The Higher Ed Podcast Series: Teaching Tolerance

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Danielle Shelton wears many hats. Along with working as an instructor in higher education, Shelton is a dual enrollment instructor, hosts a podcast, creates instructional design for City College, and is an author working on publishing her first book. This week on The Higher Ed Podcast, Kamaar and George, joined by a new co-host, Nicole Carpelle, sit down with Danielle and speak about communication in both the classroom and online and how Danielle manages to reach her students in an authentic way through teaching life skills and teaching tolerance in the classroom and in online courses.

Teaching Life Skills 

As a dual enrollment instructor, Danielle Shelton teaches younger high school teenagers at the college level. When it comes to instruction, Shelton finds it important to use the literature course to teach her students about valuable life skills, like “the ability to listen to views that are different than yours and be okay…washing your own clothes and washing your own dishes.” She even says that one student “had a full blown breakdown, like crying, sobbing, because she didn’t know that they don’t wash your clothes for you at the school she was applying to.”

Danielle’s views on teaching life skills to students are shared by others. A survey by H&R Block showed that out of 2,000 adults, 84% of people said they learned things in school that they never used in their adult life. 54% said they would have benefitted from a class about money management and 42% would have benefitted from a course on mental wellbeing. Shelton touches on being sensitive to the emotional wellbeing of her students as well, saying, “I have so many that suffer from depression, they don’t see themselves in a positive light. And it’s good for me to know that because then I can zero in on them.”

Tolerance in the Classroom

Along with teaching life skills to her dual enrollment students, Danielle Shelton discusses how she teaches tolerance in the classroom through literature. “The way that I try to teach tolerance to them,” she says, “is I let them know different is okay.” Shelton highlights that in society right now, differences in opinion are seen as an attack on someone’s character, rather than a valid feeling. In teaching K through 12, Shelton has to walk a fine line between teaching values and staying away from explicit politics. Her goal, then, is to have students in the classroom see the universal “human-ness” in everything they read. As an example, she uses Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat” to show how “It didn’t even matter that Zora Neal Hurston was a black author, and that she was a female…what they connected to was the human-ness in it.”

Managing Tolerance in an Online Setting

Teaching in an online setting changes the dynamic in teaching tolerance. While Shelton is an online instructor in higher education, and therefore can have a more open dialogue about what is happening outside of the classroom with students, she notes that it is more difficult to make connections with students through online forums. The most difficult aspects to manage, she says, are online discussion boards. One reason being that “you don’t know what someone has said until you go back to the discussion and read. And by that time, you don’t know how many other people have read it.”

She offers two solutions to the problem of connecting and tolerance on discussion boards. The most immediate solution is that she deletes the discussion answer and has the student rewrite their post. Shelton says, “I make them rethink their stance, and then phrase it in a way that is not offensive. And it is not popular. Most students don’t like it, because they don’t want to rewrite. They don’t want to rethink.” In a traditional classroom setting this is a problem which would be resolved right away, but like Shelton says in the podcast, this online solution is difficult, but not impossible.

Another way that Shelton connects with her students in an online setting is by setting up short Zoom meetings once a week. She sets up a quick 30 minute Zoom with her students, saying “If you want to ask a question or if you just want to sit and talk to me, I had one student last week, she logged in, and she was like, Oh, Miss, I don’t need any help. I just wanted to see somebody.” Most of the time, students just want to connect with somebody. Shelton focuses heavily on her relationship with her students because the learning will come easier and more willing if they feel connected to her and her class.

Higher Ed 2.0 

While Danielle Shelton believes it’s difficult to connect with students through the online forum setting of online classes, she does believe that online instruction is in the future of higher education. She tells Nicole Carpelle, “I think higher education is going to have to step up and conform to the trend that’s happening in online instruction. Higher ed right now has a responsibility to have engaging online instruction.”

The question remains, then, what does engaging online instruction look like? Shelton says it looks like “lectures that are happening in real time where students can log in in real time.” She elaborates on the classroom nature of virtual learning, saying, “we need to have our classrooms set up in a way, in my mind, where the classroom is open, students may not be in it, but they’re present online. And you can see them.” With this set up online, instructors can connect with their students as if they were in a classroom.

Listen to the full podcast to hear more and make sure to subscribe to The Higher Ed Podcast.

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