Learning Council Focused on Its Development and Welcomed New Members This Fall

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Given the unconventional fall term, the Learning Council thought it would be helpful to provide a synthesis of its efforts in late fall, representing the work of its October, November, and December meetings.

The council welcomed its 13 new members* in October. Stanton Reed, accounting professor and Learning Council co-chair and Michelle Foster, dean, academic affairs, East Campus, facilitated a discussion of the first parts of Dr. Ibram Kendi’s book “How to be an Antiracist.” They asked members to reflect on what we need to clearly define as a Learning Council that will give us a foundation for the work toward racial equity at the College. Responses included the council’s responsibility to provide definitions for race as it relates to academia that are appropriate for teaching and learning; that it should be the Learning Council’s work to understand common language; and that when we define our policies as either racist or anti-racist, we are then able to hold ourselves accountable.

The council discussed the broader college context for equity work and invited members to describe equity efforts in their areas. Members also reviewed a summary of the book “How Learning Works: Seven Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching” by Ambrose and colleagues, and they committed to continue engaging with the science of learning to enhance the council’s ability to do its job and help develop the institutional Learning Plan in the spring.

A discussion on antiracism and the role of the Learning Council

The November meeting of the Learning Council, held on Thursday, November 5, 2020, was condensed to 55 minutes, so that council members could participate in the presidential search semi-finalist interview process. The brief discussion focused on chapters 2-8 of “How to Be an Antiracist” and was facilitated by new Council member LaVonda Walker McKnight, faculty, New Student Experience. She asked, “How has your definition of racism changed as a result of reading chapters 2-8? How has that impacted you personally?”

Among the responses were: “I see racism more now as policies/laws/structures. This has changed my focus on where to dig in and do the work,” and “Kendi has taught me that policies and decisions (even on a personal level) are either racist or antiracist. There is no racial neutrality.”

After sharing excerpts from the book that caused them to think differently about their work individually and the work of the council, members were asked “Now What?” and examined policies at the College that could be reframed to be more equity-minded. Responses ranged from student conduct, hiring processes, and employee onboarding, to the selection of instructional materials, classroom management, and attendance policies

Putting our equity and learning discussions to work 

Finally, the December meeting, held on Thursday, December 3, 2020, had three primary goals: to reflect on and celebrate the work of the year and begin looking ahead to spring, begin to recalibrate how the council reviews work proposals/plans, and review two work proposals.

Nichole Jackson, director, learning assessment, guided members in an activity during which they each recalled their experiences as a student which resonated with one or more of the “How Learning Works” principles of learning science; for instance, a specific time they benefited from a teacher employing one of the principles, and/or a time when a teacher didn’t take into account the science of learning.

Building on that discussion and drawing on the Council’s equity work, Wendi Dew, assistant vice president, teaching and learning, facilitated an application exercise. “Given what we have read and discussed, what criteria do we now know to look for when we commission work through proposals/plans?,” she asked.

Small groups generated ideas, and the council isolated two new criteria through which to review the work proposals under consideration that day: 1) the extent to which the proposal makes explicit how equity-minded practice is a lens through which research and work will be completed, and 2) How will we know if the work has been successful?/What is the primary goal and/or learning outcomes?

Isis Artze-Vega, vice president for academic affairs and Learning Council co-chair, introduced the two work proposals, one focused on classroom-based early alert work and another on the Post-COVID Learning Support model. Wendi represented the early alerts proposal, which she will co-lead, and Leonard Bass, dean, learning support, East and Jennifer Tomlinson, interim dean, learning support, West, represented the learning support.

Feedback was shared via Google Docs and verbally. For instance, Lauren Thomas, professor, math, noted that she “would want to make sure that the alerts are not triggered by stereotypical behavior that is racialized but [rather by] research-backed indicators that identify students who require outreach and help.” James McDonald, executive director, BASBOL, asked of the learning support proposal if the team planned to look into the characteristics of the students using services during the pandemic to see if there are differences by race/ethnicity from prior to the pandemic.

Wendi and the learning support team will update their proposals based on the council’s feedback and share the updated proposals with the LC prior to its first spring meeting.

*New members:

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