Inclusive Pedagogy Toolkit: Power

 

Power

Teaching and learning takes place in a context shaped by power dynamics. Most obviously, only the teacher controls grades and credits—but other dimensions also create power differences not only between faculty and student but also between student and student: different levels of comfort in the educational environment, familiarity with class norms, identity, and perceived authority. Intentionally taking note of these dynamics or reflecting on your own identities and positions—and perhaps sharing these reflections explicitly with the class—can help you navigate this complex social space. You can also shape the class to give students more control over the experience. These choices invite the whole student to the learning experience, and empower them to become competent, self-directed life-long learners.


When feasible, involve students directly in shaping your syllabus and pedagogical choices

Why does this matter?

How can faculty empower students to be curious, engaged, and self-directed life-long learners (Baxter-Magolda, 2004)? Doing so requires respecting the dignity of students (Siegel, 2017) as well as providing opportunities for them to exercise agency over their learning. Co-creation of the learning experience is one approach to active learning (Bovill, 2019), and studies show that, while students may at first be unsure about how to help shape a course, giving them the opportunity to do so can increase student investment in learning, their sense of empowerment, positive perceptions of the professor (DiClementi and Handelsman, 2005; Hudd, 2003; Jafar, 2016).

How might I do this?

  • Survey students to find out their interests around the topic, and build your syllabus around those interests.
  • Give students supervised control over specific aspects of the course:
    • Invite students to shape particular sessions: they could choose from among different predetermined possible topics for given days/units, or allow them to come up with their own topics, readings, and/or class activities.
    • Invite students to shape class climate: Ask students to come up with community rules, and expectations for success, and come back to these rules and expectations throughout the semester so that the students can see that they are important and valued.
    • In courses where participation is part of the grade, invite students’ thoughts on what constitutes good participation or to weigh in on the quality of their own participation.
    • Invite students to shape assessment: Ask them what kind of expertise they want to achieve, or how they would like to demonstrate that expertise (i.e., what kinds of assessments they want to do).
  • Create an exercise where students design a future course or redesign a portion of the one they are in.

Allow students leadership roles during class sessions; give them opportunities to share their expertise

Why does this matter?

Students come to our classrooms with their own lived experiences. Some educational psychologists refer to these lived experiences as “capital” and suggest that our students bring, for example, aspirational, linguistic, and social capital to the classroom (Yosso, 2005; Longmire-Avital, 2020). When student perspectives are included in the class conversation or in role-playing during assignments, “students come to understand their experiences, ideas and voices as meaningful and relevant” (Day and Beard, 2019), which resonates with Georgetown’s fundamental value of educating the whole person.

How might I do this?

  • Invite expertise:
    • Survey students early in the semester or before the semester to discover the pre-existing expertise they have on course topics.
    • Ask students to connect course topics or readings to a personal experience they have had or something they have seen in news/social media/other readings.
    • When soliciting student knowledge, ask the whole class “Does anyone feel like they have expertise or a particular insight on X?” as opposed to assuming one person in particular ought to have personal knowledge on the topic and asking them.
    • Throughout the semester, give students opportunities to build and share their expertise.
    • Invite students to create (in advance) the “study questions” for the upcoming readings (with you perhaps retaining the role of screening them for quality first).
  • Give students leadership opportunities
    • Have individual or groups of students present on or critique or lead discussion on a given reading.
    • Assign class presentations on bigger papers/projects.
    • Encourage/assign ongoing outside-of-class group research on particular subjects/topics, which then can naturally inform discussion in class.

Share responsibility with students for taking on other perspectives and for sustaining a productive learning community

Why does this matter?

Recognizing, articulating, and valuing others’ perspectives is essential to the development of both a genuine learning community and, ultimately, citizens of a complex twenty-first century world (Nussbaum, 2002). This imperative ties in with Ignatian pedagogical values such as People for Others and Community in Diversity. However it’s done, thoughtful, well-planned opportunities to share and engage with a range of views allow students to develop those skills and carry them outside the classroom (Day and Beard, 2019, Tanner, 2013).

How might I do this?

  • Model your own interest and intention in bringing in diverse voices and perspectives from your field, sharing both the challenges and opportunities of this work.
  • Model your own continued learning, especially with regard to diverse experiences and perspectives, and be explicit about how each member’s learning benefits the class community.
  • Whenever it’s clear that the class opinions are overall skewing in a certain direction, you might invite the whole class to think through possible legitimate, rational opposition or objections to that opinion.
  • Create assignments that ask students to take on perspectives other than their own, without of course asking them to take on perspectives harmful to themselves, including in content, essays, role-playing activities, and performances. In doing so, be clear that while such experiences are useful in helping us get outside of our typical perspective, they’re intrinsically limited and do not grant full access to others’ experience.

Consider how your own social identities are relevant to the power dynamics at play

Why does this matter?

“Educating the whole person” requires paying attention to the wholeness of the teacher as well. And students are likely already paying attention. In fact, they may carry unconscious preconceived expectations for how instructors of certain identities “should” behave in the classroom (DeSoto, 2005). Serious questions have been raised about whether students apply different standards when evaluating faculty of different social identities (Mengel et al., 2019; Reid, 2010), and they may also make different demands of teachers with different social identities (El-Alayli et al., 2018). Beyond student reactions, faculty themselves are shaped by their culture and background, and introspection about one’s identities and position—and perhaps sharing these reflections explicitly with the class—can help the teacher navigate this complex social space (Chavez and Longerbeam, 2016; Martinez-Cola et al., 2018).

How might I do this?

  • Engage views/publications that are in opposition to your own but that you think are legitimate and worth considering, explicitly naming your perspective on the views.
  • Name for students how your own social identities may influence your work, your role, your engagement in the classroom.
  • Acknowledge aspects of the course content that are or were either motivating or challenging to you; this can be particularly powerful if the content that motivates or challenges intersects with your personal identity.
  • Pull back when possible to make space for students to express their own expertise/perspectives and to generate knowledge themselves, rather than always running the conversation through you and your perspectives. Sometimes this will mean slowing down and allowing students to stumble before getting their feet under them.

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