It is no secret that 2020 has been a challenging year for the UT community, but Erin Hardin (PhD), director of undergraduate studies and associate department head of psychology, says that with these challenges has come opportunity for growth.
Hardin says, “People are becoming much more flexible and accommodating, especially in the age of COVID. I think faculty understand this is a whole different environment in which we need to be more flexible.”
Hardin admits this year has been difficult even for herself. “I’ve got two kids in middle school who are remote learning [and] my partner is also a professor at UT, so there’s a lot to balance.” For herself and the instructors in her department, Hardin tries to lead by modelling and self-care, saying that engagement and communication are so important right now. “I personally email every single one of my undergraduate students after an exam. Whether they fail or get an A, they get a personal, reassuring message from me. At the same time, I’m not available 24/7,” she says. Her students know that evenings and weekends are for family time and she is not checking her email.
Hardin came to UT in January 2013 for her dream job saying, “I get to be at an R1 university in a really top-notch psych department that has a counseling psychology doc program, but cares so much about undergraduate teaching and education.” Although Hardin has been involved with TLI since 2013, most recently she has been brought in for conversations surrounding equity in the classroom and addressing issues in high “Drop, Fail, and Withdrawal” classes.
With the pandemic, and the shift to online, Hardin has been involved in the decision making to ensure the large, first-year psychology courses are as engaging and high quality as possible despite their new online format. She says, “I want students’ grades to reflect their mastery and understanding of the material. Not to reflect students’ ability to multitask, to manage stress, to balance work and personal life.”
“Traditional ways of thinking about teaching really privilege students who don’t have to work, who don’t have familial responsibilities, who have information about college. I think all of this, especially in the age of COVID, systemic racism, racial violence…just the political climate...there are so many things going on for our students that are frankly more important than school,” Hardin reflects. The question then is how do we help students learn and master the material in the context of all of this?
One method is through flexible late policies – something that Hardin says she and the majority of her department have implemented successfully. Looking at correlational data pulled from research within the psychology department they found that the vast majority of students who were not receiving credit for a course were completely missing an assignment or exam. Since implementing flexible late policies, the department has seen the equity gap lessen.
Additionally, backward course design has become a primary focus with Hardin saying the psychology department has shifted their emphasis from the details and content to “what is it that we really want students to learn?”
But equity and equality in the classroom does not end there, says Hardin, “[I am] struggling with what anti-racist pedagogy really involves because it’s different than just inclusive teaching. Part of that is doing more to really reach every student. I know that despite everything I do…I have students now that are struggling with the class, so doing more to really connect and reach every single student [is my goal].” Hardin believe there’s no deficit that cannot be fixed with better pedagogy. She states that yes, students have a responsibility for their own learning, but at the same time instructors have room to influence students’ motivation and investment, so thinking about what can be done differently so that even more students are able to succeed is vital.
Hardin claims her current position at UT is her dream job because she gets to focus on teaching elaborating, “One of the things I love about UT is it is a place where (as a tenure lined faculty member) I never have to apologize for being passionate about being teaching. UT really, truly cares about undergraduate education and it nurtures faculty who are both outstanding researchers and really good teachers and that’s not true at every R1 university. I feel really lucky to be at a university that has a resource like TLI and has so many good faculty.”
Visit our website for more information on Inclusive Teaching Practices, Teaching During COVID, and Navigating Challenging Conversations in the Classroom.