Purposeful Engagement of Difference

Purposeful Engagement of Difference: Acknowledging students’ different identities, experiences, strengths, and needs; leveraging student diversity as an asset for learning.

This list offers examples of concrete strategies aligned with applying elements of equity-focused teaching (EfT). If you would like to submit your own example for consideration, please click here.

Engage in the process of self-reflection and share the ways your own identities shape your relationship to your work/the discipline, and your views about “who is or can become an engineer?”
Be proactive about deepening your knowledge on how systemic inequities are manifested in your discipline. Communicate to your students the importance of equity in engineering.
Deliberately choose course materials and activities with a range of student circumstances in mind (e.g., visible physical/invisible disabilities, financial and technological resources, time commitments such as work or family care obligations). Present course material in a variety of modalities (readings, diagrams, lectures, podcasts). Accompany verbal instructions with a written corollary.
  • Explore this website on Universal Design for Learning (UDL). It contains a wide array of information and resources for applying principles of UDL in your course design.  
  • The report, Universal Design in Higher Education from the University of Washington, gives concrete examples on page 14, for instruction methods, physical classroom spaces, and instructional technology use. Pages 17-22 describe an intervention at the University of Southern Maine aimed at increased accessibility in courses. 
  • Langley-Turnbaugh, S. J., Blair, M., & Whitney, J. (2013). Increasing accessibility of college STEM courses through faculty development in UDL. Universal design in higher education: Promising practices. Seattle: DO-IT, University of Washington.
  • Multiple modes (e.g., written, verbal, mathematical, images or graphs) can be helpful to students, especially those with processing disabilities as well as non-native English speakers.
  • Select videos that include closed captions and transcript download options. See this resource for step-by-step instructions on how to adapt YouTube videos. (Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering, U-M)
  • Include descriptions of images online and/or describe them out loud.
  • Use an open-source textbook if a good one is available.
  • Make sure any required textbooks are explicitly required so that students can use financial aid to purchase them.
  • Consider reserving a computer lab rather than assuming every student has a laptop that they can bring to class.
  • Don’t ask students to purchase a book unless they will be using it regularly. The U of M library can scan small portions of resources if that’s all you need, or you may be able to link to an online e-book or article.
    • See an example in the syllabus (See “references” section) for UM course EECS 589, taught by Necmiye Ozay.
Proactively invite requests for accommodations as a chance to include everyone more fully in learning (through a non-stigmatizing syllabus statement, a reminder in class, an email).
  • See some suggested wording for syllabus statements on accommodations for students with disabilities (from University of Michigan’s Services for Students with Disabilities office).
Acknowledge the ways that campus or world events may be creating barriers to students’ capacity to engage in coursework, or their sense of being welcomed and valued; communicate concern for students’ well-being, and share information about relevant campus resources to support students.
Explain how innovative solutions to engineering problems come from considering a variety of perspectives. Create opportunities for students to explain their different approaches to the work of the course (solving problems, choosing design projects, studying for exams, etc.) Consider including growth in "global and cultural awareness" as part of your course goals (part of Michigan Engineering’s Experiential Learning Framework).
  • This “Engineering for Social Justice” article from John Hopkins University to learn about how an engineering instructor teaches their students how thoughtful design can address social challenges.
  • Table 1 of this article lists various study techniques and how many hours a group of university psychology course students spent using each. Gurung, R. A. R. (2005). How do students really study (and does it matter)? Teaching of Psychology, 32, 367-372.
  • This resource, from Western Washington University describes ways to make exams more about learning, and to help students learn from returned exams.
  • This webpage, from the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation, defines and provides downloadable examples of exam wrappers, which are used to help students reflect on what they learned and how they prepared for an exam.
Use a background questionnaire early in the term to learn about individual students’ past academic experiences, goals, concerns, or other information that could help you plan relevant and inclusive learning opportunities.
  • Develop a background questionnaire [see example here] to gain more information about students’ skills and experiences. (Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan)
Invite students to identify examples from their own arenas of knowledge or expertise. For example, provide opportunities for students to consider the relevance of engineering concepts to address the needs of the communities that they are part of.
  • See this paper for research on how to recognize the strengths that diverse students bring to engineering classrooms. (Svihla, V., Datye, A. K., Gomez, J., Law, V., & Bowers, S. (2016). Mapping assets of diverse groups for chemical engineering design problem framing ability. In Proceedings of American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference.)
  • See an example in the Implications section (Appendix A) of “Latine/o Adolescents’ Funds of Knowledge Related to Engineering”, (Wilson-Lopez et a., 2016).
  • See a ASEE paper about how the knowledge/experiences of low-income and first-generation students can foster innovation in engineering problem-solving. (Smith, J. M. (2015). Making the Funds of Knowledge of Low Income, First Generation (LIFG) Students Visible and Relevant to Engineering Education. In Proceedings of American Society for Engineering Education pp. 1-16)
Ask students to make observations about content (e.g. simply describe a figure, graph, diagram or process) before moving to analytical questions. This can provide everyone a common starting point, highlight students’ different perspectives/approaches, and model analytical processes you want to teach.
  • See a pdf of a sequence of questions which are adapted from two STEM faculty at U-M that highlight two STEM examples. (Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan)