An Introductory Computing Course: Diversity, Persistence, and Retention

Kelly Hinson, Information Technology instructor, Gaston College, Dallas, North Carolina

Retention, persistence, and diversity. What does this all mean for education? What does this mean for students? These three words are often tossed around, but how does acknowledging diversity, persistence, and retention affect our courses in practice?
Let’s start with diversity. According to Oxford Languages Dictionary, diversity is an adjective that means “showing a great amount of variety.” Diversity is also a noun that means “the practice or quality or inclusion of people from different social and ethnic backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, and so forth.” It is important to implement diversity in the classroom.

Step 1: Acknowledge Implicit Biases
We must recognize that each student brings different experiences, strengths, ideas and perspectives to the class. These differences could be due to race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Gender, socio-economic status. Age, ability, past education, work experience, learning style and abilities. Family expectations and influence. Religion, political beliefs. You can probably think of many more. No matter what we think, diversity in the classroom includes all these differences to enrich learning.
How can we do this? Recognize that everyone has implicit biases. You can identify your implicit biases by looking at the choices you make. What examples are you able to give in class for people in your field? Are you more inclined to choose males than females? Younger people over older? Another example might be where you live, what schools you choose, etc. If you are interested in a deeper look at your biases, you can find implicit bias tests online. Let’s just say that we all have them.
Step 2: The Syllabus
Let’s now look at the syllabus. Although I hate changing any syllabus, I have to admit that it is one of the first impressions students get about us. Make sure everyone is welcome in your welcoming statement. Here’s an example:
All students are welcome to this class, provided they have met the prerequisite requirements. I expect you to respect me and my instructor as much as I respect you. Each of us has different backgrounds, interests and circumstances. We all have strengths and weaknesses. I will not tolerate any actions that make my fellow students feel unsafe or unwelcome. Respect for all is an important part of a learning environment.
Another example:
Students are expected respect others’ opinions and to learn in this class without being intimidated or disrupted. The Student Handbook states that all students have the right of a safe, peaceful, and honest educational environment. If a student’s conduct threatens or disrupts the college community, appropriate disciplinary actions will be taken to restore and preserve the College’s mission, safety, integrity, and peace.
You can be sure to find more. You might be able to include a diversity statement in some colleges. Get to know your students. Start with your syllabus to make them feel included and welcome.

Step 3: Orientation
After you have written a warm welcome into the syllabus, you should also include the same information in a video or in the classroom. This will set the tone and tone for the semester. This example could be included in the syllabus. It can also be recorded in a video with very few changes.
This syllabus outlines the expectations and policies that have been established for this course. These expectations and policies are designed to create a learning environment that is productive for all students. Please let me know if you have any concerns.
All students have a responsibility to create and maintain a learning environment that maximizes teaching and learning. Students are expected not to disrupt teaching and learning. They are expected to adhere to these standards.
Discussions in courses should be civilized, respectful of all participants, and relevant to the topic under discussion. Discussion forums are intended to allow for diverse viewpoints. Respecting each other and our differences is the only way to achieve this.
Even if your class is seated, I recommend that you include a welcome video in the LMS. This will help students who feel overwhelmed in a classroom with extra confidence and support.

Step 4: Communication Expectations
You must address all the following areas: attendance, participation and when to contact the instructor. Netiquette, messages, emails, phone calls, expectations for virtual meetings, and class expectations. Don’t leave anything out

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