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Grand Valley State University faculty members were honored at the annual BbWorld conference July 14, 2016 for their efforts toward creating and maintaining inclusive classrooms.

Cheryl Kautz and Szymon Machajewski, both affiliate instructors in the School of Computing and Information Systems, were selected as winners of the “Most Inclusive Classrooms in the United States” contest in June—organized by Blackboard, Inc., a virtual learning environment and course management system. The contest was held in recognition of Global Accessibility Day, which took place in May.

Szymon Machajewski interview notes:

How do you strive to make your classroom(s) more inclusive? Please share your story.

In 1975 there was a text-based computer game for new teachers called Tenure.  The lesson of the game was that the quality of pedagogy is a very insignificant part of staying hired in a teaching position.  The game stressed that the relationship with the supervisor and ability to negotiate office politics were main predictors of success.  I strive to make my teaching a game worth playing.  This means clear communication of rules, inviting as many students to play as possible, and creating conditions, where students aim for a well played game, not just a win or grade.  The culture of gaming resonates with students and provides a metaphor for the necessary grunt work, demonstration of skills and inclusivity.

What does inclusivity in the classroom mean to you?

In a historical paper, “The 2 Sigma Problem”, Dr Bloom reported that teachers are frequently unaware that they provide favorable learning conditions only for the top fraction of their classes.  To me inclusive classrooms go beyond accessibility and need to focus on providing a variety of activities, which may reach and address stereotype threat and microaggressions affecting many students today.

How do you feel your students will ultimately benefit from learning in an inclusive environment?

Classrooms are often reflections of the workplace.  Faculty use behaviors and techniques that are familiar to them from their school or work experience.   Today, our classrooms follow the traditional design from the industrial revolution and focus on compliance and extrinsic rewards.  This does not promote the necessary creativity and productivity of the new workforce.  Creating new paradigms of cooperation and mutual respect in the classroom will have a deep impact on future work environments.  Focus on extrinsic rewards sometimes leads to bullying or concealed discrimination.  Qualified people are not given opportunities because “they are not a good fit for our team”.  Such work culture leads to sensitive people leaving STEM industries.  Recent news articles feature titles like “Why women leave tech: It’s the culture, not because ‘math is hard’”.  Why should we encourage girls to get into STEM if they are just going to leave it anyway?  Issues of bias and inclusivity should be of high priority in education and in business.

How will you work to improve the inclusivity of your classroom moving forward?

I work closely with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and the GVSU Faculty Teaching and Learning Circles.  This year I was invited to speak at the upcoming Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning about “Building inclusive university culture by gameful design of teaching”.

 

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In addition to the most recent recognition from Blackboard in accessibility and inclusive teaching, in 2011 I received a Blackboard Catalyst Award for Innovative Software Development and in 2014 Award for Design of Exemplary Online Courses.

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