First year Wake Forest students in biology professor Pat Lord’s seminar present their ideas for posters for a display on disease outbreaks and epidemics during class in Winston Hall on Thursday, October 18, 2018.

I + E = O

When I think about designing courses or curricula, I often start with I + E = O. Seems like a simple equation, right? There are just three variables. “I” are the inputs — the students and the knowledge and experiences they bring with them, and me and the knowledge and experiences I bring. “E” are the learning experiences during the course or curriculum that take students from their starting point at “I” toward achieving “O”, the learning outcomes. When I first started using this equation as a model, it was easier to think of both I and O as fixed variables. That was perfect for my algebra skills because then it was easier to think about how to solve for E. Recently though, I’ve been reading the work of Bryan Dewsbury, Associate Professor of Biological Science at Florida International University, and it’s got me thinking about how making changes to both I and E together can promote deep teaching and improve student learning.

Deep Teaching in a College STEM Classroom

We want deep learning by our students — learning that is reflective, integrative, connective, and analytical. In his essay, “Deep Teaching in a College STEM Classroom“, Dewsbury challenges us to aspire to Deep Teaching, which he operationalizes as a model beginning with intensive reflection and self-analysis, effort to sympathize and connect with our students, and then work tailoring our teaching around that knowledge. 

There are five components to Deep Teaching: self-awareness, empathy, classroom climate, pedagogy, and network leverage. The model begins with self-awareness — the degree to which the instructor understands themselves in the context of what they bring into the classroom. Dewsbury challenges himself, and us, to continually work on recognizing the biases, assumptions, judgements, and motivations that we bring into the class. Greater self-awareness results in a better ability to have empathy for our students. By empathy, Dewsbury means the degree to which the instructor works to understand the social context of the students and authentically listens to and values the student voice. Only after working on self-awareness and empathy can an instructor address climate, pedagogy and the leverage of institutional networks to achieve deep teaching and create deep learning experiences for students.  

Of the many things that I appreciate about this model, one is that it demands that we first undertake the work of understanding and changing the “I” before we work on the “E”. My first inclination is to jump straight into the “E”, to focus on tools, strategies, even systems that I can construct to address a need. Dewsbury reminds me to start with the “I”. Begin with the introspective and sympathizing work of learning who the students are, why they are here, and all the contexts that surround their learning. Start by honestly evaluating myself and the ways that I can change to create conditions for deep learning for my students. I’m reminded of the words of Marva Collins quoted on the cover of the program for the American Association of Colleges and University’s Teaching to Increase Diversity and Equity in STEM Institute, 2022:

Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first…When our students fail, we, as educators, too have failed.”

Marva Collins, Head of the Westside Preparatory School and National Humanities Medal winner.

Inclusive and Active Pedagogies Reduce Academic Outcome Gaps and Improve Long-Term Performance

When you’ve done the work of understanding and changing the “I”, and used that to inform “E”, what is the impact on the “O”? In this paper, Dewsbury and colleagues investigate the impact of teaching built around self-awareness, empathy, and use of inclusive and evidence-based pedagogical strategies on student success. They compare the academic outcomes, as measured by final grade, for students in what they term learner-centered courses 1) by ethnicity; to 2) students in concurrent sections taught in traditional, didactic ways; 3) historical student performance in the same courses during the five years preceding the study; and by 4) the grades earned in future courses. The learner-centered courses were the first course in a required introductory sequence that was taught using an inclusive pedagogy and the second course in that sequence that was taught using an active learning pedagogy.

While this approach did not eliminate performance differences by ethnicity, the median grades for nearly all the ethnicity groups was higher in the learner-centered courses compared to counterparts in didactic-taught sections. In the inclusively-taught first course, the odds of earning a higher grade was greater for all students than in the concurrent didactic sections. In the actively-taught section, the performance gap between ethnicities was narrowed. While the pattern of student performance in the inclusive course was similar to previous years, there was an improvement in performance in the active learning course. Dewsbury et al. also asked if experience in the learner-centered courses had any impact on performance in subsequent courses in the program. While the results were not statistically significant, there was a trend in which students who experienced both learner-centered sections of the two introductory courses did better than students who experienced didactic approaches for both courses. There were no negative consequences associated with the learner-centered sections in subsequent courses. This is important since a common concern and reason for resisting the use of learner-centered pedagogies is that the amount of content taught will be reduced in order to make time for those pedagogies and that will hurt students in future courses. 

This paper contributes to the substantial existing literature demonstrating that active learning approaches improve student outcomes as measured by final course grade. It adds to this conversation by considering inclusive teaching impacts and long-term impacts. However, final course grade is only one way of measuring impact. It would be compelling to also know if the positive impact of inclusive and active teaching extended to other outcomes such as overall retention, continuation in the program of study, confidence, belonging, and perceived value of the content.

More about Bryan Dewsbury and this work

Deep Teaching seems an effective way to represent and systematize Wake Forest’s values around teaching. Cultivate the relational aspect of teaching. Know who you are and then know who your students are. Focus on student learning through a holistic lens. With self-awareness and empathy, maximize the I. Then, facilitate the E by working to create a welcoming classroom where students feel they belong, and by implementing evidence-based practices that help all students achieve the desired learning. Along the way, partner with supporting offices to make sure that students thrive.

Dewsbury, a leading voice advocating for and guiding faculty toward more inclusive teaching, is a great source of knowledge and inspiration. Wake Forest is fortunate to be hosting a visit by Bryan Dewsbury on Monday, February 27th and Tuesday, February 28th. Thanks to the efforts of Wake Forest faculty members Pat Lord (Biology), Angela King (Chemistry), and Jason Parsley (Math), and funding from the Provost’s Academic Innovation Fund, Dr. Dewsbury will give a seminar, “Beyond Inclusion — Education for Civic Engagement” on Monday at 4pm, and lead a workshop on “DEI in practice and the evaluation of the equity-minded experience” on Tuesday from 11am – 1pm. These events are open to the Wake Forest community, though STEM faculty will receive priority registration for the workshop. If you want to learn more, or prepare for this visit, consider joining the Deep Teaching Reading Group, which will take place on Friday, February 17th from 1-2pm or check out the links below.

Science Education and Society Research Program

Deep Teaching Residency

Evidence-Based Teaching Guide: Inclusive Teaching

Context Determines the Strategies for “Activating” the Inclusive Classroom


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