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Online course to highlight ways to foster classroom inclusiveness

After running a pilot program in the fall, the Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) is offering the Cornell teaching community an online course that explores strategies for building and sustaining inclusive classrooms. The course aligns with ongoing efforts across campus to create a climate and learning environment where all students can thrive.

Beginning March 4, “Teaching & Learning in the Diverse Classroom” is open to anyone with teaching responsibilities at Cornell, in all disciplines and with any level of diversity expertise. The four-week course asks participants to reflect on their own identities and those of their students, and provides teaching strategies, including course design, that effectively support student engagement and belonging across difference. Registration is open until March 4.

Thirty-four Cornellians – including faculty, lecturers, graduate students, postdocs and staff – participated in the fall pilot. President Martha E. Pollack took the course and highlighted it in her recent reflection on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work in The Cornell Daily Sun. She wrote she was “impressed both by the moving firsthand stories of our students and faculty and by the specific recommendations, grounded in research, for enhancing the classroom experience. I urge our faculty to take this course during the coming semester, as it provides excellent tools for becoming better teachers.”

The course is structured around five modules and includes videos from Cornell community members, activities, readings and opportunities for reflection and face-to-face discussion. Participants in the fall pilot found the videos particularly valuable, especially those that featured Cornell students.

“Seeing students reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t worked for them in the classroom was powerful and is what continues to resonate with me today,” said Sarah Wolfolds, assistant professor of strategy and business economics and Andrew M. Paul Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow.

Sue Merkel, senior lecturer of microbiology, said the videos reminded her of the varied experiences of Cornell students, and how events outside the classroom can impact students’ learning.

“Whatever I can do to help them learn microbiology better, I want to do,” she said, “so if that means acknowledging that some people may be upset or are having a hard time focusing or have other issues in their lives outside my classroom – surprise, surprise – it’s important for me to understand that.”

Fall participants came from a wide range of departments and units and said that reading the selected academic research around diversity and inclusion gave them a conceptual framework and foundation that most of them hadn’t been exposed to in their fields. Participants also valued the opportunity to reflect on their own background and experiences and how those impact their teaching.

“One concept I took away: In order to meet the students where they are, you have to know where you are,” Wolfolds said.

Many participants in the pilot agreed it was time well spent. 

“In the last 20 years, there’s been a shift from thinking about teaching to thinking more about learning. And when you’re thinking about learning, you need to understand the student experience and perspective,” Merkel said. “In addition, the demographics of the college are changing, so it’s important to understand how those dynamics affect our classrooms – because ultimately we want students to learn, and they have to feel comfortable and motivated in order to learn to the best of their potential.”

The spring course runs from March 4 to April 1. For more information and to register, visit the Teaching & Learning in the Diverse Classroom page.

Caitlin Hayes is a communications specialist with Cornell’s Center for Teaching Innovation.

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John Carberry