In early June, I had the pleasure of attending the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network’s (KEEN) Enhancing Inclusive Teaching workshop, a 3-day workshop held in the heart of Philadelphia, PA. True to its name, this workshop series focused on enhancing inclusive teaching practices and designing classroom activities that foster inclusive learning environments and experiences for students. Specifically, the facilitators framed the workshop around four factors necessary for building inclusive classroom experiences in engineering: (1) highlighting diverse figures, (2) providing safe spaces for failure, (3) encouraging collaboration over competition, and (4) promoting student autonomy. As an educator, my primary goal has always been to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment for my students. However, engaging in this workshop has opened my eyes to new perspectives and approaches for achieving this goal. The remainder of this blog post highlights some of my reflections and takeaways from engaging in this workshop experience.
My primary takeaway from the workshop was the realization that fostering inclusivity and designing inclusive learning spaces does not necessitate a complete overhaul or re-design of course content. This insight was particularly meaningful to me as a graduate student, as I often have limited control over the curriculum I teach. Going into the workshop, I was unsure how applicable the content would be to a graduate teaching assistant who has little control over the activities and content I am asked to cover during class. The facilitators of the workshop skillfully emphasized that promoting inclusivity can be achieved at various scales and across different levels of teaching autonomy. For example, in our discussion regarding promoting student autonomy, we discussed how I could give my students agency through having them help develop classroom expectations/policies and embedding choice across course activities and tasks to help promote student autonomy.
In addition to framing the content to be applicable to a variety of educators and settings, I also appreciated how the facilitators modeled inclusive practices while running the workshop. One especially powerful demonstration of this was in our ice breaker activity that we completed during the first day, which highlighted an example of diverse figures in engineering. In this activity, we learned about the women who were responsible for weaving the core memory rope (i.e., the “software”) for the Apollo mission. The ice breaker activity required us to “code” our names using the same techniques implemented by the weavers, switch our “memory rope” with another participant and decode it to learn their name. In addition to highlighting diverse figures in engineering, the facilitators also took steps to promote collaboration and create a safe space for failure during this activity, prompting us participants to work together to help each other with coding and decoding. In modeling inclusive teaching practices and providing examples of what this might look like in the classroom, the facilitators helped me feel empowered and confident that I too could do this in my own classroom. Their modeling also prompted my curiosity as to how I could slightly adapt or add on to the existing activities in the first-year engineering course I will be teaching to connect to or recognize diverse figures in engineering.
Finally, the workshop emphasized that inclusive teaching is an ongoing process of growth and reflection. It requires constant self-assessment, seeking feedback from students, and adapting teaching strategies to better meet their needs. In attending this workshop, I have learned the significance of continuously educating myself about the latest research, best practices, and resources related to inclusive teaching. By doing so, I can ensure that my teaching remains responsive, dynamic, and inclusive.
Attending the Enhancing Inclusive Teaching workshop was a transformative experience that has reshaped my approach to education. Through a deeper understanding of how I can highlight diverse figures in engineering, make my classroom into a safe space for students, encourage collaboration, and promote student autonomy, I am better equipped to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students. I am excited to implement these newfound insights as a graduate teaching assistant this coming school year!