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Teaching grant targets inclusion

Mon Mar 1, 2021 at 11:32 AM

Felicitia Arzu Carmichael, assistant professor in writing and rhetoric, has always been interested in how a student’s “place” impacts their ability to learn, engage with material and connect with their peers. Thanks to a Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning grant, she was able to explore the concept with one of her classes two years ago. The exploration she did has changed the way she teaches. Now, CETL is taking applications for the 2021 Inclusive Practices Teaching Grant until March 8, 2021 for other faculty members who have an idea that would lead to development, implementation and evaluation of evidence-based teaching practices that would improve teaching and learning with a focus on inclusive practices. 

“I’ve been really interested in the concept of place for many reasons. I did my dissertation on online pedagogy. When I was a graduate student, teaching online classes, I had a lot of experience where I would learn from my students. Some of them were taking classes with their phones. Some of them were taking classes in the library. Some of them were at their homes. I remember one day, I had a conference where my student was conferencing with me from her car,” said Carmichael. 

Carmichael said she had learned that place made a difference in the way her students learned, and it was up to her to make sure they could learn the best they could from whatever place they had available.

“You’ll often hear people say, ‘well, if you’re an online class, there’s no class. There’s no place. I’m just submitting assignments through Moodle,’” said Carmichael. “One of the strengths of the face-to-face classroom is that we are located in a place.” 

She said being together in one place allows students to be put in groups, see each other’s expressions, among many other things. 

“It’s not lost when we’re online, it just shows up in a different way. I think when we teach online, we assume that those things don’t exist,” said Carmichael. “The students had places that they occupied, whether it was in their car, in the library, at home or in another classroom--their material location had some effect on the work that they were doing in my class, and I didn’t want to ignore that.”

Setting up her research

Two years ago, Carmichael applied for the grant to set up her fall class in a different format to see how students responded. While the class, like most of the writing classes, was scheduled to meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with Friday being an online class. Carmichael changed it to a hybrid model. 

“For this grant, I increased the amount of time that students would spend online. ,” Carmichael said.  For the first three weeks she met with the students Monday, Wednesday and Friday, because as most were first year students and new to Oakland University, she wanted time to orient them to herself and how the class was designed. “I wanted to get their input as well. We spent the first three weeks of the course writing, studying writing, but we also were really talking about the structure of the class so they knew what to expect.” 

After the first few weeks, Carmichael changed the class structure. While students were still required to attend in-person on Monday, they had a choice of whether to learn online or in person. 

“On Wednesdays, I was physically in that classroom for students who wanted face-to-face, but on Wednesdays, they had the option to have class online,” said Carmichael. “The assignments that my students were working on, they could work on in that class with me, or they could work on it online, in some other location, but they were all doing the same work.”

All of Carmichael’s students had to complete a learning log. They had to write about what they were working on, but also why they chose to work on that assignment in that specific place. The Wednesday optional face-to-face classes weren’t a free day, Carmichael said. There were expectations on the students for online learning. 

“Some students learn better face-to-face, some students learn better online. A lot of our students have jobs and families, and having the ability to plan where they learn was helpful to them,” said Carmichael. 

For the grant, Carmichael was able to focus specifically on place and how they’re doing the work in class based on where they are located. 

“One of the first projects they did was an inquiry into self and place,” said Carmichael. She asked students to write about a place that was meaningful to them. Some wrote about living on a farm, growing up with their grandparents, traveling to somewhere special. “All of the places that they inhabit have an effect on them personally, it helped them grow into what they wanted, to develop their interests or what kind of foods they life. 

Carmichael said she wanted the things that the students valued to make their way into the classroom, and she wanted her students to know that they mattered. 

“When I redesigned my class to focus on place, that was one of the first times that I read my students’ work and just had the most fun and engagement in what they were writing. The students wrote reflections. They were so excited to write about things that they wanted to write about. It wasn’t structured and limited to a topic. They were really able to bring themselves into it and write about things that they enjoyed,” said Carmichael.  

Since the pandemic forced all classes online, Carmichael said having this experience with her students changed the way she approached a completely online class. 

“I give students a ton of options for dates and times when they can meet with me,” said Carmichael. While her classes are asynchronous, she said place matters and having the connection with students matters to her. Presenting the options to her students lets them know that even if they aren’t in the same place, she is able to communicate and connect with them. 

“Students have all indicated that they value being able to meet, even for just a few minutes. When students can see me and they can hear me, it reinforces my goal that I don’t want this to be a class where we’re just clicking submit in Moodle. It’s a classroom environment, regardless of where you’re located,” said Carmichael. 

With her work through the grant, Carmichael was able to submit a study that is under review with a major journal in her field.

Funding the process

Carmichael said she learned about the CETL grant through several of the workshops she attended. As a junior faculty member, she said the workshops brought an opportunity for her to learn, engage and take advantage of opportunities like the Inclusive Practices Teaching Grant. 

The $3,000 grant funds the development, implementation and evaluation of evidence-based teaching practices that will improve teaching and student learning, with a focus on inclusive practices. The grant is co-sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Student Affairs.

“It’s innate for us to want to do the research and to do the world. This is an incentive. You get $3,000 to do this work that you’re already very interested in. Plus, the goal of the grant is specifically designed to advance the Oakland University strategic goal of student success,” said Carmichael. 

She said the grant helped her to focus on how to help students achieve success by ensuring that her class pedagogy is inclusive and has a diversity of perspectives and a diversity of circumstances. 

Carmichael said the grant is perfect for junior faculty that are starting out on their research journey. Applications for the 2021 Inclusive Practice Teaching Grant are due by Monday, March 8. For more information on the grant and the application process, visit the CETL website