Category: Dalhousie

Anti-Racism in STEMM

I learned a lot from reading Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist“. There were times, though, when I wasn’t able to transfer those ideas and actions into the environment and culture of university and higher education. This new paper, “Responses to 10 common criticisms of anti-racism action in STEMM” (15 July 2021) carefully and clearly makes the connections I was missing. (The second M is STEMM is medicine, btw.)

Gosztyla ML, Kwong L, Murray NA, Williams CE, Behnke N, et al. (2021) Responses to 10 common criticisms of anti-racism action in STEMM. PLOS Computational Biology 17(7): e1009141.

As you can tell from the title, the paper addresses 10 criticisms and suggests actions to counter the criticism. Do these sound familiar to you?

  1. “There is no evidence of racism in STEMM.”
  2. “Don’t politicize STEMM! Stick to the science, not social issues.”
  3. “I’m not racist, so I don’t need to do anything.”
  4. “I only hire/award/cite based on merit; I do not need to consider race.”
  5. “There just aren’t as many BIPOC who want to work in STEMM.”
  6. “Diversity initiatives are unfair to nonminority students/faculty; it’s reverse discrimination.”
  7. “Education is the great equalizer.”
  8. “I don’t agree with racist statements, but people should be allowed to express their opinions and have debates.”
  9. “Focusing on anti-Black racism ignores the experiences of non-Black POC, in addition to sexism, ableism, etc.”
  10. “Improving racial equity and inclusivity does not benefit STEMM as a whole.”

If you’ve heard any one of these and you’re not sure how to respond to counter the misconception, I urge you to read the article.

Active Learning and Antiracism

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
I’m reading “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. This blog post is a thread I posted on Twitter. Clicking on any of the tweets will open the thread in Twitter where you can more easily follow links, react, and respond.

I’m looking forward to the next 200 pages of “How to Be an Antiracist” and the insights that emerge.

Group work in online, synchronous classes

Freeman et al. (2014) remind us

Active learning engages students in the process of learning through activities and/or discussions in class, as opposed to passively listening to an expert. It emphasizes higher-order thinking and often involves group work.

Those times in our in-person classes when we stop talking and let the students work together on something – those are some of the most rewarding moments. We get to walk around the room, connect up close with our students, show them we’re human and that they’re more than a student number. If the activity is a good one, the room is loud, students are practicing expert-like ways of thinking and talking, and they’re learning. On their own. Without you.

(Well, don’t underestimate the amount of work you’ve already done assembling materials for the group work, preparing students to work effectively without you, and creating a classroom culture where they know this activity is valuable enough to give it their attention.)

How can we recreate this in synchronous, online classes?

Following the example of some all-star colleagues like Bridgette Clarkston @funnyfishes, I’ve been facilitating group work in a course I’m teaching using the meeting software (Collaborate Ultra) and Google Slides. I’ve tried this 3 or 4 times with my small group of students and honestly, I’m pretty happy with it!

If you have suggestions and feedback, I’d love to hear it!

Updated Nov 23, 2020: Thanks, Greg duManoir @gdumanoir, for pointing out that teaching assistants can also circulate through the breakout rooms and Google Sheets, providing another opportunity for students to connect with the teaching team.

Update Nov 23, 2020: Thanks, Steve McNeil @wsmcneil, for a variation using Google Docs. Steve creates student groups in the LMS. When it’s time for the activity, students in Group 7 go into Breakout Room 7, and respond to Question 7 in the shared Google Doc.