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One of the most significant hurdles to succeeding at a university is an ability to navigate the structures of university life that is often radically different than what students encountered in high school and other learning and working environments. This is further complicated by a diversity of approaches instructors take. Teaching at the college level should not be uniform or the same across the curriculum, but we also need to recognize that the effort students use to navigate this complex environment is cognitive energy and capacity that they are unable to devote to the content and skills of a course. One of our tasks in inclusive pedagogy involves making the structures of the class transparent so that students can devote their energy and attention toward the learning outcomes of the class, rather than trying to understand and navigate the structure. 

For many writers (see Semper and Blasco below, for example) about the “hidden curriculum,” one of the key elements to revealing the hidden curricula involves a recognition of who we are as instructors, as leaders and designers of the class, and as scholars deeply invested in our disciplines. It is when we try to hide ourselves, whether in the name of “objective instruction” or “student-centered” instruction, we hinder the ability of students to feel connected with us, and by extension their ability to learn fully from our unique experiences, knowledge, and perspectives.

One of the other key lessons in transparency is through repetition. A one-time spoken explanation of something is rarely sufficient. This is particularly true when it comes to things like course policies that may not seem immediately relevant at the start of a semester when a student may not believe something might apply to them.

Practices that Support Transparency

Explain what office hours are and what they are for: Office hour usage is one of the most important factors in helping students who begin to struggle find success. Yet, most instructors find their office hours very underutilized. And many students, while saying they have used office hours, suggest that they feel uncomfortable or uncertain about actually attending. One key strategy is to help students gain clarity on what to expect and, in doing so, to normalize attending office hours. For example, you might suggest that students come to your office hour at the beginning of the semester to say “hello.” You might later use that time for group review ahead of tests, when it would be challenging to see every student, and some students may feel better knowing it will be in a group.

Share objectives for each class meeting: Try to begin each class session with an overview of the objectives for the session. Then, refer back to these objectives as you go so students can track progress and make connections. You might also connect these objectives for the day to larger outcomes for the semester and objectives associated with any upcoming assessments. To learn more about Outcomes and Objectives visit that section of this content area.

Be explicit about policies: Sometimes we try to be flexible with policies around late work or absences, but our syllabi and other course documents don’t communicate such flexibility, instead it is only offered to those who ask. Be clear about the actual policies and create structures for those students who need some form of flexibility to know how to ask for and receive it.

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