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 III: One More Thing…Attitude Matters
Addressing equity in the classroom is complex, and a moving target. I am often surprised by how the “real world” impacts students; it’s not always in the way I predicted. During the pandemic, for example, I heard from some students that the low-cost eBook solution was counter-productive for them. Why? Because they had only one computer at home that was shared between two parents going to work and school; each had to limit their time on the computer so that the other could attend Zoom meetings. Meanwhile, although the children in the household were issued Chromebooks by their schools, there were times when their internet just couldn’t keep up. These same families were hampered when it came to attending class at a time or watching videos.
This was not what I expected, because I made assumptions about other people’s lives.
For some other students, laying out the price of a print textbook was too expensive, but they had a tablet at home that they could download an eBook to, so that they could curl up on the sofa away from the computer to read it. They had already laid out the capital investment for the tablet, so the incremental cost of the eBook was the best solution.
This WAS what I expected because I made assumptions about other people’s lives.
Many of my students “attended” virtual class from their cars in a McDonald’s parking lot, accessing the internet on their phones. Some of them shared with me that they were living in their cars. Others told me they didn’t have internet at home. Others told me they didn’t have QUIET at home. In any event, a car in a McDonald’s parking lot is not an ideal learning environment.
In the end, I let go of the idea that one solution would work for everyone (in retrospect, I must say “duh”.) I gave students multiple options for how to access…everything. They could use the book, the eBook, the videos, my office hours, whatever tool they could access on whatever day. Because it was the pandemic, I also gave them mix-and-match assignments, flexible due dates, and office hours at non-standard times. And then I listened to them when they told me they needed something else and tried to figure out how to make that happen.
Was I exhausted? Sure. Was I overwhelmed? Yes. I still am. But as I went along, I realized it was just more of the same thing that I had been doing for years---trying to meet students where they are, to figure out the resources and experiences they need to take their next steps. I don’t think that being “equitable” in the classroom is really a new thing. I just think the diversity is bigger now, so we must do what we’ve always done, but more. We need to be vulnerable enough to admit that we cannot know what students need, in advance. We need to be open to asking, “What do you need, right now?” We need to be willing to listen, and have a lot of tools at our fingertips, so that we can reach for a different one when the first one doesn’t work for a particular student. Fortunately, as we grow as teachers, that gets easier and easier. Unfortunately, as classes get larger, it gets harder and harder to treat each student as an individual. But if we keep expanding the “menu” of learning options for students, more and more of them will be able to find what they need.
Next time: It's different for everyone