What might diversity mean for our classroom? How do we approach learning situations affected by diversity? How might we be most effectively sensitive to the needs of our diverse classrooms?
On 14 February, DTAR hosted the first TA workshop of the semester, exploring the topic of diversity at U of H. The DTAR workshop accorded participants, which included both TAs and TA supervisors, a chance to begin a discussion on teaching in diverse environments. This was a discussion aimed at beginning a career-long conversation with other faculty, university services, and published research.
This article about the research of Shaun Harper into the academic success of black men at college, and this cogent response from the Dean Dad blog, got me thinking about how we usually talk about “student success,” and how even the most well-meaning programs and services are organized around the presumed deficits or failures of the students. I should say that even the baldly stated title of the IHE article unwittingly reinforces this set of assumptions.
Harper’s counter to this deep problem in framing and background assumptions about black male students was to look closely at successful students’ histories, to see what they might be able to tell us. Unsurprisingly, the story is largely about the enormous impact of parents can have on their kids’ academic attitudes, largely in terms of setting expectations, and also about the surprisingly large impact of the conscious mentoring that these students received at some critical point in their education. Though these mentoring moments were felt by the students as “serendipitous” and unplanned, they had a considerable influence on students’ later directions:
Parents weren’t the only supporters who pushed and encouraged them. “The participants’ early schooling experiences almost always included at least one influential teacher who helped solidify their interest in going to college,” often going beyond simply teaching them to help get them information or access to services that would help them prepare for college.
Many of the research subjects “considered themselves among the lucky few to have had teachers who, for some reason, thought they were worth the investment” — and often for reasons that were unclear to them. It was not, most believed, that they were academically high-achieving; fewer than half had taken an Advanced Placement course in high school, and fewer than one in five had participated in a gifted and talented program.Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/02/06/study-aims-learn-why-some-black-men-succeed-college#ixzz1mSwWhkIu
Inside Higher Ed
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Guillermo de los Reyes, Associate Professor Latin American Culture and Literature, Department of Hispanic Studies
Joy Tesh, Director, The Language and Culture Center at the University of Houston
Martha Wong, Former Texas State Representative, Houston City Council Member, and Distinguished Alum of the University of Houston College of Education
Miguel A. Ramos (Moderator), Assistant Dean for Assessment and Accreditation, College of Technology
The panel discussion on diversity and global learning encompassed a wide range of issues and ideas. Some of the more prominent strands of the conversation touched on the following topics.
- The University of Houston has done a good job of establishing a diverse student body that is reflected by national rankings. However, beyond ethnic and racial diversity there is still work to be done in terms of supporting other underrepresented groups including but not limited to the GLBT community. There have been strides made but there is still room for improvement.
- The University of Houston has been less successful historically in establishing similar levels of diversity among the faculty ranks. However, recent statistics indicate that while overall faculty diversity is still a work in progress, great gains have been made in the associate and assistant professor ranks in terms of diversifying the population.
- Visible diversity on campus helps provide role models for students. One area where the university has been proactive is in the creation of faculty-in-residence positions. These are faculty members that live in one of the four undergraduate dorm facilities. The current residents represent a vital link between undergraduates and the larger UH community.
- The Language and Culture Center is at the forefront of diversity issues on campus as it tries to help international students learn English and adjust to life in the United States.
- The role of study abroad programs in helping students expand their cultural experiences was also discussed. This led to a broader conversation about the ways US born citizens perceive and think about culture and differences relative to other global communities. The concept of cultural relativism provided a framework for this discussion.
- The panel ended with a conversation about some of the more practical ways in which cultural knowledge and awareness plays a role in real world interactions. For instance, the group discussed why businesses with international interests often provide training on local norms and customs.
Everyone involved agreed with the idea that any slice of the discussion could have been expanded into a series of panels. Ultimately, we left the session with a better understanding of some of the complexities and challenges associated with global learning and diversity issues in both the academy and the real world.
Another important element of the Symposium was the introduction of DTAR’s Google+ page, giving TAs a place to talk about their fears, excitement, concerns, and successes. In addition to providing a way to unite the TA cohort, DTAR is also preparing a module on using Google+ and other social media in the classroom as ways to engage students, hold virtual office hours for those that cannot make it to campus, and bring course content into thee 21st century.
At the end of the Symposium, three TAs in Economics–Teodora Stoica, Shreyasee Das, and Michael Clark–were awarded the Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) for their work this summer reading, discussing, and practicing effective pedagogy with TA supervisor Ruxandra Prodan.
The Symposium answered President Khator’s call for wider implementation of high-impact practices by showing TAs how to put such practices into effect in their own courses.
The principles of learning discussed on Thursday, along with the Certificate of University Teaching, and the Symposium, are an important part of recognizing the role that TAs play in undergraduate education. As instructors of small sections, labs, and introductory classes, TAs often provide the most direct contact first-year students have with instructors. Research shows that relationships formed with instructors in a student’s first year will directly impact whether she will persist with her degree until graduation.
Training TAs to teach effectively well doesn’t just impact the TAs–preparing them for future careers in the academy and providing them with credentials for the job market–it’s also vital for undergraduate students and the university as a whole.
How do you see the relationship between TAs and retention at UH, and how can the university help TAs do more to improve the quality of undergraduate education?
I was tipped off to an interesting piece in the Washington Post about the colleges that are working to minimize the “race gap” in graduation rates between whites, blacks, and latinos. These schools were recently highlighted by a pair of Education Trust studies that we should be looking at here. Since this article came from the Washington area, the coverage was devoted mostly to Towson and George Mason, but I thought the recommendations were pertinent to UH.
Here’s the money quote:
Colleges with high minority graduation rates tend to aggressively recruit a “critical mass” of black and Hispanic students, support them with pre-collegiate preparatory programs and then cultivate a culture of academic success for the entire student body. When a college president sets minority completion “as an important goal and as a priority, that really filters down through the university,” Lynch said.
The commitment of top administration to this goal is key, and it shows in the existence and close monitoring of programs designed to keep students in school.
Towson has retained high minority graduation rates at a time of growing racial and socioeconomic diversity; once virtually all-white, the school’s student body is 11 percent black and 2 percent Hispanic. The university accepts the top 10 percent of students from any public high school in Baltimore or Baltimore County, regardless of their SAT scores. Mentoring programs for black students have expanded to encompass all students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
“If we take you in, we’re going to graduate you,” said Towson President Robert Caret.
From the latest Chron of Higher Ed:
- Apparently, a Kennesaw State University study shows that online classes typically experience 15% higher dropout rates than face to face courses, and nothing seems to help. Should universities already suffering from retention and graduation problems rethink their reliance on such classes, or adjust their mix of face to face to online offerings?
- The Collegiate Learning Assessment put to the test.
- Why socioeconomic class often fails to “count” as diversity.
This week, two items stood out:
- Jeannie Kever’s piece on Texas’s latest goal for degree attainment: 3 million more college degrees
- Kever’s latest article about the skyrocketing enrollments and increased diversity in Texas schools
- via MomBlog, the costs of college for a kid born today: $175,000
Does the increased expense of a college education, and the amount of loans taken out by students, affect the public’s attitudes towards higher education, especially when college students are not just younger but substantially more diverse than the rest of the population? Take a look at the comments.