Thinking about Structures

On Wednesday, over a dozen faculty and staff came to Conversations on Teaching* to talk about power and privilege in the classroom. Our discussion kept coming back to structures; what kind of structures are already in place, and what structures might we be reproducing, that put up barriers to students’ learning? It was a powerful conversation (pun partially intended), one that opened a lot of avenues of thought about what it is we do with and for our students. (You can access the slides from this session here: Language and Motivation, Privilege and Power, and the references and further reading are here.) In the spirit of continuing that conversation, this week’s links offer some resources, food for thought, and even challenges as we work to discern the structures in higher education that prevent us and our students from being as successful as we should be. structure

We’ve linked this article before, but it’s a great example of how our assumptions about our content and how students learn can actually work against what we want to do in our courses. Annie Murphy Paul, writing in the New York Times, examined research that suggests lecturing is a pedagogical style that inherently privileges those who are “affluent, white, and male” over other groups. That’s a pretty significant argument, and it’s sparked quite the conversation in pedagogy circles. Bear in mind, though, that the article defines lecturing as continuous; that is, uninterrupted solo talking from the instructor–which is far less common (thankfully) than it used to be. Derek Bruff, Director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, makes this point well in his “Defense of Continuous Exposition by the Teacher.” Bruff’s essay is an incisive survey (and critique) of the debate over lecture-based pedagogy, and well worth a read.

But the argument that pedagogical choices can reproduce structures of privilege and inequality is a valid one, and one that we ought to be more cognizant of. And those structures exist within our academic culture as well. If you don’t believe me, keep track of the amount of time males and females speak at the next meeting you attend. Or look at the authors of the textbooks chosen for our survey/foundations classes. Think about the assumptions that guide us in making the decisions that shape the intellectual and social environment of our classes. We are suspended in structures–the “hidden curriculum” of academia–but being intentional in our discernment of their effects helps us and our students to avoid replicating them. And that’s one of the most empowering things we can do for ourselves and our students.

*If you weren’t there, we missed you! But this session will be offered again as a Saturday workshop in January; stay tuned for more details.

From the Library:

On Wednesday, Oct. 7 the “Conversations on…” session covered topics in information literacy. Librarian Cara Stone facilitated the conversation, “Incorporating Information Literacy into Teaching.” Topics discussed included definitions of information literacy and how that translates into practice in the classroom. Participants reviewed rubrics, templates, and example assignments, and discussed ways to modify existing assignments to incorporate things like thesis/research question development, approaches to accessing information, ways to analyze and distinguish between sources,  and synthesize, communicate, and ethically manage information.  Those interested in learning more can visit to view the presentation slides or to schedule an individual appointment with a librarian.

Looking for resources? Ideas? Help?

Click here for this week’s CETL Library Spotlight

Click here to contact CETL

Click here to see a dog regretting its recent decisions.




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