Week One (April 9+): An Introduction to "Academic Civility"
Though teaching is the primary focus of the UW Colleges' mission, it is likely that few of its instructional professionals have had the training necessary to deal with the problem of incivility. The majority of higher education pedagogical training focuses on methods and content in the disciplines, and less on how to teach and manage learning environments. Therefore, the purpose of this mini-workshop is to investigate and reflect on how to promote civility in the college classroom.
Learning Objectives, Week One: After week one, participants should understand the definition of academic civility,its relevance for the higher education classroom, and current best and worst practices with civility.
In some ways it is easier to identify undesirable behaviors or examples of "incivility" in our classrooms than it is to define civility: late, unprepared, or inattentive students; inappropriate email or other forms of communication; inappropriate classroom behavior ranging from sleeping to outbursts. We know it when we see it, hear it, read it, experience it. Robert J. Connelly summarizes the definition of civility well in "Introducing a Culture of Civility in First-Year College Classes":
If what constitutes civility in the classroom often seems like "common sense" to instructional professionals, why is incivility (increasingly) common?
As one can see in Connelly's definition above, civility is a learned skill, and in the academic environment, our students are still learning how to develop the associated literacies of being college students, a large part of which is constituted by civility in higher education, and that is a new set of skills above and beyond what students learn in their K-12 education. When we consider the demographics of our UW Colleges' students, we might make a limited generalization that a greater percentage of our students may not have fully developed academic civility in their K-12 educational experiences. For example, in 2010, we admitted 98% of applicants, only 46% of which came from the the upper-half of their high school graduating class (17.7% came from the bottom quartile). Given the different skills of this population of students, it is perhaps even more important that we address academic civility in the classroom than institutions that matriculate students in the top quartile of high school performance.
In Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, Stephen Brookfield describes this responsibility of teaching academic civility:
Despite the challenges that teaching academic civility poses, it is paramount that we give attention it in our instruction not only for the purposes of effective teaching and learning, but also for the importance that performing civility in different social contexts has and will have for our students. In a 2008 article in Observer, Jennifer L. Schroeder and Harvetta Robertson describe the importance of civility for students: "In most current work settings, individuals are expected to fulfill their individual roles while participating as a part of a team, showing respect for others, and operating productively in work environments. A lack of civility, even in someone with exemplary skills, can lead to failure in the classroom and later in the boardroom." In other words, civility is not just an expectation we should make of our students, but a skill which we should be helping them develop. In fact, others argue that "Civility is not another piece to be added onto the plate of an educator, it ‘is’ the plate upon which all else is placed” (Vincent 28).
If cynicism or “doubt” can be read as students’ ignorance of the reasons for our pedagogical expectations of academic civility, then engaging students in the process can be one strategy for educating students. If students participate in the construction of academic civility, for example, they have an inherent understanding and stake in its definition and existence in their learning environment.
While civility and incivility may seem to exist on a continuum of behavior from “right” to “wrong,” it is more useful from a pedagogical perspective to consider them as different understandings or views of the academic setting. A useful concept here is Krista Ratcliffe’s theory of “rhetorical listening,” which focuses of conducting dialogue across differences. This theory of rhetorical listening can become a strategy for both students and instructors to address academic civility.
A central component of Ratcliffe’s theory is identifying the “cultural logics” that different parties (for example, instructors and students) bring to the discussion. In the stance of rhetorical listening, Ratcliffe explains, an individual attempts to remain open in interactions with books, people, and worldviews. Part of this openness involves a willingness to figure out the cultural logics, or “belief systems[s] or way[s] of reasoning that [are] shared within a culture” (10), that are functioning in any discourse. By remaining open and understanding the complexity of the underlying cultural logics, listeners may then forge very conscious identifications, nonidentifications, or disidentifications with their conversational partners, rather than accepting or rejecting ideas based on unexamined beliefs. As Ratcliffe puts it, “By focusing on claims and cultural logics, listeners may still disagree with each other’s claims, but they may better appreciate that the other person is not simply wrong but rather functioning from within a different logic” (33).
Identifying students’ cultural logics about learning and the academic environment, and explaining or sharing those of the instructor, can be a way for instructors and students to collectively address academic civility collectively. Moreover, naming these logical positions becomes a way to demystify them for students.
This is an effective learning tool beyond engaging students in discussions of academic civility as well, as will be explored in part 3 of this workshop.2012 Reading Circle book), the authors discuss seven concepts of student learning, ranging from organizational structures, to what mastery looks like, to how giving feedback can enhance student learning. One reason for academic incivility may be the underlying epistemological and philosophical beliefs about what it means to know and to learn. Addressing academic civility in these ways can have a positive effect on student learning and student behavior.
What would you add to either of these columns?
Have an additional resource you'd like to share? Email the director at firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations, you made it through Week One of the "Workshop on Academic Civility."
Arnett, Ronald C., and Pat Arneson. Dialogic Civility in a Cynical Age: Community, Hope, and Interpersonal Relationships. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.
Brookfield, Stephen. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.
Connelly, Robert J. "Introducing a Culture of Civility in First-Year College Classes" The Journal of Higher Education 58.1 (2009): 47-64.
Kinzey, Dana and Deborah Minty. "The Dynamics of Teacher Development" Pedagogy 8.3: 481-494.
Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005.
Schroeder, Jennifer L. and Harvetta Robertson. "Civility in the College Classroom" Observer Nov 2008
Vincent, P. F. Restoring School Civility. Greensboro: Character Development Group, 2006.