The following ideas are highlights from the GSB Student Voices panel on Classroom Experiences of Inclusion, Belonging, and Equitable Participation, held on May 24, 2023. Students shared their experiences of how GSB faculty have cultivated inclusion, invited diverse perspectives, and encouraged productive disagreement in their classrooms. The event was co-sponsored by TLHub, DEI Council and GSB Student Leadership.
Below are students’ insights, perspectives, and actionable tips that you may consider adapting for your own courses. When making changes, we recommend starting small and testing a few strategies that you think might be most relevant to your teaching. Reach out to us at the Teaching and Learning Hub if you’d like any support.
Getting Started by Building Trust
During the panel, students shared how instructors build trust at the start of a quarter and how these early experiences have helped them prepare to engage in challenging course topics.
- Help students get to know you and their classmates at the start of the quarter to enable community building and set the stage for difficult conversations.
Student quote: In one class we introduced ourselves and the professor shared a little about themselves, like why they got into academia. That helped me understand the people in the classroom. There’s something about showing people who you are that is very enlightening and enables better community building and discussion. This is an important first step to having difficult conversations on topics that are contentious.
- Establish common (learning) experiences that students can refer back to and help them feel connected to their classmates.
Student quote: I would stress the value of ritual in classrooms, to help remind students about their common experiences and commonalities over differences. For example, Week 0 does this quite well, and a lot of us reference that common experience later in the year. We felt a kind of kinship with everyone who was in more intense courses together. That made it easier to do hard or controversial things later.
- Survey students about their professional expertise and refer back to that information at relevant points in class. You might use this strategy to purposefully invite quieter students into the discourse or to bring in students’ lived experiences that connect to your course topics.
Student quote: I really appreciate when professors send out a survey before class asking students about their professional expertise. When the professor sends out those surveys and later says, “Hey, [student], you have experience with this – what do you think about this new [product]? Would you invest in this or that?” I think that’s a really good way to encourage people to speak.
For more on this topic, hear how Associate Professor of Marketing Szu-Chi Huang invites students to share their expertise in the classroom (17:38).
Inviting Open Discourse
Students shared structures, routines, and activities that they have said work well to productively invite open discourse around controversial or difficult topics.
- Anonymously poll student perspectives on an issue before beginning a discussion and share the results to show the distribution of class viewpoints.
Student quote: An anonymous poll can help show the entire class that you’re likely not alone if you have a controversial or minority viewpoint on an issue. Seeing the results can encourage us to feel confident enough to dissent from the perceived popular view.
For more on this strategy, hear about Associate Professor of Political Economy Katherine Casey’s example of using polling to open discussion on a controversial topic (41:36).
- Assign roles in a debate or discussion on controversial topics.
Student quote: Instructors can assign roles, asking students to make their best counterargument for a particular view, regardless of their personal opinions. I think that is very effective, not only for bringing up diverse opinions but also to push us to think through someone else’s perspective.
For more on this strategy, hear how Katherine Casey assigns roles during challenging discussions (37:47).
- Add extra time into your lesson plan when digging into course content that may bring up contentious or sensitive ideas.
Student quote: If we’re going to wade into examples, cases, or other content that have major social implications, it’s important to create the space for those issues to be responsibly and safely discussed. If that’s not possible, it’s often helpful to choose a different example that doesn’t bring up difficult issues the class won’t have an opportunity to discuss.
Student quote: When someone brings up a question or a concern, or an alternative opinion, and there isn’t time to explore it, this can end up feeling like a value judgment even if it’s not intended that way.
- Give advance notice when asking students to openly discuss challenging topics to give students time to stretch their thinking.
Student quote: If I have to debate something in the moment, I’ll just pick the side I feel most comfortable with. … I don’t want to feel like I can’t successfully engage in the material in a way that makes me feel confident about how I am showing up in class. But getting advance notice to prepare a thoughtful answer really enriches the conversation.
In the panel, students shared the many ways GSB professors elicit diverse perspectives during discussion and other classroom activities.
- Acknowledge that you may not be an expert on every idea that comes up in discussion.
Student quote: I think sometimes professors feel like they need to be omniscient in class. But when a professor says, “I don’t know – that’s a good question. Let me think about it and get back to you,” That’s an equally valid answer to me.
- Ask students to voice their perspectives before voicing your own to avoid inadvertently suggesting a “right” answer.
Student quote: It can be helpful if the instructor avoids giving their opinion right off the bat. I think if the instructor shares their opinion very early, a student may not be willing to dissent from the instructor because they think it may hurt their standing in class.
- Regularly ask students to form counterarguments, or present them yourself, no matter your opinion on a subject.
Student quote: When the instructor realizes that the students are forming a consensus too quickly, I’ve noticed that it’s helpful if the instructor argues a controversial or dissenting point.
For more on this topic, hear Lecturer in Management David Dodson discuss his approach to eliciting deeper answers (1:06).
- Occasionally, first ask to hear only from students who disagree when discussing a reading, case, or example that presents one of multiple approaches to a problem.
Student quote: I think it works very well when a professor says, “Does anyone disagree with this reading? I only want to hear from someone who disagrees.” That can be a way to discuss something that strengthens both sides of an argument.