Practical Pedagogy Tips for Educators at Minority-Serving Institutions

Updated: May 9

Robert M. Briwa, Angelo State University


Key statement: This post offers suggestions about ways faculty can improve student learning experiences at MSIs with small changes to classroom practices.


Introduction

Minority-Serving (MSIs) enroll high percentages of students facing systemic barriers to higher education access. Relative to other colleges and universities, MSIs (including Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs], Tribal Colleges and Universities [TCUs], Asian American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions [AAPISIs], and Hispanic-Serving Institutions [HSIs]) disproportionately use open admissions policies, and report higher rates of enrollment by women, low-income, and first-generation students. However, MSIs also report lower-than-national-average graduation and retention rates, reflecting continued systemic challenges (both socioeconomic and political) shaping underrepresented students’ experiences of higher education (Flores & Park, 2013). Clearly, there’s real need to better serve underserved student communities. University classrooms are important places to transform students’ experiences of higher education for the better.


Minority-Serving (MSIs) enroll high percentages of students facing systemic barriers to higher education access. Relative to other colleges and universities, MSIs (including Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs], Tribal Colleges and Universities [TCUs], Asian American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions [AAPISIs], and Hispanic-Serving Institutions [HSIs]) disproportionately use open admissions policies, and report higher rates of enrollment by women, low-income, and first-generation students. However, MSIs also report lower-than-national-average graduation and retention rates, reflecting continued systemic challenges (both socioeconomic and political) shaping underrepresented students’ experiences of higher education (Flores & Park, 2013). Clearly, there’s real need to better serve underserved student communities. University classrooms are important places to transform students’ experiences of higher education for the better.


However, developing faculty-led pedagogical interventions is difficult work. Pedagogy is complex and dependent on contexts. As an early-career scholar, I learned many assumptions and pedagogical techniques developed during graduate school that didn’t apply to the HSI where I landed a full-time teaching post. Through trial, error, and reflexivity, I adapted my pedagogy to meet the needs of underrepresented students. In this post, I reflect on these experiences and offer practical pedagogy tips for MSI classrooms.

My reflections need establishing contexts. I teach at an HSI, offering courses addressing topics at the confluence of social and physical sciences (I’m a human geographer). I deliberately make my reflections broad enough to transfer to other disciplinary contexts and institutions. Given my research background, I cannot claim authority in teaching and pedagogy research. However, I’ve found there are (happily) accessible resources by experts discussing pedagogy in higher education. Some I share here. Sources like these inspired discipline- and institution- specific changes to my pedagogy. I hope they spark creative thinking in others, too. Finally, the reflections I offer apply to more than MSIs! After all, U.S. colleges and universities can anticipate increased racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity in future enrollment.

Tip 1: Use Pedagogy to Normalize Using Class and University Resources

Many HSI students at my institution are first-generation, which follows broader patterns of HSIs (and other MSIs) across the United States. For these students, university life is potentially shocking. “Office hours” are an unfamiliar term. Learning to file for financial aid, apply to internal scholarships, or declare a major are opaque bureaucratic processes. Technology and writing centers, counseling services, and student health centers go unvisited (Medina & Posadas, 2012). Simple ways for faculty to increase student engagement with university services involve frequently and routinely advertising them and normalizing their use. Some effective practices to implement:

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• Include a list and contact information for student services in syllabi, and connect the use of services to successful learning outcomes. Spend time in class discussing them and their uses. Office hours, Title IX, and accommodations offices are required syllabus components, but syllabus statements are also ideal ways to introduce health and counseling services. During early course interactions, emphasize faculty members’ roles as resources for navigating university. Emphasize this role applies not only within the contexts of the course at hand, but also in broader contexts of university life.

• Remind students of these services throughout the semester with in-class announcements. Check the university calendar weekly for events hosted by student services and take a moment in class to advertise them. Include contact information, hours, and locations. At the start of the next class following the event, take a moment and ask if anyone attended. During stressful (or busy) semester times, provide lists of mental health and student study services. Post them to online learning platforms, announce them in class, and distribute information in hard copy handouts.

• Refer individual students to selected services according to their specific need. It will make a profound difference for that person.


Tip 2: Develop Students’ Professional Identities

I contribute to my university’s teacher preparation program by offering geography courses to prepare pre-service education majors to teach K-12 social studies curricula. Courses bound into teacher preparation programs offer opportunities to connect students’ academic lives to their growing professional identities as educators and are a necessary component of MSI pedagogy (Ostorga, Zúñiga, & Hinton, 2020). To help students develop professional identities, faculty can:

• Explain decision-making processes driving choices in course design, material, and teaching approaches and invite comments and feedback via anonymous surveys. In being transparent about course design and soliciting students’ anonymous feedback, instructors engage with students as members of a shared professional community of educators; and

• Deliberately relate course content to students’ future career prospects. Students may ask (silently or otherwise) why a particular course unit matters. There are many ways to make materials relevant to students’ lived experiences (see Tip 3 for a deeper discussion). One method to develop student engagement with course materials (and to develop their view of the instructor as a resource!) is to connect course materials explicitly to students’ future professional development. In a teacher preparation program, for example, instructors can fold in discussions of how course content connects to teaching at the K-12 level, or implement capstone projects requiring students to draft lesson plans.


Tip 3: Empower with Course Content

Research on sustainable and inclusive education in MSIs recognizes culturally responsive pedagogy is place- and people-specific, keeps students’ cultures at the center of teaching/learning processes, and counters hegemonic forces of marginalization (Ostorga, Zúñiga, & Hinton, 2020). One path to achieving these outcomes is by adapting insights from Paulo Freire’s now-classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire espouses a pedagogy enabling conscientização, or a critical consciousness that perceives oppressive elements of social, political, and economic realities (Freire, 2017). For many educators, this iterative process—perhaps never complete, yet always something to strive for—involves transforming course materials in ways resonating with students’ lives. In MSI social sciences courses, this transformation occurs along several related themes:

• Developing marginalized voices and perspectives in course case studies;

• Using courses to explore systemic shapers on the local communities and places embedded within them (and those communities and places which students know);

• Explicit reflection on, and identification of, hegemonic discourses promoted by U.S. higher education—with the aim of working with students to develop the critical perspectives needed to transform them.

Conclusion

Pedagogy at MSIs requires instructors to make changes to pedagogy and classroom practices. Small changes to class time can better connect underserved students to university resources. Deliberate choices in course content and assessment design improve underserved students' development of professional identity.


Discussion Questions


1. What other pedagogical strategies and practices contribute to more positive learning

environments for underserved students enrolled in MSIs or other higher education

institutions?


2. Teacher preparation programs in MSIs identify strategies for more inclusive professional

identities (e.g., Ostorga, Zúñiga, & Hinton, 2020), yet less research discusses parallel

strategies in other disciplines. How can faculty contribute to underserved students’

professional identities in discipline-specific contexts?


3. What barriers to adapting pedagogy to MSIs exist within your discipline?



References

Flores, S.M. & Park, T.J. (2013). Race, ethnicity, and college success: Examining the continued

significance of the Minority-Serving Institution. Educational Researcher 42 (3), 115-128.


Freire, P. (2017). Pedagogy of the oppressed. (M.B. Ramos, Trans.). Penguin Books. (Original

work published 1970).


Medina, C.A. & Posadas, C.E. (2012). Hispanic student experiences at a Hispanic-Serving

Institution: Strong voices, key message. Journal of Latinos and Education 11 (2), 182-

188.


Ostorga, A.N., Zúñiga, C.E., & Hinton, K.A. (2020). Teacher education at Hispanic-Serving

Institutions. In Bilingual Teacher Educators at an HSI : A Border Pedagogy for Latinx

Teacher Development, 137–155. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429198564-10.

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