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DIVERSITY, EQUITY, INCLUSION, AND COMPASSION: IN A QUANTITATIVE METHODS CLASS— WARD LYLES (2018)

Overview

This e-portfolio summarizes my work to engage graduate students and build their competence and confidence in a required quantitative methods course in Urban Planning. For five years I have employed active learning strategies – namely team-based learning – and in 2017 I reworked the course to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion dimensions throughout the course. The revisions to the course were informed by my participation in the inaugural group of Diversity Scholars.

Background

My target course, UBPL 741, introduces master’s students in Urban Planning to the application of research methods in the field of urban planning and policy. My main motivation for changing UBPL 741 was to improve the quality and depth of engagement with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, all of which are critical to the professional work of urban planners.

Implementation

Changes I made to the course are organized around three components: course climate, pedagogy, and content. My work on course climate included revising course syllabus materials and taking extra time to develop a classroom community of openness and trust in the first week of the semester. With pedagogy, I created a new semester-long, scaffolded e-portfolio assignment. I approached content changes two ways:

  1. I added a two-week module at the beginning of the semester focused entirely on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  2. I reworked many of the existing in-class exercises, assignments, and quiz questions to more directly deal with DEI issues in planning.
Student Work

This section provides examples of student work, in particular the final semester project, which asked students to engage in self-reflection about diversity, equity, and inclusion in their own work and to provide a research prospectus for an applied urban planning problem with DEI components. It also includes excerpts from mid-semester and end-of-semester reflections students completed.

Reflections

I learned a great deal by developing the course and even more teaching it. Although much transpired to feel good about, there are areas of improvement moving forward. At the end of the semester I asked students (anonymously or not) to provide suggestions on what can be improved in future iterations of the class. The somewhat surprising and refreshing core theme of student feedback is a desire for even more inclusion of DEI throughout the semester.


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BACKGROUND

General information

UBPL 741 is the first half of a two-part series (with UBPL 742) that introduces master’s students in Urban Planning to the application of research methods in the field of urban planning and policy. The class typically has 20 to 25 students, who meet twice a week for 75 minutes in a room with movable desks. From a course format standpoint, the entire course is taught using team-based learning, an approach to collaborative learning that motivates students to hold themselves and each other accountable (see Michaelson, Knight and Fink 2004 or Sibley and Ostafichuk 2014 for more information). It involves strategically ordered individual work and teamwork with immediate feedback. TBL shifts the focus of classroom time from the instructor conveying course concepts to the application of course concepts by student learning teams.

Motivation for 2017 changes

My main motivation for changing UBPL 741 for 2017 was to improve the quality and depth of engagement with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, all of which are critical to the professional work of urban planners.

In the past, I structured the course around learning goals and objectives focused on research design, research ethics, and data collection and analysis, with most attention directed at quantitative methods. Even though a few exercises and assignments touched on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (e.g. framing analytical problems around a real-life word problem dealing with environment justice), the DEI aspect of the course was subtle.

As part of the Diversity Scholars Program, I spent a great deal of time in the first half of 2017 considering how best to redesign the course. In the process I aimed to be able to articulate to the students (and myself) what my ambitions were with the changes.

Concurrently with being in the Diversity Scholars Program, I read Shakil Choudhury’s Deep Diversity (2017), which provides a compact, powerful, research-grounded, and accessible framework for “overcoming Us vs. Them” divisions that inhibit or complicate so much of the work around DEI. The framework highlights the central role that emotions, biases, tribes, and power (all of which are naturally arising in people, sometimes healthy, and largely pervasive) play in shaping how we engage with other people. For those unfamiliar with Choudhury’s framework: Emotions refers to the fundamental inability of humans to separate all (perhaps any) thoughts and decision-making from our emotional state and traits. Biases refers to the reality that all of us have mental shortcuts we employ (typically unconsciously) that help us sort the overwhelming amount of sensory information and thoughts and emotions we have to process at every second. Tribes refers to the strong tendency of humans to have more awareness of and empathy for people who are most like ourselves. Power refers to the imminent and persistent need to continually name, challenge and equalize imbalances in power over multiple dimensions of life, including decision-making and resource allocation. Each of the four explanations of pervasive Us vs. Them thinking and action points to barriers – and potentially solutions – for fostering greater diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Based on the reflections prompted through Diversity Scholars and Choudhury’s book, I chose to include new material in the syllabus that makes explicit, among other elements, the learning goals, core themes, and motivating questions, shown below. This front material informed the more specific implementation of the course redesign.

Learning goals:

Upon completing UBPL 741 I will:

  1. apply research thinking and methods in my work to improve the communities in which I work, and
  2. feel motivated and prepared to steadfastly engage in a life-long process of reflection, learning, and action to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in my community.

Planners – practitioners and scholars alike – have many different definitions of planning. For now, I want you to consider four core themes that cross essentially all definitions and theories of planning.

  1. Future – as planners, we influence current actions to shape an uncertain future.
  2. People – as planners, we engage the full diversity of people in our communities.
  3. Learning – as planners, we generate and apply knowledge to solve problems.
  4. Process – as planners, we inform and shape decision-making, which means we must tackle power and conflict if we want to be effective.

With these four themes in mind, in this course we will develop answers to these motivating questions:

  1. Why do we struggle so much with “us” vs. “them?” Why does it matter for planning?
  2. How do we know what we know? How do we learn more?
  3. What is data? What distinguishes good data from bad data? How do we get good data?
  4. How should we use numbers to make complicated issues easier to understand?
  5. Which ‘under the hood’ concepts in statistics do we really need to understand?
  6. How do we know and show that two things we care about are related to each other

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IMPLEMENTATION

My redesign was heavily influenced by the distinction made in the Diversity Scholars Program between climate (i.e. context and relationships for learning), pedagogy (i.e. instructional approach), and content (i.e. material covered). I made changes to each of these three areas, mostly in the areas of climate and content. Because of my past success with team-based learning, however, changes to pedagogy were focused on variations to assignments rather than major shifts in the manner of teaching.

Engaging issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in meaningful ways is not easy, to state the obvious. To robustly address DEI issues we must be prepared to

  1. encounter difficult emotions in ourselves and others,
  2. evaluate our own biased thoughts (while providing others room to do the same),
  3. consider how we organize ourselves into tribes, and
  4. acknowledge power structures and consider if and how we want to challenge them.

This four-part framework for overcoming Us vs. Them division comes from Shakil Choudhury. I have drawn on it heavily to inform my implementation of course changes in UBPL 741.

Course climate

Changes I implemented related to course climate include two main prongs: revising course syllabus materials and taking extra time to develop a classroom community of openness and trust in the first week of the semester. These changes directly arose from participation in Diversity Scholars, as well as my own reading and reflection.

Syllabus changes include:

  • Articulating learning goals, course themes, and motivating questions (described in background section of e-portfolio).
  • Adding a letter from me to the students articulating my teaching philosophy (see below).
  • Inserting a diagram that provides a visual representation of how we can build a positive course climate.
  • Adding two pages of on-campus DEI related resources, including contact information, available to students: everything from Counseling and Psychological Service to Public Safety to the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

First week activities include:

  • Conducting community-building efforts within our master’s student cohort that I co-facilitate with Prof. Bonnie Johnson.
  • Dr. Johnson teaches another core course in Urban Planning, meaning the students in our two classes are nearly identical. And, our courses are taught one after the other on Monday and Wednesday mornings, in the same room.
    • In previous years, we have co-facilitated small-group and whole-class discussions of how each student brings different previous educational experiences, different personalities, and different goals to the program.
    • In 2017, we added a new set of DEI-specific activities. We had students individually complete a social identities worksheet (obtained from the University of British Columbia) that helps students understand, reflect on, and articulate how their social identities shape their privileges and/or lack thereof. In class, students were not outed (i.e. forced to share any specific privileges). Instead, first in small groups and then with the whole class we discussed how their identities may shape their experience as graduate students and planners. We also reflected on how important it is for planners to be able to work with people who bring hugely disparate identities and privileges with them.

Pedagogy

I created a new semester-long, scaffolded e-portfolio assignment consisting of two parts:

  • Part 1: For each of six topical modules, students were required to turn in a) their reading notes, in whatever form they found most useful and b) an analysis (200 words or fewer) of a contemporary planning-related news article and how DEI-related and course-related topics arise in the article.
  • Part 2: To apply their research and analysis learning, students had to complete a cumulative assignment in which they
    1. identify an ideal first job and how DEI issues are likely to arise,
    2. draft research questions and hypotheses related to those DEI issues,
    3. describe what data they need to answer their questions and how they will obtain it,
    4. lay out an analytical plan for the data, and
    5. identify limitations in their research plan.
    Students completed these steps sequentially over the course of the semester with the expectation that their final project includes a thorough revision of their first attempts along the way.

Some of the challenges I faced in implementing the new semester-long project included:

  • I quickly realized that my assumption that the current generation of students would find it trivial to use one of the free online web-building tools to create an e-portfolio was wrong. I had to back away from the e-portfolio format and allow students to simply turn work to me in a traditional document format until I could get them the training and support they needed.
  • Students needed more guidance on the research plan than I anticipated. I addressed this challenge by using course time to workshop their ideas in small groups and with me. As noted, I continue to use team-based learning because it fosters personal and professional consideration of DEI issues through participation on diverse teams, and active learning approaches like TBL are especially beneficial for traditionally marginalized students.

Content

I approached changes to content in two ways.

  • I added a two-week module at the beginning of the semester focused entirely on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Students completed readings from Choudhury’s Deep Diversity and we engaged in three in-class activities that interrogate planning-related content using Choudhury’s emotions, bias, tribes, and power (EBTP) framework.
    • Exercise 1: We looked at the American Institute of Certified Planner’s Code of Ethics – the guiding principles for our field’s professional organization, and used Choudhury’s EBTP framework to evaluate if and how each EBTP is addressed in the code. Students saw that while the code addresses issues of power and tribes a good deal, and bias, to some extent, the emotionally-laden content of our work is largely ignored.
    • Exercise 2: We looked at two peer-review articles on DEI in planning education and applied the EBTP framework. Here, too, students saw how planning scholarship focuses a great deal on power and tribes, somewhat on our natural cognitive biases, and to a lesser degree the role of emotion in learning about and practicing planning.
    • Exercise 3: Each student brought in hard copy drafts of a 200-word analysis of a planning-related news story and we workshopped the drafts (final copies of which were due three days later) using the grading rubric. Altogether, this module required attention and reflection by students on what it means to engage DEI in practice, education, and consumption of information.
  • I reworked many of the existing in-class exercises, assignments, and quiz questions to more directly deal with DEI issues in planning. However, during the mid-semester course feedback session I always conduct, students indicated that they felt the DEI themes we touched on so deeply at the beginning of the semester had fallen away. So, for the second half of the semester, I prepared a 10-minute mini-lecture to deliver before each of the in-class activities to ground the topic in DEI issues, connecting back explicitly to Choudhury’s EBTP framework.

 

A Brief Note About My Teaching Philosophy

 

A diagram highlighting the importance of course climate

Course climate refers to the shared experience of students and instructors in the classroom. A positive course climate can greatly enhance learning; a negative course climate can constrain, impede, or even undermine learning. My goals for the climate in this course are:


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STUDENT WORK

Three different types of student work exhibit student learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion issues and their relevance to the profession of planning, as well as students’ own experiences.

For cumulative end-of-semester projects, I have two main assessment-related aims:

  1. Determine whether students have met core learning goals and objectives, and
  2. Provide students with feedback they can use to further refine their projects.

For aim #1, I use a grading rubric built around four main dimensions (organization, writing, content, and analysis) and one supplementary dimension (creativity). The categories and language I use in the rubric are meant to help the student understand their own strengths and weaknesses and to provide actionable suggestions for improvement. For aim #2, I provide students with more specific suggestions on how they can revise their project, even if they already have met Seasoned Professional Quality. I also make a point of telling students that I will be more than happy to meet with them and discuss any feedback and suggestions I have in person.

Final projects

Students completed semester-long projects resulting in an applied research plan around diversity, equity, and inclusion in planning. Over the course of the semester, students turned in:

  1. a description of their ideal first job upon graduation with the master’s degree;
  2. a description of how they anticipate DEI issues arising in their ideal first job;
  3. descriptive and explanatory research questions around DEI issues in that first job;
  4. hypotheses for the research questions, where relevant;
  5. a data collection plan to be able to answer their questions and test their hypotheses;
  6. a data analysis plan demonstrating their understanding of which statistical approaches best fit their research questions and available data; and
  7. description of the limitations of their research plan.

Student work examples of how DEI might arise in their ideal first job include:

These two students make explicit a connection often left as assumed. Namely, they are reflecting on their own values and aspirations as emerging planners and connecting their conceptions of DEI to the work they are beginning to do and anticipate doing in future years.

Examples of some research questions include:

Research is a core part of the work of planners—asking and answering questions about how best to serve the public interest in real time, under conditions of uncertainty. These examples show how students are engaging with longstanding, but also immediately relevant, DEI challenges with policy implications. Their ability to conduct systematic and theoretically informed research on sensitive and complex topics will be essential in their careers.

Mid-semester reflection

At mid-semester, students were asked to turn in a free-writing reflection on their experience thinking and learning before entering graduate school and through the first seven weeks or so of graduate school. Students used a variety of approaches, with most engaging their own emotions and biases and the influence of tribes and power on them. There is no one exemplary quote or set of quotes, but the following provide some sense of student thinking:

End-of-semester open-ended feedback

At the end of the semester, I asked students to respond to open-ended questions about how the course worked. They could respond anonymously or not as they preferred. The two most relevant questions, and some responses, are:

On DEI and Life and Identity: Empathy, feeling for and with the experience of another person, is a critical skill for planners and should not be confused with pity, which involves looking down at another person even if well-intentioned. Here, students are exhibited the first step towards genuine empathy, which is self-awareness about how DEI issues have arisen in their own lives. These passage indicate how students—all of us really—can benefit from considering how we are privileged and how we struggle in the face of systematic exclusion and/or stereotypes.

On the Choudhary EBTP Framework: These comments indicate how valuable a compact, scientifically-grounded, and practical text can be as a guide for reflecting on and discussing very sensitive issues like social identity and its impact on us personally and in our professional work. Personally, I particularly appreciate the sentiment that reading Choudhary’s book was “wonderful and uncomfortable,” which should probably be a more common experience in our universities.


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Reflections

Professor Ward Lyles

Ward Lyles

Over the past year, the process of redeveloping and teaching UBPL 741: Quantitative Methods I through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens has been transformative for me. Participating in the community of the Diversity Scholars Program through CTE enabled me to extend my intellectual knowledge base for engaging DEI issues in the classroom, as well as think deeply about my own positionality and responsibilities in doing so. Because the field of planning inherently addresses issues of social justice and inequality – even if it fails to meet its aspirations in practice – DEI issues are critical to engage with students. My experience doing so has helped me learn and grow as much as their reflections have shown them to have learned and grown as well.

I am heartened and inspired by the response of the students to my efforts to incorporate DEI in this course. From the outset it was clear that the issues of DEI had deep professional and personal resonance for students. However, at the same time, it was clear that many, if not most, students, had never had DEI issues overtly addressed in their college courses, as preposterous as that sounds. The intellectual framework provided by the Diversity Scholars Program and Chowdhury’s book worked quite well, providing the students and me a common language grounded in contemporary research and theory that was accessible and practically applicable. Perhaps most heartening is the synergy between the empathy and humanity the students expressed and their sense of empowerment as they learn more about engaging DEI.

I often think of the architects adage of “build your first house for your enemy” when teaching my first version of a course. Although much transpired this semester to feel good about, there are many areas of improvement moving forward. At the end of the semester I asked students (again anonymously or not) to provide suggestions on what can be improved in future iterations of the class to improve engagement with DEI issues. Their suggestions will shape the next version(s) of the course. The somewhat surprising and refreshing core theme of student feedback is a desire for even more inclusion of DEI throughout the semester. Specific suggestions include:

  • Spreading the DEI readings from the first module across the semester to increase opportunities for digesting the material;
  • Complementing the Choudhury reading with more planning specific readings (students asking for more reading!!!);
  • Increasing opportunities for discussion about DEI issues during class, especially as the course progresses and the course climate builds trust and a willingness to share openly;
  • Alongside recognizing injustice tied to marginalization and discrimination, highlight the positive impacts of diversity;
  • Focus the semester project more on a “real-world” DEI-related project that allows students to use their statistical skills to analyze practice-relevant data; and,
  • Broaden the set of examples and discussion to DEI issues in other cultures and countries.

Contact CTE with comments on this portfolio: cte@ku.edu.


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