Now more than ever is a time to attend to issues of equity and inclusivity in our classes. The coronavirus pandemic exacerbates already existing inequalities in higher education and all over the world (and inequality worsens its spread). 

We will have to be intentional in our efforts to mitigate the exacerbation of already existing inequities in our Macalester community and in our (virtual) classrooms. If you know of a student who is experiencing financial hardship at this time, please encourage them to apply for assistance through Macalester’s Emergency Aid Program.

Key themes in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s collection of essays about how faculty can support students in traumatic times include staying in regular contact with all of your students, and being authentic and compassionate.

The AAC&U’s webinar, Safeguarding Quality, Equity, and Inclusion as Learning Moves Online, offers the following summary recommendations:

  • Communicate often and consistently
  • Be patient and kind – to students and to yourself
  • Use Moodle to clarify expectations and access to resources
  • Check in regularly with offers of support and connection
  • Don’t assume all students have access to technology
  • Provide assurance that you’re there to help students succeed
  • Give grace while maintaining learning goals

Dr. Malinda Smith’s Twitter thread on threats to equity and inclusion during the COVID-19 pandemic offers a number of excellent resources.

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Teaching” newsletter editor Beth McMurtrie asked two experts in online learning for tips on how to keep students who are struggling from falling through the cracks: Melody Buckner, associate vice provost for digital learning initiatives and online education at the University of Arizona; and Alexandra M. Pickett, director of online teaching at Open SUNY. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Be proactive. Reach out to all of your students early, and often. Circumstances change, so what may seem doable in week one may not be true in week four. “Check in with them and try to understand what they’re grappling with,” says Pickett. Were they able to get home? Are they in an environment that’s conducive to learning? Do they have the necessary gear and internet access? Do they need to work or take care of family members? Do they have access to health care?
  • Be as low-tech as possible. Reach out through your learning-management system or by email to check in with students. Don’t assume people have the ability to hop on a live Zoom call.
  • Be authentic in your interactions. “Faculty presence in an online course is critical,” says Buckner. “When I record my lectures, I’m a one-take wonder. If my dog is barking I say, ‘Hold on, my dog is barking.’ I don’t stop and re-record. That makes me real to students. I’m not just this person who is a content expert. I’m at home doing a lecture with my dog in the background.”
  • Hold office hours. You could post certain times when you’re available online, or ask students to email you with requests to talk (including by phone, if that is best for some students).
  • Offer options. Students now may be in different time zones, have limited data plans and no Wi-Fi, or may not have a quiet space to study. Giving them more than one way to participate in discussions and complete assignments will allow them to figure out what works best for their situation. “Maybe you stream your lecture but then save it,” says Buckner. “Maybe it’s just an audio file, so students can download it later.” And be sure to caption the video to provide access to all students.

Remember “context before content” (Dr. Jamie Washington)

Additional resources

  • Disability Services at Mac acknowledges the significant effort required to quickly adapt your courses to online learning models. In collaboration with campus partners, they are building a set of resources and useful information on their Disability Services Faculty website.  Some students may encounter disability-related barriers with online instruction or assessment (e.g., students who use assistive technology, have vision- or hearing-based limitations) that may uniquely impact their learning. We are continuously working on how to provide comprehensive online access for all students. The staff are available to collaborate with you and support the transition to ensure that access for students with disabilities is maintained (please contact them at disabilityservice@macalester.edu with any questions or concerns).  It is quite possible that even with this accelerated timeline for shifting to virtual teaching, the tools you learn will continue to be part of your instructional access in the future.
  • Moving classes online: Build in accessibility from the beginning (late-breaking advice from Disability Studies professor Aimi Hamraie)
  • The MAX Center counselors are ready to help your students. Faculty can contact MAX Center professional staff with any questions and concerns. Please tell students not to contact MAX Center tutors directly for remote or in-person tutoring assistance; instead direct them to the Max Center website. As our services change, we will update the site with the services we can provide.