Increasing classroom inclusivity

CBS faculty look to grow expertise in inclusive teaching practices through Inclusive Excellence Fellows Program.
September 18, 2023

Last winter, CBS announced the launch of the CBS Inclusive Excellence Fellows program in an effort to enhance the knowledge and internal expertise of inclusive teaching within the college. Four CBS faculty, with support from senior fellow Anita Schuchardt, are now in the midst of their fellowship projects, exploring ways to increase student success in the classroom.

“The CBS Inclusive Excellence Fellows program gives instructors the opportunity to take a step back and look at how to make their classroom or lab environment more welcoming and inclusive to all students, to help make sure all students can succeed in their learning experience,” says Laurie Parker, associate dean for undergraduate education. “It's a chance to learn and reflect, and to take a deeper look through the Inclusive Excellence In Action projects at what barriers might be present and how to reshape the learning approaches to get around them.

Here is the first round of Fellows and their research projects:

Adam Engelhardt: Transforming the teaching assistant experience
Each semester, Adam Engelhardt, Advanced Education Program Specialist in Biology Teaching and Learning (BTL) oversees more than 40 TAs who help run a number of classes for undergraduates at the U of M. This semester, he will work with these TAs to better understand how inclusive they feel the classes they lead are, as well as ways to increase inclusivity in the TA experience.

“I thought this would be a great opportunity to potentially have a positive impact on the undergrads I supervise,” Engelhardt says. “I also think that learning more about the inclusivity of these classes on the TA side could potentially help improve those same aspects of the courses themselves.”

Charlie Willis: Understanding grade gaps
When students take Biology 1001, they can, at times, unfortunately get behind or off track. Charlie Willis, a teaching assistant professor in BTL, teaches the course and plans to use his time as a fellow to better understand when in the semester students start to fall behind and how to better support them. 

I've never holistically analyzed student performance across multiple semesters to see if there are any consistent patterns across groups of students,” Willis says. “With this information, I hope to design targeted interventions that can help students succeed and close any existing grade gaps between student groups. My hope is, with this fine-scale analysis of student performance, I can better design my course to reduce any roadblocks that limit student success.”

David Matthes: Building student success in Foundations
Foundations of Biology is a critical element of the CBS student experience. David Matthes, teaching professor in BTL, hopes to better understand if there are patterns or identities of students who receive a D or F grade or withdraw in Foundations courses as a measure to find better ways to support and serve more students in this course series. 

I take personally the loss of any student from my courses, whether by nearly-failing, failing or withdrawing,” Matthes says. “I'm interested in being part of the solution wherever there are mismatches between the educational experience we offer and the ability of our students to make use of it.  So this work is at an intersection point of several of my interests.With a department, college and university-wide interest in DEI issues and mental health my work aligns with our collective effort to understand where our systems and policies could be serving even more of our students.”

Kristina Prescott: Incorporating student voices for student success
Kristina Prescott, teaching assistant professor in BTL, focuses her fellowship project on exploring new ways faculty can receive feedback and input from undergraduates on their courses to foster success in the classroom. She is currently working with two undergraduates to dig further into survey data from class evaluations, as well as learning more about power dynamics between faculty and students. 

“I’d like to find more ways to include student perspectives as I think about my courses,” Prescott says. “I hope this experience will help me work toward being a more effective mentor and develop strategies to empower students to share their unique insights. I have spent a lot of time reading about inclusion and equity, but the power imbalance between faculty and students makes it difficult to hear from them directly.  I really want to focus on how to better listen to students and how to incorporate student ideas into my teaching.”