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Gateway Course Faculty Need Time and Resources to Incorporate Culturally Relevant Materials

Faculty who teach gateway courses are often engaged by the idea of using culturally relevant materials to support student success, but they may need direction to make that transition.

“Educators want to teach better,” says Sim Barhoum, Professor of English at San Diego Mesa College. “A lot of them say, ‘Tell me what to do in the class, and I’ll do it if I know that it’s better.’ But they just haven’t been shown the better way.”

Barhoum is co-author of a new report showing that, depending on variables ranging from mode of class instruction to accessibility of faculty resources, the likelihood that faculty include culturally relevant approaches to instruction in gateway courses varies significantly.

Infusing Culturally Relevant Content in Gateway Courses in Postsecondary Education: Findings and Insights from College Faculty, is from Every Learner Everywhere, CORA Learning and the Community College Equity Assessment Lab (CCEAL) at San Diego State University.

Too often, gateway courses prevent students from establishing that foundation for future learning, and the report notes that is particularly the case for students who are Black, Latino, Indigenous, or affected by poverty. Culturally relevant teaching practices and materials can create the sense of belonging that helps learners overcome difficulties they face in these courses.

Frank Harris III, another of the report’s authors, is Professor for Postsecondary Education and Director of CCEAL at San Diego State, says, “Culturally relevant teaching practices are not just about aligning culture with content but also about utilizing a broader range of instructional practices that meet the needs of culturally diverse learners which has implications for all subject matter.”

Harris and the report’s research team set out to determine how faculty are using culturally relevant materials and practices — and how those efforts differ according to a factors like:

  • the subject of the course
  • the modality of the course
  • whether faculty are full time or part time

The researchers reviewed survey responses from 261 faculty who teach gateway courses that traditionally have high D, F, and withdrawal (DFW) rates. The survey focused on 20 courses with the highest student enrollment, such as Introductory English Composition and Introductory Computer Science.

The report shows that, while instructors endeavor to use high-impact teaching materials and practices in their gateway courses, they often face barriers to incorporating culturally relevant approaches.

1. Faculty choose practices and materials they believe will support student success

Instructors want to provide instruction that gives their students the best chance at learning the basic information and skills critical for college success. But they don’t always perceive the positive impact that culturally relevant course content can have on student learning.

For math and English faculty who never use culturally relevant materials and practices, for example, a lack of understanding about the content and its effect on diverse learners were among the top reasons they gave for not doing so.

“Maybe what that is telling us,” Barhoum says, “is that professional learning needs to improve.”

2. Lack of time and resources is the greatest obstacle to providing culturally relevant instruction

Learning about the use of culturally relevant content in gateway courses requires resources many faculty members do not have. Limited time and limited access to experts were the two biggest impediments to providing culturally relevant instruction, according to the survey.

Part-time faculty, in particular, find it difficult to build their understanding of culturally relevant instruction and how to use it.

“It makes sense,” Barhoum says. “They just don’t have the time to do this. They’re overwhelmed, and they don’t believe they have the experts and resources to help them learn it. In my experience as a faculty member, there’s so much to learn.”

3. Asynchronous and hybrid instruction lead the way in culturally relevant pedagogy

The survey shows faculty in asynchronous online and hybrid modalities more frequently use culturally relevant content than teachers of in-person or synchronous online courses.

“They’re just doing a better job of infusing culturally relevant content,” says Barhoum.

“It may be because of COVID, when they were forced to move to more digital resources and were able to update their curriculum, look into their teaching practices, and change what they were doing. I think it’s an area to study.”

4. Few gateway courses fuse experiential learning and culturally relevant pedagogy

Experiential learning is a high-impact evidence-based teaching practice that instructors can use to engage students on issues facing diverse learners. But, among faculty surveyed, field trips or community activities are the culturally relevant instructional practice they use least.

As with other types of culturally relevant instruction, Harris says, lack of time and resources are the primary obstacles to providing experiential opportunities.

Barhoum says, “The issue is, how do we get teachers to embed experiential learning within the course? Something has to be taken out to add something.”

The greatest impact for diverse learners

The report’s authors hope to build on this quantitative research about when and how gateway course instructors are using culturally relevant pedagogy with qualitative research that shows what works best for different courses.

CORA Learning and CCEAL will host a webinar about Infusing Culturally Relevant Content in Gateway Courses in Postsecondary Education: Findings and Insights From College Faculty. Harris and Barhoum will discuss the research at 10 a.m. Pacific time July 19, 2024.

Download Infusing Culturally Relevant Content in Gateway Courses in Postsecondary Education: Findings and Insights from College Faculty

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