This fall, more than 100 faculty, staff and graduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno participated in a two-week, online seminar called "Embracing Diversity in Your Classroom," a University-wide opportunity offered in collaboration with the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE). Participants learned about the power of explicit and implicit messages, how to create an inclusive classroom environment and curriculum, and the importance of examining their own perspectives.
Survey data showed a 45 percentage-point increase in participants' confidence using the evidence-based practices associated with embracing diversity in their classes following their completion of the seminar, from 41 to 86 percent. Faculty and graduate students reported learning, on average, 3.5 new teaching strategies and learning more about 3.9 teaching strategies.
"This course transformed my approach and how I interact with students in and out of the classroom," Brian Frost, associate professor of chemistry at the University, said. "It heightened awareness to potential biases, altered my thought process, and how I reflect on my courses."
This offering is just one example of how the University is focusing on its core value of "inclusiveness of diverse cultures and identities" and mission to foster "a culture of excellence, inclusion and accessibility."
Among some of the top diversity initiatives, the University offers a variety of diversity courses, has a Gender, Race and Identity Program, developed diversity and inclusion language for professors to use on their course syllabi, and created a Diversity and Inclusion Library Guide. It also offers degrees in Equity and Diversity Education, holds an annual Diversity Summit in the spring, recently created a Diversity Council and a Women's Leadership Initiative, has a number of diversity committees and affinity groups, and is in the process of hiring a new chief diversity officer.
"My hope is that the dialogue among our educators who have participated in these ACUE seminars will be a productive step forward in our ongoing commitment to promote scholarly discussions in an inclusive environment at the University," University Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Carman said. "We have established a standing committee that is charged with examining best practices in online education, both individual classes and degree programs."
The University also initiated a campus climate assessment in the 2018-19 academic year. Working with Rankin & Associates Consulting, a recognized leader in institutional evaluation, a committee of University faculty, staff and students are helping to develop and implement the assessment. According to Marc Johnson, University of Nevada, Reno president, the assessment results will identify problem areas as well as the current programs and policies in place that are meeting the campus' inclusivity needs.
"Just as important as the results are the opportunities the assessment will provide our students, faculty and staff to have their voices heard on defining campus climate issues - issues that promise to position our University and how effectively we realize our mission for years to come," Johnson said in a statement on the University's website.
In 2016, the University launched its partnership with ACUE to prepare, support and credential faculty members and graduate students in the evidence-based teaching approaches that improve student achievement and promote equity through ACUE's Course in Effective Teaching Practices. The 25-module, facilitated online course requires that participants learn about and implement the practices across all core teaching competencies, including embracing diversity in the classroom, creating civil and inclusive learning environments, engaging underprepared students, facilitating productive discussions, and helping students persist to graduation, among others. Eight cohorts of faculty and graduate students have been engaged in the program to date as part of the University's goal to improve student success by promoting instructional excellence campus-wide.
Participants who satisfy course requirements, which includes applying research-based practices in their classes and writing robust reflections on their experience, earn a Certificate in Effective College Instruction endorsed by the American Council on Education. The faculty members and graduate students who completed the University's first credit-bearing seminar were awarded a diversity badge and received credit toward ACUE's credential.
"I believe that diversity is critical to excellence, and I am a strong proponent of the idea that a safe and stimulating classroom environment can enhance students' learning," Krisztina Voronova, a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry who participated in the seminar, said. "I am grateful for this course because it has made me more aware of the best practices that I can implement to assure a safe and inclusive classroom or laboratory environment."
Forty percent of those who enrolled in the seminar were graduate students. The University also has designated cohorts for graduate students to enroll in ACUE's Course in Effective Teaching Practices in keeping with its commitment to ensuring all graduate students receive formal, comprehensive training in pedagogy. Given that nationwide most graduate programs emphasize research acumen and discipline-specific knowledge, graduate students often lack the support necessary to feel fully equipped to enter the classroom. The University believes that preparing graduate students in diversity and equity alongside its tenured and tenure-track faculty readies them for the workforce, cultivates a more inclusive culture across campus, and benefits all students.
"Preparing students for global citizenship starts with instructional excellence," Carman said. "This partnership with ACUE recognizes and supports the role that effective instruction plays in student success and is central to our University's mission. I believe we are doing our best to address topics of diversity inside the classroom and beyond."
About ACUE: The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) believes that all college students deserve an extraordinary education and that faculty members play a critical role in their success. In partnership with institutions of higher education nationwide, ACUE supports and credentials faculty members in the use of evidence-based teaching practices that drive student engagement, retention, and learning. Faculty members who complete ACUE courses earn certificates in effective college instruction endorsed by the American Council on Education. ACUE's Community of Professional Practice connects college educators from across the country through member forums, podcasts, and updates on the latest developments in the scholarship of teaching and learning. To learn more, visit acue.org.