George Mason University: The Inclusive Teaching and Curriculum Initiative seeks to foster a more welcoming atmosphere for all students to increase learning

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Christopher A. Carr, chief diversity office in George Mason University’s College of Engineering and Computing (CEC), sees the new Inclusive Teaching and Curriculum Initiative as a natural response to President Gregory Washington’s call for exemplars in combating systemic racism and the marginalization of underserved groups in academia.

The two-workshop program, which was developed by the college’s Office of Diversity, Outreach, and Inclusive Learning (DOIL), is an acknowledgement that the increase in diverse student populations entering higher education has not been met by a corresponding increase in resources for faculty to teach those visible and often invisible entities, Carr said.

The team piloted a short course for CEC and College of Science faculty, offering them tools and techniques for fostering inclusion and making them aware of university resources available to them.

Three faculty enrolled in a longer five-module course on “in-depth inclusive curriculum practices that are designed around identity, power, positionality and privilege and their system effects in higher education,” Carr said.

The initiative is part of efforts to heed the call of President Washington’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force (ARIE), which joined the Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning and the Office of Community Engagement and Civic Learning in funding curriculum design, teaching strategies and pedagogical resources supporting anti-racist and inclusive teaching. Supporting the integration of ARIE throughout the Mason curriculum was one of the three areas recommended for funding by the task force’s Curriculum and Pedagogy Committee.

Short-course topics covered introduction to tools/techniques needed to foster inclusion, and introduction to inclusive assessment tools and course resources. Long-course workshop modules included topics surrounding the current state of inclusive pedagogy in engineering education, student-centered course design, and course activities and appropriate space needed for more inclusive classrooms.

Inclusive classrooms are settings in which the instructors/faculty and students work together to create and sustain an environment where all feel safe, supported and encouraged to express their views and concerns.

“We hope that, in these classrooms, content is deliberately viewed from multiple perspectives and the varied experiences of a range of groups,” said Carr, who noted the critical assistance of Christi Wilcox, his diversity associate, in putting things together.

Faculty members who took part in the summer’s long-course workshop were Mihai Boicu, an associate professor and associate director at the Learning Agents Center Information Sciences and Technology School of Computing within the CEC; Eugene Kim, an assistant professor of bioengineering in the CEC; and Katherine (Raven) Russell, an assistant professor of computer science within the College of Engineering and Computing.

“We want to ensure that faculty are able to present content in a style that reduces all students’ experiences of marginalization and, whenever possible, helps students and faculty understand that their individual experience, values and perspectives influence how they construct and evaluate knowledge in any field or discipline,” Carr said.

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