Fostering Inclusive Excellence: Faculty Contributions to ITL 2021

by Ronada Dominique

Fostering Inclusive Excellence: Faculty Contributions to ITL 2021

The 13th annual Innovations In Teaching & Learning Conference: Fostering Inclusive Excellence, hosted by the Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning from September 20th-24th, was held online for a second year. At a time when many may be exhausted by Zoom fatigue, this year’s online gathering showcased a plethora of research interests and creative execution by faculty, GTAs, administrators, and staff dedicated to making education more inclusive by interrogating current practices and structures across disciplines.

Dr. Tia Brown McNair, Vice President in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success, Association of American Colleges and Universities, provided the opening keynote with thought provoking questions surrounding evidence-based teaching strategies that prepare students for their futures, and the responsibility of universities and faculty to critically develop equity goals to ensure that all students are provided a quality education in proper learning environments.

Composition program faculty shared their expertise in creating inclusive classroom and committing to educational equity. Presentations from faculty included mentoring undergraduate research, creating a sense of belonging, how to engage students online, and teaching sensitive topics related to social justice online. Focusing on the aspect of inclusion, these presentations reveal the work that faculty is doing in fostering - the action required to create such inclusion, and the desire to share such strategies and methods with the larger Mason community.

Laura Ellen Scott co-presented a 45-minute panel/roundtable discussion: “Mentoring Undergraduate Research and Creative Projects” to discuss the need for preparing mentors to mentor undergraduate projects. The roundtable became a platform for sharing ideas, best practices, strategies. and tips on how to mentor undergraduate projects. 

David Powers Corwin co-lead a 90-minute showcase with ten other faculty members: “Creating Community and a Sense of Belonging in your course”. This session included the sharing of practical activities and tools used in the classroom by presenters, small group discussions on building community, and a Q&A session.

David also co- presented “Incorporating Mindfulness and Well-Being Into Your Course” with Katherine Miscavige and othersand “Teaching Sensitive Topics Virtually: Challenges and Success from Social Justice Educators”. Katherine also led a presentation, “Making Large Classes Feel Small with Learning Communities” discussing using learning communities in large classes with a particular eye to online asynchronous instruction. 

Several composition faculty co-participated in a number of showcases and collaborations, including Ariel Goldenthal, who presented “​​Online Class Meetings: Activities and Strategies to Engage Students”, “Pandemic Pedagogy: Lessons Learned and New Models”, and “Transparency in Your Course and Assignments: Making the “Hidden Curriculum Visible” honing in on informed teaching practices and strategies that increase student engagement, including transparency in course assignments and expectations. 

The diverse presentations from composition faculty reflect the many ways in which inclusion can be implemented in the classroom and on college campuses. Presentations like Anna Habib and Tom Polk’s “​​Teaching Research Writing: A Showcase of Mini-lessons and Activities from across the Curriculum”, detail the ways in which instructors can be more intentional about lessons and activities in class.

“Responding to Student Writing: Strategies for Efficient and Inclusive Feedback on Writing Assignments” with Susan Lawrence and Courtney Massie highlights the importance of providing students with quality feedback on assignments, and also informs and empowers faculty to exercise varies communication strategies to meet the diverse needs of students.

Fostering inclusive excellence at Mason is not the responsibility of one faculty member or department. It requires a commitment from the entire university which was captured in the  “Mason Instructor Resources Roadshow and Resource Fair” where Susan Lawrence, Courtney Massie, Esther Namubiru, Tom Polk, Anna Habib, and David Corwin shared knowledge on the range of  campus resources they have used that support them in their teaching and students on campus. The session also allowed participants to speak with resource representatives on campus about how instructors may integrate campus services in their classes.

Joyce Johnston, Alice Wigglesworth, Liz Paul, James Savage, Christina Grieco, Audrey Pettibon, Susan Lawrence, and Deborah Sanchez, who, along with Esther Namubiru often collaborate with the composition program in bridging INTO Mason, led on demand sessions ranging from anti-racist pedagogies, to teaching transfer students online asynchronously, to utilizing the writing center as a way to support student writing and considerations for international grad students and library resources.

Using the full capabilities of the Zoom platform, the conference ended with a collaborative team building opportunity: “Equity by Design: An Invitation to Act”  to brainstorm with colleges about how to apply ideas generated during the conference and scale them up to make institutional change.

Composition faculty, despite a tumultuous year, dedicated tremendous time and effort to this year’s ITL conference. Their willingness to showcase their commitment to classroom inclusivity, social justice, and anti-racist pedagogy is a crucial element of campus-wide change and expansion.