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Chaparral 2022-2023: 31.4 Pedagogy as the First Step Toward Equity

Pedagogy as the First Step Toward Equity

by Mark Maier, Economics Department


GCC has made tremendous progress in addressing student equity. However, when it comes to understanding the connection between instruction and equity, we can do more to adopt effective pedagogy which is, in fact, the first step toward equity.

Most importantly, and quite simply, good pedagogy leads to equity, best seen by considering the reverse: poor pedagogy favors the privileged. As many of us have experienced in courses with ill-defined outcomes, assignments, and readings, we were able to succeed by using skills we developed over time. While we learned to cope with these less than ideal situations, less privileged students often have yet to possess the necessary academic navigation skills.

The education literature points to ways in which evidence-based instruction can promote equity. Consider the following four elements of good pedagogy. Assessment

Especially after the pandemic, there have been increased concerns about equity in assessment. How can we accommodate students who face difficulties in completing tasks on time, or in attending mandatory class periods for testing? By focusing first on effective pedagogy, we can address these issues in a more effective manner. Learning science points to the importance of scaffolded formative assessment and opportunities for revision. These attributes not only increase student learning but do so in a more equitable manner. Research shows that student learning is less effective with summative assessment than with formative assessment in which students have opportunities to repeat work based on stepwise feedback. Such assessment supports equity because it gives all students more opportunities to achieve course goals.


Equity requires attention to different linguistic practices our students bring to campus. However, here too, research literature suggests how we can address these issues and improve student success. In particular, our writing assignments can use authentic contexts and pay attention to the audience to whom students are writing. In this way we alert students to the appropriate linguistic practice and evidence shows that such assignments also reduce surface errors in student writing. For students to improve their skills, a fundamental equity requirement, students need to revise their work. Given the large number of students each of us teach, this presents workload challenges. But here the Writing Across the Curriculum literature provides guidance on ways in which we can design better assignments and limit our feedback in ways that allow students to improve their writing without excessive burden for instructors. (See John Bean and Dan Melzer, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom.)


The Open Education Resource movement has had tremendous success in lowering textbook costs, an obvious equity issue for students with fewer financial resources. However, in their zeal for publicity, the State legislature and some community colleges now advocate zero cost textbooks. Learning science points out that equity requires readings with support, too often unavailable with zero cost textbooks. Instead, in many situations, it is a low cost textbook that offers the support of spaced study, frequent feedback, and up-to-date content. Thus zero cost textbooks once again privilege those students who can better deal with less than ideal circumstances. While even low cost books are a possible financial barrier to students, the cost is far greater if a student fails the course and is delayed in achieving a degree. The problem does not exist in all courses or disciplines, but my experience using a $25 program from Waymaker at lumen suggests that success is much higher with this low cost approach.

Group work

Equitable instructional practices emphasize community within the classroom. Here evidence-based research points to ways in which sound pedagogy promotes equity. For example, work by Spencer Kagan shows that structured cooperative learning breaks down barriers between racial, ethnic, and gender groups. The reason is that group work with positive interdependence is inclusive. Rather than depend on instructor exhortation to encourage collaboration by students, structured group activity requires input from all students in the group. Such structures can avoid the frequent problem with group assignments in which it is efficient and convenient for privileged students to dominate, an inequitable situation that decreases learning for other students.

There are efforts at GCC to put pedagogy first. Using them to a greater degree, we can move along the path toward greater equity.

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