How MIT digital learning scientists are fostering inclusive teaching practices
Training workshop will soon be available to educators worldwide
By Katherine Ouellette
Envision a classroom with posters hung on the walls, each labeled with a variety of identities: gender, race, sexuality, age, abilities, religion, and more. Students are encouraged to reflect on which identities apply to themselves and stick post-it notes on the respective posters. The teacher then leads a class discussion about how these different facets of ourselves impact the way we navigate the world.
For Michaela Bartusel, postdoc at MIT Calo Lab, this exercise from MIT 7.InT Inclusive Teaching Module embodied the course’s main goal. “The most striking thing from this module was when I became aware of certain identities that I hold,” she says. “We probably all hold hidden identities that strongly influence how we interact with others.”
“We probably all hold hidden identities that strongly influence how we interact with others.”
Inclusive Teaching is a hybrid training workshop series offered to MIT postdocs, graduate students, and junior faculty the summer before embarking on their first teaching experiences. The in-person classes focus on interactive discussions that model what inclusive teaching looks like in practice, and learners keep the discussion top of mind as they complete online assessments and reflection questions. “You can experience the active learning that you want to include in your classroom,” Bartusel says.
This MIT-wide resource is being adapted into an online course under a Creative Commons license. Educators around the world will be able to explore the material on their own and offer the workshop at their own institutions. But this microcredential was initially intended for a much smaller community.
Incorporating the best of both worlds
Inclusive Teaching was first developed in response to a need for teaching training, support, and community for MIT’s postdoc population. Darcy Gordon, digital learning scientist at MIT Open Learning, experienced that resource gap firsthand when she was a postdoc at MIT Department of Biology. One of her early efforts to foster community was qtPhDs, MIT’s first queer and trans postdoc group, which she founded and co-led with then-postdoc David Bergsman from MIT Materials Science and Engineering. Together, they went on to develop the first iteration of the Inclusive Teaching Training Workshop in 2019. Gordon estimates they reached approximately 100 postdocs through four in-person workshops in 2019 and 2020.
“I started out wanting to meet a need of an underserved part of the MIT community, LGBTQ+ postdocs,” Gordon says. “The fact that this blossomed into so much more demonstrates the demand for this material is so much greater.”
“It’s the little things, like learning someone’s name, that make a big difference. You don’t need to completely change the way you teach.”
In the wake of Covid-19 and Bergsman’s postdoc departure for a faculty position, Gordon pivoted the curriculum online. The digital format allowed her to extend the workshops to other groups on MIT campus like the Communication Lab and Jameel World Education Lab. Connecting with a broader audience became the catalyst to build an online module available to anyone at MIT, not just the postdocs.
The next iteration of Inclusive Teaching was a microcredential-bearing workshop series, combining the best aspects of the online module with the best aspects of in-person discussion. Mary Ellen Wiltrout (PhD ‘09), digital learning scientist at MIT Open Learning, received an MITx Express Exploration Grant to build this microcredential with Gordon as the lead. They had faculty sponsorship from Professor Cathy Drennan.
“This module helps you understand the ‘why’ and see the value of what you’re doing.”
Once complete, Gordon co-facilitated the Inclusive Teaching microcredential three times with Hallie Dowling-Huppert, diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for MIT Biology. Most of the graduate students, postdocs, and junior faculty who took the workshop were in the Department of Biology, but they also reached learners in the chemistry and engineering disciplines. The team distributed surveys before and after the course and analyzed the results.
“We saw significant gains in how learners reported their identity awareness and empathy as well as their confidence in building inclusive classrooms,” Gordon says. “That tells me we are making the impact we hoped for.”
Achieving a deeper understanding of effective teaching methods
By the time Bartusel took Inclusive Teaching in November 2022, the workshop had evolved into this hybrid microcredential. She says it complements the Kaufman Teaching Certificate Program from MIT Teaching and Learning Lab, which she had been completing concurrently. The Inclusive Teaching material, she says, helped her achieve a deeper understanding of why these pedagogies are effective. “I understood the whole motivation behind the diverse classroom and why these actions were important,” she states.
Creating a sense of belonging doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Bartusel says, “It’s the little things, like learning someone’s name, that make a big difference. You don’t need to completely change the way you teach.”
“I understood the whole motivation behind the diverse classroom and why these actions were important.”
The continuous iterations and improvement of the Inclusive Teaching Module have coincided with reaching broader audiences who benefit from this training. The impact is starting to extend beyond the MIT community thanks to open education resources. Gordon presented Promising Results from a Blended Inclusive Teaching Micro-Credential at the 2023 Open edX Conference. On October 11, she will present the workshop Facilitating an Inclusive Teaching Workshop with Open Education Resources at the IEEE 2023 Learning with Massive Open Online Courses conference at MIT. The Creative Commons-licensed Inclusive Teaching Module will be available on the MIT Open Learning Library in mid-October.
“This module helps you understand the ‘why’ and see the value of what you’re doing,” Bartusel says. “I want to create clarity in the classroom rather than teaching, ‘This is how we should do it.’”
How MIT digital learning scientists are fostering inclusive teaching practices was originally published in MIT Open Learning on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.