As another academic year commences, for many educators, the anticipation before the first class is a blend of nerves and excitement. I used to feel the same way when I was a university instructor. Oddly, I’ve cherished that feeling. It reminds me how much I care about my students — how the work I do as a teacher is a holistic and humanistic process.
Post by Gwen Nguyen, Advisor, Learning + Teaching
University instructors preparing to launch courses this year bear a weighty responsibility. Beyond the typical curriculum planning and development, such as preparing a clear, comprehensive syllabus and connecting with students to build rapport, it’s also critical to consider the ethical dimensions of course design and delivery. In this blog, I share some reflection questions and practical tips that emphasize ethical considerations in successfully launching a course while fostering a safe, inclusive, equitable learning environment.
Preparing and Designing a Course as an Ethical Act
Gluchmanova (2015) said educators are in a position of practicing of ethical and professional judgement. As you design and teach with and for others, preparing and designing a course should be an ethical act. Course preparation is an opportunity to foster open, inclusive, equitable knowledge creation, sharing, and community service. Following are some reflection questions and tips to guide this process.
- What ethical considerations should guide your course design process?
- Are your course materials inclusive and accessible to all students, including those with disabilities?
- Have you identified potential biases or stereotypes in your course content? How can you address these biases?
- Keep the course description and expectations simple and flexible. Where possible, allow students multiple avenues for participation and assessment.
- Ensure your syllabus clearly outlines policies on academic integrity and ethics.
- Create space for open discussions on global ethical issues in education, extending beyond the subject matter to encompass course policies.
For further reading on ethics as design, please see the first blog in Digital Pedagogy Toolbox Blog Series 2022-2023
Teaching a Course as a Transformative Act
Teaching is never process of information transmission; it’s a transformative inquiry process (Tanaka et al., 2014). Teachers are transformative agents who share knowledge in professional environments through innovative projects and institutional culture transformation (Reinius et al., 2022). Today’s classroom is more diverse than ever, with students bringing unique life experiences and understandings. Recognizing your transformative potential is crucial. You don’t need to start big. It can be something as simple as including a statement in your course syllabus to acknowledge auto-generated transcription and captioning are enabled in your course. Here are some questions and tips to foster inclusivity and access.
- How can you make your course materials and activities more inclusive?
- Are you attuned to the diverse ways of knowing and learning among your students?
- How can you create a classroom culture that values diversity and inclusion?
- Use diverse examples and case studies that represent different backgrounds and perspectives.
- Offer multiple ways for students to demonstrate their understanding, such as through discussions, projects, or presentations.
- Encourage open dialogue and active listening to foster a respectful, inclusive classroom environment.
Teaching as Healing
Since the release of the final reports from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015, there has been a significant focus on the implementation of decolonization and Indigenization in teaching and learning practices within post-secondary institutions (Brunette-Debassige et al., 2022). As a scholar who immigrated to Canada from an Asian country, decolonization begins with a profound introspection of my own identity and positionality in relation to the community where I live, work, and study. Decolonization, much like healing, is a personal journey with no defined end. It requires determination and a long-term commitment to change (Nahanee, n.d., p. 2). Below are some reflection questions and tips to help you navigate decolonization and Indigenization in your course design.
- What does decolonization mean to you and in your teaching practice?
- Who are you as an educator and scholar? Why do you do what you do?
- How can you incorporate Indigenous perspectives in your course content?
- Are there opportunities to challenge colonial narratives in your subject area?
- How can you support Indigenous students and acknowledge their experiences?
- Start with a practice of land acknowledgement, and share your positionality statement in your syllabus or verbally during the first day of class.
- Create a space for Indigenous students to share their perspectives and experiences if they are comfortable doing so.
- Examine course materials critically for colonial biases, and consider alternative sources.
- Explore Indigenous pedagogies and teaching approaches that incorporate storytelling and experiential and community-based learning in your course.
As we approach fall, remember that ethical course design, inclusive teaching and learning, and the integration of decolonization and Indigenous ways of knowing are essential elements to foster a meaningful educational experience for all students. By reflecting on these principles and implementing some of the tips I have shared, you are playing a crucial role in building a safe, equitable, inclusive learning environment that honours diverse perspectives and promotes ethics in academia.
Brunette-Debassige et al., (2022). Mapping approaches to decolonizing and Indigenizing the curriculum at Canadian universities: Critical reflections on current practices, challenges, and possibilities. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 13(3). https://10.18584/iipj.2022.13.3.14109
Gluchmanova, M. (2015). The importance of ethics in the teaching profession. Procedia — Social and Behavioral Sciences, 176: 509–513. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.01.504
Nahanee, T. (n.d.) Decolonize first: A Liberating guide and workbook for peeling back the layers of neocolonialism. https://nahaneecreative.com/ta7taliyas-shop/p/decolonize-first-workbook
Reinius, H., Kaukinen, I., Korhonen, T., Juuti, K., & Hakkarainen, K. (2022). Teachers as transformative agents in changing school culture. Teaching and Teacher Education, 120. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2022.103888
Tanaka, M. T. D. (2015). Transformative Inquiry in teacher education: Evoking the soul of what matters. Teacher Development, 19(2): 133–150. https://doi.org/10.1080/13664530.2014.992459