Addressing Equity in Astronomy 101, Part 3:
Science And Society: Starlink

Addressing Equity in Astronomy 101, Part 4:

In this four-part series, Dr. Stacy Palen will discuss her own journey toward recognizing and addressing issues of equity in the Astro 101 classroom. We encourage this to be an open communication and discussion through the comment section below.

To read the previous post, follow the link here.

Addressing Equity in Astronomy IV: It’s Different for Everyone

Addressing equity in the classroom is complex, and a moving target. There is a lot of pressure to modify a lot of teaching methods to be more inclusive: have flexible deadlines, creative grading policies, invite informality in the classroom, etc.  But these methods sometimes have unintended consequences for particular faculty members.

Consider this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Different faculty need to behave differently in the classroom, in order to be perceived as the “competent”. Of all the faculty in my Department, I am the only one who has been called “obstinate” by a student because I insisted that he learn to write proper lab reports with error bars on his graphs. Other faculty are far worse sticklers than I am, but by nature of their personal attributes, their feedback to students is accepted more readily. I cannot “get away” with being on a first-name basis with my students, or with having an open-door policy, as some of my colleagues can.  How do I know? I tried it. The boundaries fell, and I was swamped by people who were not even my students but wanted help with their coursework assigned by my colleagues.  My colleagues would ask for advice on how to get students to come to their office hours. “Smile more,” I would say, somewhat tongue in cheek.

I believe learning is different for everyone---what motivates any given student, and what works for them is deeply individual. In the same way, teaching is different for everyone---what works for you is deeply individual. Teaching is not a Shakespeare play, with a pre-determined set of lines to say and movements to make across the stage.  Teaching is improv (sometimes comedy) where the action can go in all sorts of directions along the way to telling the story.

All of which to say: be kind to yourself and your colleagues as you figure out how to teach more equitably. What works for you may not work for them; what works for them may not work for you. If you receive advice to try something…but it doesn’t work, abandon it, and try something else. Experiment! Tell your students that you are experimenting, and why, so that they can give you good feedback about how your experiments affect them.  Not only will you find surprising ways to engage students, but this will help you stay engaged in the process of teaching.  I suspect all of us could use a little help with that just now.


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