Student Belonging and Inclusivity (SIGCSE 2022 Takeaways #1)

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

What is student-centered learning and how can I do better in my own class? How can I emphasize the importance of learning experiences over grades? These questions spurred me to reach out to Dr. Berardinelli, who has experience with student-centered and project-based learning. She kindly met with me over coffee and answered just all my questions ever. (Big thank you again for your time!) At the end of the conversation, Dr. Berardinelli recommended attending SIGCSE, a conference on computer science education, and told me about how networking there was valuable to her personally.

This sat at the back of my mind for months.

I still feel incredibly new to teaching and didn’t quite feel ready to ask about the possibility of going. I didn’t quite know how to network or make the most of a conference.

Just a few days before the conference started, Dr. Dordochi pointed me and some peers towards a SIGCSE workshop that would be relevant to my interests with student reflections. This, to my surprise and excitement, led to my registration to attend virtually. Also a big thank you to Dr. Shin for allowing my registration to be funded.

I spent Tuesday night scrolling through the entire program filtering for virtual sessions, and saving all the talks I planned on attending. There were some specific questions I had in mind:

  • What work is currently being done relating to students’ sense of belonging?
  • What do introductory data science courses look like at other schools?
  • How do others use student reflections in their classrooms?

Student Belonging

I attended various events relating to belonging, inclusivity, and community-building.

  • (Thursday Panel) Belonging in Computing: The Contribution of Gender-based Community Building moderated by Lyn Swackhamer with speakers Edie Cheng, Amy Ko, Hana Memon, and Shira Wein.
  • (Thursday Birds of a Feather) Fostering a Culture of Belonging in CS Education with Nicole Anderson and Luke Fernandez.
  • (Friday Panel) Setting the Table for Equity: A Leadership Model for Broadening Participation in Computing moderated by Joshua Childs with speakers Amy Ko, Crystal Fanklin, Lien Diaz, and Sarah Dunton.
  • (Saturday Closing Celebration Plenary) Diversity In Computing: Real Change Must Come from Within by Shaundra Daily.

In every single event, I scribbled down notes to the best of my ability. But there was so much inspirational content to process. So many meaningful quotes I wanted to save. So many more questions it led to.

In one panel, Amy Ko stated that “many students and faculty struggle in isolation.” Thinking about my own experiences, I’ve been very lucky to have a community built up around me since my undergraduate years. But I’ve talked with other students who weren’t as lucky. I’ve constantly wondered how that community can be built. Isn’t collaboration and community important to research, and just the overall learning experience? So, as a student, how can I help? And as an instructor, how can I build community within my class? This is something I care about it.

When asking these questions about community building, it’s also important to make sure everyone is included. Amy Ko stated that we can’t just put people into categories of boxes of race, gender, etc. There is intersectionality and all of these things interact. Being a biracial woman in computer science, this is something that resonated with me. I realized in my undergraduate years that if asked about “my culture,” I truly did not know how to respond. “My culture” is probably a mixture of different eastern and western ideologies, and I am often unable to differentiate which is which. To answer what makes me “me” would take much more thought than a simple category or label.

Everyone is unique. We can’t just put someone into a box and think we know their experiences on that alone. And we need to acknowledge and celebrate that uniqueness.

People talk about not seeing color. I need you to see color, to see abilities, to see orientation. Be okay with seeing people as they are, that way you can recognize them and their uniqueness and how they can add value to your programs.

– Crystal Franklin, Setting the Table for Equity

One point made by Shaundra Daily is that “the right resource is not always me.” It’s OK to admit that we aren’t always the best resource. In fact, it’s not just okay, but necessary. This is relevant to all aspects – whether we are providing resources to students (e.g., proper counseling) or passing the mic to another researcher/speaker/etc. who we know would be a better fit to talk about a topic (e.g., diversity).

These are lessons I will be taking with me when teaching my students. I will acknowledge every student as their own unique individual. Students are not just numbers in my course. I will do my best to learn about them all to provide learning experiences that work for them. I do not want anyone to feel like they do not belong here.

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