PEI

As classrooms become more diverse, UPEI rethinks the way it teaches

As UPEI students prepare for the start of a new school year, faculty at the university are thinking about how to adapt to a changing student body.

Faculty focuses on inclusivity during start-of-year professional development day

UPEI's faculty development office hosts a Let's Talk Teaching Day before the start of each academic year. (UPEI Student Union)

As UPEI students prepare for the start of a new school year, faculty at the university are thinking about how to adapt to a changing student body. 

That was the topic of a professional development day at the university Tuesday. Faculty from all departments were invited to attend. 

"We can't just do things the way that we did 10 years ago," said Gerald Wandio, program co-ordinator for faculty development office, which hosted the event. 

"We have to find new ways of helping students learn. And this seemed a good opportunity to talk about it."

Let's Talk Teaching Day

The faculty development office hosts a Let's Talk Teaching Day before the start of each academic year. Organizers choose a topic based on trends and conversations on campus. Sessions in the past, for example, have focused on the use of technology in the classroom. 

Gerald Wandio says the student body at UPEI has changed over the years, and faculty should take that into account. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Wandio said this year's topic was chosen because it's something he hears staff talk about frequently. He said he hopes staff will start the year with some new ideas and strategies. 

"It's not a matter of changing standards. It's just a matter of addressing the ways that we teach and help our students," Wandio said.

20% are international students

One of the big changes on campus in recent years has been an increase in the number of international students. Over the last 10 years, the international student population has increased by more than 50 per cent. They now make up more than 20 per cent of the total student body. 

Ann Braithwaite, professor and co-ordinator of diversity and social justice studies at UPEI, said she has started thinking about how the design of her course might affect people whose first language is not English. 

The number of international students at UPEI has increased significantly in recent years. (CBC)

"They can still get through the material just fine, but they may be doing it a little bit slower," she said. "If you give them case studies to read in a three-hour exam, for instance, and they need longer to read it, are you already kind of shortchanging those students' ability to succeed in the class, simply because they're doing it in a second language?"

Students introduce themselves

Braithwaite noted other ways instructors can make their classes more inclusive to people of all backgrounds. 

For example, she has noticed an increase in the number of transgender students in her classes. 

Ann Braithwaite says she tries to make her classes inclusive for people from all backgrounds. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

"I never read a classroom roster anymore, because the names that appear on the roster may not correspond to the way that people are self presenting in the classroom," Braithwaite said.

Instead, she invites each student to introduce themselves. 

She also has made an effort to make course content — such as assigned readings —  more representative of the student body, including the LGBT population, people with disabilities, and indigenous people.