google tools (Google SitesGoogle Maps, Google Docs), Voicethread (JHU), and WordPress.

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Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Development Specialist
Center for Educational Resources

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Image of the handout created by Reid Sczerba