ACUE Reflection: Faculty Teaching Strategies to Promote a Sense of Belonging Online

ACUE Certified Faculty April Crenshaw is the author of this article.

Author April Crenshaw became ACUE Certified in 2021.

Like a lot of colleges and universities since the pandemic, my institution, Chattanooga State Community College, has adapted to allow for virtual office hours as an alternative to traditional in-person office hours. Virtual office hours have been an important first step for removing some barriers, but I still face a common issue: Students rarely come to me for help. 

As a participant in ACUE’s Course in Effective Teaching Practices, I wanted to change that.

As I have learned from my colleague, Dr. Ervin J. China, an impactful way to increase student success is to increase the number of students who seek help when they encounter challenges or have questions. Dr. China’s research focuses on academic help-seeking behaviors and recently explored the issue in a study of African American students in community colleges. He found that “students who perceived their instructor to be concerned exhibited less avoidance of help seeking.” 

If I implemented ACUE-recommended strategies that communicate I care about my students and their success, would more of them engage in my virtual office hours? 

In this piece, I share four practical teaching strategies for faculty I implemented en route to becoming ACUE Certified. Underlying each of these strategies is the importance of creating a sense of belonging and connectedness. These basic human needs are often viewed as things to be addressed outside of the classroom, but as educators there is much we can do instructionally as well. 

Ensure Your Syllabus Sets the Tone for Diversity and Inclusion

In the module on Embracing Diversity in Your Classroom, I learned about how to create an equity-minded syllabus based on the Center for Urban Education’s Syllabus Review Guide. Unlike the traditional syllabus which primarily focuses on rules and objectives, an equity-minded syllabus helps students navigate the course and learn how to seek help when challenges arise. My new syllabus uses personal and inclusive language, and provides information for both academic and non-academic support such as counseling, food pantry, and emergency relief. 

Create an Introduction Discussion Forum

In the module on Leading a Productive First Day, I learned about the importance of building a community of learners for a critical part of planning for the start of my course. One of the ways I did this was to welcome students by creating a discussion forum where we could introduce ourselves and students could connect with one another. They could do this either through a written post or a video.

Curate a Course Curriculum that Reflects a Diverse Society

In the Embracing Diversity module, I also learned about how to create a learning environment that is representative of diverse student perspectives. For me, that meant refining my instructional presentations to showcase the unique perspectives and experiences of a wide range of people, from military veterans to members of the LBGTQ community, as well as students of different races, ethnicities and those with visible disabilities and impairments. To begin each presentation, I have been intentional about selecting motivational quotes from a wide range of voices, including humanitarians, scholars, civil rights leaders, poets, hip-hop artists, pop-culture icons, and sports figures. 

Offer Specific and Timely Feedback

In the module on Helping Students Persist in Their Studies, I learned strategies for providing targeted feedback. This semester, I incorporated a weekly “check-in” requirement. On Sundays, students would submit a check-in form where they shared their progress for the week along with any questions or issues. On Mondays, I read those check-ins and responded appropriately. Most students asked about homework, while others asked me to review a specific quiz problem for which they wanted partial credit. Some identified a concept they had trouble understanding. 

Results: More Students in Virtual Office Hours, Improved Success Rates

This last strategy in particular helped me provide tailored support in response to individual needs. Being able to reply directly in a follow-up email, I provide my Calendly link and invite them to schedule a one-on-one appointment for assistance. 

The use of these strategies, along with others such as creating a welcome email and offering regular messages of encouragement, communicated to students that I cared about them, that each one belonged in my class, and that I could be a source of support. As a result, I had more students meet during office hours than any previous semester and also improvement in overall success rates. 

April Crenshaw is a full-time Associate Professor of Mathematics at Chattanooga State Community College. She became ACUE Certified in Fall 2021.

11 thoughts on “ACUE Reflection: Faculty Teaching Strategies to Promote a Sense of Belonging Online”

  1. Great article, I will certainly be implementing some of the strategies in my syllabus to ensure equity-minded concepts are included. Thanks for sharing the article.

  2. Madame Associate Professor Crenshaw… it was absolutely awesome to read such an inspiring, informative and insightful article about how to deal with assisting today’s adult academically oriented student. I loved how you made mention of inclusivity of the veteran to the LBGTQ community. Particularly in a society that too many people want ignore those who had different experiences and exposures in life. Your acknowledgment of the real fact that today’s student population comprises more diversity than it did in the 1940’s, 50’, etc., will not only help your students but may well encourage students to seek out higher attendance, higher attention to classroom instruction and even enhance student interaction. I would love to see your comparisons of students success rates before your implementation of this dynamic approach and after implementing it. My reading this article has altered me to be even more mindful in the design of not just my syllabus, but also in my Zoom background so that my students can see I live my inclusion, equity and diversity. Thank you for inspiring your students as well as myself!

  3. In Mrs. Crenshaw’s article, not only does she address the academic needs of her students, but their emotional and possibly their mental state of being. As a retired educator, I agree that if you present yourself as caring and a flexible instructor, students are more willing to come forward and express their concerns and needs. In this post pandemic era and technological world, I love the idea of virtual visits. Thank you Mrs. Crenshaw for presenting to your students your new and innovative strategies. I wish you and them much success on this educational journey.

  4. April China Crenshaw I truly loved this article!! This tells me that we have to continue to step out of the box of traditional ways, to meet these students!! I love the check-in component because it is hard for a student who does not know when their next meal is going to be, to be focused on their studies and engage. Your new method shows that you are more than just a professor or educator!! I love this!! I cannot wait to hear more!!

  5. This is an incredible article! Thank you for sharing these strategies. I truly feel these are techniques that can be used and integrated into all subjects across higher ed. i look forward to reading more like this. I will most certainly be implementing a few of these next term. Loved the “weekly check in”!

  6. This post presents some practical strategies to approach adult social emotional learning. This information is timely considering the challenges our students are facing post pandemic.

  7. This is beautiful, Professor Crenshaw. Congratulations on successfully getting students to seek the help they need in their mathematics courses. I’m inspired.

  8. This is a very insightful article. These concepts can also be used in the work environment. As, most companies have had to pivot to a virtual environment. Great Article!!

  9. Great work, the strategies and community building detail in this post well go far education upcoming and future STEM students.

  10. Student identities are often entangled/enveloped in their daily lived experiences, and the classroom is no different; students need to see themselves in every facet of the collegiate experience to develop the tools, resiliency, and cultural capital they need to exist authentically within those spaces. Given this fact, there is a need for a deeper dive into this topic, on a practical level, to identify applicable yet strategic avenues for the integration of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and Mrs. Crenshaw does just that. She makes some great points in heralding the need while offering simple, bite-sized actions educators can take today to create a culture of belonging. I think this is what educators are lacking — in-the-moment actions to spur thoughtful change. Although subtle, some of these integrations I hadn’t thought of before so thanks for adding to my educator toolkit.

  11. I have seen this lack of office hours utilization throughout my experience in higher education. What I think you have uncovered here is that often, what appears to be a lack of motivation is actually a lack of clarity. You made a clear path for access to the professor by providing the calendly link for 1:1 sessions and created a culture of support in your classroom. It was exceptionally clear that you wanted to help your students succeed, so they accepted your offer. Fantastic work!

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