How to Get Started with Equity-Minded Teaching: Interview with Isis Artze-Vega

Isis Artze-Vega

Isis Artze-Vega

James M. Lang

James M. Lang

In this video James M Lang talks to Isis Artze-Vega about what equity-minded teaching means and how to implement it into your teaching.
Resource feature image

Click on this text to view the video transcript

– All right, welcome, Isis. I’m looking forward to talking to you today about equity-minded teaching and especially the book that you have co-authored, “The Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching,” from Norton. So, I’d like to start by just asking you a little bit about the phrase itself. We have a lot of different ways to talk about some of these kinds of ideas you shared in the book, inclusive teaching, DEI work. Tell me about why you all landed on equity-minded teaching, and what that means.

– [Isis] Happy to do so, and great to be here with you, Jim. You’re right. There are so many terms and jargon. And sometimes I worry that faculty will say, “This is too much,” right? “I don’t wanna get caught up in your jargon.” And so, part of what we did, was make a call. And I’ll tell you two things. Why we chose equity-minded teaching, and also, what we do with the other ideas, and terms, and constructs. First, we chose equity-minded teaching because in general, it’s the one that has focused more on outcomes and on holding ourselves accountable for progress that we can quantify. And so, that was really important to me in particular, as an administrator who wants to have responsibility, and be held responsible for progress. Many of the other constructs appear to be more focused on kind of intention, and kind of inputs. And here we appreciated the emphasis again on outcomes. We define it, in the guide, as teaching that aims to realise equal outcomes amongst all students and with particular attention to those who have been minoritised in higher ed. So, that is part of the why and how we define it.

At the same time, the guide wouldn’t be what it is, and what we’re really proud of, if we hadn’t drawn on the literature that goes by so many other names. So, ours is not to pick one, or to ask faculty to choose one term over another, but rather we, again, find so much value in everything from inclusive teaching and the STEM-focused research there, culturally responsive, culturally sustaining, multicultural education. And I really loved seeing when the ideas began to triangulate. And there, we felt that we could kind of move forward the practices with even more conviction.

– Excellent. So, tell me a little bit about what drew you into this work, like a originating moment, or something in your experiences, or something in your, you know, experience as a teacher, or administrator. Tell me a little bit more about your origin story.

– [Isis] Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that because as I reflect on how long I’ve been doing this work, I didn’t have the terms, equity-minded teaching, or really any. But about 20 years ago, I was a new faculty member. I was teaching writing. And I realized that my students brought in this incredible strength and set of resources in terms of their language. So many of them had Spanish in some capacity. It wasn’t maybe fully realized, and full written, and spoken literacy, but I thought, “Why am I not using this? This is a strength of theirs and they might not realize it.” So, one of my first writing projects as a young professional was around teaching English composition bilingually. And I think that was the beginnings of it, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

Fast-forward to my career in administration, I was hired as part of a grant that was rooted in the recognition that our faculty had one set of identities and lived experiences, and the students who were at that university had radically different lived experiences and came from different backgrounds. They were primarily Hispanic in that sense. And so, how do we make sure that faculty can be responsive to students’ needs and strengths? So, it kind of evolved from my own pedagogy to a grant where that was my responsibility. So, I got to engage with the research. And it has been a through-line in my career. I love seeing the changing demographics. I’m a student of higher education, so I know that we really are serving a different set of students today than most of our institutions were designed to serve. And I love partnering with faculty on creating the best conditions for students to learn and to thrive.

– Alright, excellent. So, I’m gonna ask you some questions now, to help me, say as an instructor, to think about how I can put equity-minded teaching into my courses, my course design, my practices. So, just can you maybe give me some specific things I could do in the classroom, designing my courses, whatever it might be, that would sort of either enhance what I’m already doing, or get started on equity-minded teaching?

– Great question, right? Gotta start somewhere. And to refer back to your work, I think we could start small, right? This is not meant to overwhelm. “The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching,” part of why we’re so proud of it is that it kind of goes through the faculty typical cycle, right? Before a term starts, during the term, and then afterwards. So, I’ll give you an example to answer your question in each of those areas, right? So, you’re a new faculty member, or a veteran faculty member frankly, and you are getting ready for the next term, right? You’re getting that back-to-school excitement. And you can look at your syllabi and look at your course learning objectives that maybe you inherited them, maybe they’ve been there for a while, maybe you kinda forgot they were there ’cause they’re kinda like white noise, they’ve been there for so long.

But really look at them with a critical eye and ask yourself, “Is it really clear to my students why these matter? Why these are relevant to them? Why they should put in the time and the energy that it takes to learn, and to work toward these learning objectives of the course?” ‘Cause that’s what we’re asking them to do, right? To devote their very precious time. And if they don’t see the relevance, then they are not motivated as they could be. And motivation is the core engine of learning. So, that’s maybe not a sexy strategy, but it is essential to all else. So, I would say take a look again at your learning objectives, and if they are not clearly relevant to your students, how could you either adapt them or make the case to your students? Because that early momentum and motivation will be critical to everything that you want them to do for the rest of your course.

– Yeah.

– If you’re in the middle of the term and you are teaching your , then I would say a pause and figure out how it’s going. Often we’ll take for granted that our students are learning, or that they’re feeling connected to you, like they can come to you with anything, like they are connected to their peers, that they are recognizing why the course is relevant. And why should we take that for granted? Let’s ask them. So we have, whether you have via your LMS survey tool or a Google Form or your favorite, right? It doesn’t have to be a fancy technology I would say to check in how it’s going. And in particular, because we know that trust and belonging are so important to equity-minded teaching, some around belonging. provide some sample questions in the Norton Guide that you can borrow. But you can ask something as straightforward as, “Do you feel comfortable coming to me with questions about the course, or to help with issues that you’re having outside of the classroom?” Yes, or no, right? Doesn’t have to be a fancy question.

But checking in with your students and not assuming that they trust you, or feel like they belong in your classroom, actively working to earn their trust with something as simple as disclosing things about your own self, right? Often they see us as simply those talking heads, or academics, but reminding them that we are either parents, or fellow chefs, or bicyclists, right? But three-dimensional humans can do a whole lot to build that connection. And then I would say, at the end of the class we are often left with so much data that we don’t use. But everything, from your assessments that tell you how much they learned, to any ratings process that tells you, in the aggregate, how students experienced your class and your teaching, in equity-minded practice it is our responsibility to gather as many student voices and perspectives as we can and then to look at them. Sometimes it can be hard, but to notice where we can continue to refine for the next time that we teach those courses.

– I would just say that there’s no challenge that we face in higher education, or any problem that won’t improve by asking students just, like, “Tell us,” “what you’re experiencing,” right? So, getting student feedback can help us with everything we’re trying to do in higher education, every problem-

– 100%.

– every aspiration that we have. Yeah. Yeah.

– [Isis] I agree.

– So, just a quick little follow-up on that one. If I’m like teaching an online course, any particular other ways, special challenges for equity-minded teaching, or anything you might recommend for someone who’s primarily in an online environment?

– [Isis] Absolutely. And here I just wanna acknowledge that Flower Darby with her expertise and online pedagogy coming onto the project. So many of the great ideas that I now know came via her insights and her wisdom. Flower reminds us that, particularly at the start of a term, this online class can be like walking into a dark classroom with the lights off, right? It’s tricky to know where you are and how to navigate. And you definitely don’t feel like you’re connected to anyone. You’re kind of lost. So, additional clarity upfront in making it really clear to your students how to navigate the course, Flower offers a few suggestions there in terms of an added course, or kind of a guided tour, a video that you can make of yourself saying here’s where things are, here’s how I’ve organised them and here is how you can be successful in the class.

Here, I was mentioning that the faculty member can appear anonymous, or one-dimensional, even more so in an online course. So, extra layers of intentionality in showing them who you are. Flower tells a story, realising that she posted an unvarnished video on her phone for her class, and that that ended up being one of the major points of connection because her students didn’t see her as someone who was polished and perfect. She was someone who was out on the road running an errand and wanted to send them an affirming note, or a bit of guidance, and stopped what she was doing. And so, again, reminding them of our humanity, in an online course, I would say is extra important. And making sure to use all of those data points available to you from LMS to find out who’s not engaging, and have extra outreach to them.

– Yeah. These are great places to start. So, tell me a little bit more about someone who wants to go deeper. Where do we find more information, right? So, the Guide’s actually available in print, but also online as well. Can you just share a little bit about where. I wanna find more if I’m a faculty member, learn more, where should I go?

– [Isis] Absolutely. I would say that Norton has been extremely generous in making sure that the full, “Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching,” is available as an ebook for free. This was important to the author team as well. We are, again, so grateful to all of the scholars whose ideas we build upon and wanted to make sure that this practical tool is available to all faculty. So, if you Google, “Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching,” they’ll ask you three questions, and send you a link immediately to a free guide. And it’ll also include guidance on how to order physical copies. If you’re affiliated with a center for teaching, they’ll give you a coupon, like a sale code for discount if you buy multiple copies. Again, our hope is that faculty find it useful and easy to use. We know how busy faculty are, so we really wanted to break it down into the most practical set of tools that we could put together.

– Excellent. And it is a great set of tools. Even if you’re an old-fashioned reader like me who likes the print version, it’s available and it’s a great resource. Thank you very much, and I’m grateful to you for having this conversation with me today.

– [Isis] Really my pleasure.

In this video, James M Lang (Author and Higher Education Consultant) talks to Isis Artze-Vega (Vice President for Academic Affairs, Valencia College in Central Florida, USA) about equity-minded teaching and some practical strategies to get started. Isis is the lead author and editor of ‘The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching’ that she co-authored with Flower Darby (University of Missouri), Bryan Dewsbury ( Florida International University), Mays Imad (Connecticut College). The guide is available as a free eBook to all instructors.


What is one thing that a teacher or classmate did to make you feel included in the classroom when you were a student?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.