I keep my compass pointed to learners. They are my true north.

At the beginning of every course, my learners and I discuss what our journey will look like. We talk about our expectations for one another, our shared goals, and our beliefs about learning and education. I tell them that I see myself as their trail guide, showing them the way up the mountain, pointing out places where they may struggle, and talking them about how to reach the summit. As a trail guide, I must adopt and adapt my experiences, knowledge, and skills to the learning modality (online, blended, and traditional face-to-face) and provide learners with an experience tailored to their learning space. I put this philosophy into practice by establishing an inclusive classroom, creating engaging learning environments, and providing a rigorous learning experience. 

To establish an inclusive classroom  the learnsers and I collaborate on what defines a productive, safe, and positive learning environment. In my courses, I expect learners to construct the course by engaging in critical thinking, contributing to discussion, and providing feedback about lessons.  I start on the first day of classes by asking learners to help me create a list of classroom rights and responsibilities that we commit ourselves for the semester. Then, at midterms, I use a Stay, Stop, and Start Doing Survey to check-in on our progress where I ask them to reflect on the questions: “what should the class, professor, and you stay keep doing? Stop doing? And start doing?” At the beginning of the next class, I address their feedback by explaining how I will “stay” doing the activities, assignments, and readings they enjoy; “stopping” particular activities or offering reasons why I sometimes cannot “stop” doing it; and giving ideas about how to “start” doing something they feel would enhance their learning experience. This gives me an opportunity to use positive reinforcement to praise them for what they are doing well and to intervene in the areas that need more development.  Through this exchange of feedback, we are able to engage in a discussion about how to make the classroom a successful environment for all of us.

An essential part of building an inclusive classroom is creating an engaging learning environment where all learners can contribute their unique voices, perspectives, and skills.  For example, in my online cultural anthropology course, I use the Google Night Walk simulation to take leaners on a “cultural tour” of Marseille, France.  Using this simulation, I am able to offer my anthropologists an opportunity to digitally immerse themselves in another culture.  The assignment that corresponds to this simulation is one where they are asked to create field notes for an ethnographic study.  They are asked to treat the experience as if they are “on assignment” for an anthropological magazine to report back on the cultural artifacts they find. Topics such as ethnography, ethnology, fieldwork, and participant observation can be tedious in a tradition lecture-style lesson, so instead, I engage learners with the material by using a format that is creative, challenging, and interactive. Learners are excited to develop these essential skills and their work demonstrates their engagement. Moreover, the time I put into creating these lessons shows my learners that I am invested in them.

Finally, I provide learners with a rigorous learning experience that asks them to engage with learning in a meaningful, critical, and ethical way. In my classroom, I define rigor as providing specific direction, parameters, and metrics on assignmentsassessing student artifacts according to the expectations in the prompts and rubrics; providing feedback for continuous improvementand offering resources and support that stimulate learningFor instance, on the first day of class, I collaborate with learners to define quality participation. We talk about what kinds of conversations we want to have in the course and how we want to have them. After this brainstorming session, we write down those qualities, vote on them, and adopt them. I use these definition to create a rubric that both I and the learners will use to assess their participation in the course. Having these kinds of conversations allows us to perform a "deep dive" on ourselves, our class, and our learning. Learners appreciate having this voice in the process, and as a result, help me to hold everyone accountable. Learners appreciate these high standards for participation because they provide a qualitative framework for critical thinking and problem-solving. Learners also see that engaging with difficult subjects can be both informative and empowering.

Establishing an inclusive classroom, creating engaging learning environments, and providing a rigorous learning experience means putting learners at the center of my pedagogy and my practice. In the classroom, I tell learners that it is not my role to walk their learning journey for them nor is it my role to pull them along with me. But rather, it is to walk, learn, and grow alongside them.

Copyright 2020 by Melissa Wehler

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