By: Dr. Manuela Borzone
“By the end of the semester, students will…”
The language of student learning objectives (SLOs), expressed in phrases like the one above, is a common feature on college syllabi. Often, on the first day of class, students are introduced to the course and the instructor. They are made promises expressed in SLOs about the content they will study and the skills they will develop over the course of the semester or session. But what about instructor learning objectives?
By the end of the semester, instructors may have also learned a great deal about their students. They may know who has a documented accommodation, who prefers to work individually, and who is a student-athlete. By the end of the semester, instructors may have also learned which students have work obligations that limit the amount of time they can spent to completing course assignments outside of class, sometimes explained through panicked, last-minute emails.
While it is expected that students will meet the learning objectives by clearing a set of benchmarks throughout the course, why do we expect the same when it comes to an instructor’s ability to provide just-in-time instruction responsive to the students in the classroom? How can we transform college into a place where students are first seen as humans when gaining such a vision can sometimes take several weeks or months. How can we implement pedagogies of care that can help students succeed and further #RealCollege initiatives? Enter the Who’s in Class? Form.
Developed by a team of faculty and educational developers in collaboration with students at Lafayette College and the University of Saint Joseph, the form is a tool to help instructors achieve the goals of fostering inclusion as a concrete experience responsive to and dependent on the students in a specific course during the first week of classes. (Students are not required to complete the form and do so on a voluntary basis.)
The form includes a wide array of questions about students’ social identities and inclusion regarding race, ethnicity, gender, age, and first-generation status. There are other considerations such as disabilities, dependents, and financial capabilities. The form also allows students to provide even more information with open-ended questions regarding inclusivity for the a particular course.
Featured in the 2021 book What Inclusive Instructors Do, the form effectively captures the multiplicity of identities that students bring with them to a particular course and allows them to share as much as they want with the professor in an anonymous and confidential manner. This way instructors can see students as people with particular interests, identities, and needs early on and recognize that each student brings their own unique set of experiences with them into the classroom.
In the Spring of 2021, the form was used in collaboration with the staff at the Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship (CITLS) at Lafayette College. The staff created the forms for specific course sections, partnering with instructors upon request. I met with faculty members who teach courses in foreign languages and literatures, economics, STEM, and more. Some courses were small while others were large introductory sections.
What surprised me about the form was its ability to capture the diversity of identities and experiences of students. This versatility is, because, as seasoned instructors will know, just as no two students are the same, no two sections of the same course are ever the same. The form provided instructors with valuable knowledge, which informed their teachings at the beginning of the semester, rather than at the end.
Take, for example, one instructor who found out that a student experienced hardship purchasing course materials. Given that many courses were still taught remotely, another instructor learned that a student was currently living in a place with intermittent internet connection. Equipped with this information early on, the next step was to come up with an action plan to make sure that students’ needs were met to the best of the instructor’s ability.
Instructors were able to come up with specific steps that responded to the particular students in their classes and their concrete needs and identities. All of the instructors I met with agreed that the form helped them see their students as humans with particular needs, experiences, and expectations.
When most students showed up to class via a screen during the COVID-19 pandemic, the form facilitated the process of designing and teaching for inclusion in a simple and straightforward manner. The form addresses the versatility and diversity of students’ experiences and, thus, helped instructors reach their goals faster and earlier during an uncertain time.
The Who’s in Class? Form is available in the book What Inclusive Instructors Do and upon request. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a copy.
Dr. Manuela Borzone is the Assistant Director of the Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship at Lafayette College.