Asrat G. Amnie, Assistant Professor, Hostos Education Department
First and foremost, I would like to express my sincere acknowledgment to the Mellon Foundation Transformative Learning in the Humanities Initiative which afforded me the opportunity to participate in a faculty fellowship in the fall of the year 2022. The Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH) fellowship required the inquiry, planning, and implementation of research-based innovative methods in the classroom. Moreover, a final public knowledge project which involved the participation of my students and collaboration with faculty from other campuses was jointly produced and presented at a TLH workshop as a contribution to CUNY and the community at large. In this article, I am sharing some of the perspectives I gained from Transformative Learning in the Humanities Fellowship (CUNY Workshop, 2023).
The execution of a transformative operational plan in a college calls for a comprehensive appraisal of the forces that influence student enrollment, persistence, retention, and program completion rates as well as reimagining our instructional practices and student support efforts in ways that would significantly improve the measures of academic excellence. Academic excellence means that students will complete their program with the hard and soft skills they need to stand out in today’s competitive job market and carry with them an enthusiasm for inquiry, creativity, and innovation enhanced through lifelong learning that will help them lead personally fulfilling and socially responsible lives (The University of North Dakota, 2023).
This instructional perspective involves re-envisioning established principles, best practices, and effective experiences to advance a learning process that fosters diversity and inclusivity through discussion and dialogue among communities of practice (faculty and students). The continued discussions and conversations about diversity and inclusivity would help to better understand and apply effective teaching practices tailored to all modes of instructional delivery; to identify high-impact practices that significantly influence the learning process; and appraise the state of the curriculum and re-craft the syllabus as an instrument of social justice to foster diversity and inclusivity in the classroom.
Some examples of transformative learning include the adaption of an inclusive, student-centered pedagogy/andragogy, the reappraisal of the syllabus to ensure that it is cruelty-free, zero-penalty, student-centered (rather than focusing on policing student behavior), the inclusion of a diversity and care statement in the syllabus, and its execution through intentional efforts to make the classroom a conducive place for learning as well as healing where everyone feels welcome, valued, and respected.
A transformative curriculum provides an opportunity to build up minority student voices and to chart the course of the scholarly conversation (Garcia, 2020). The goal of a transformative learning experience is to cultivate an inclusive mindset in communities of practice by moving beyond an informative learning experience to a transformative one (Daniels & Schoem, 2020) The main characteristics of these two approaches are presented in Table 1.
Location of knowledge
Direction of knowledge
Frequency of interaction
Type of knowledge valued
Value on content versus process
Social identities and power structures are intentionally surfaced
Instructor to participants
Usually one session of programming
Academic knowledge is valued above all other types of knowing
Content valued above process
Knowledge of instructor is accepted, retained and replicated by students
Instructor and participants Between/across all participants and instructors
All forms of knowledge/knowing are valued (academic, experiential, tacit, affective, reflective)
Content and process valued equally
Students and instructor
Research findings indicate that demographic variables, family characteristics, pre-college and college academic performance factors, and the extent of mandatory placement in remedial courses predict persistence. Therefore, support services such as tutoring, mentoring, academic advising, career counseling services, early intervention systems, and financial aid assistance may significantly improve persistence and retention rates. Moreover, students’ ability to reach out to advisors, faculty, and staff for assistance will improve academic engagement as well as inclusivity and diversity in the classroom and potentially in the workplace as future graduates enter the workforce (Stewart, et all., 2015).
The use of technology helps diversify the modes of instruction as well as enhance collaboration, critical thinking, and engagement in learning. The use of technology also supports a culture of inclusion and diversity when students have access to and make use of available resources, tools, and platforms (Universal Design for Learning, Open Educational Resources, Ally for Learning Management Systems, Student Success Platforms such as Succeed @ Hostos, etc.). Revisiting our course-level instructional approaches and curricula, including students’ college and career readiness and academic pathways, would contribute to addressing perceived challenges and turning them into real opportunities.
The City University of New York. (2023). Transformative Learning in the Humanities.
The University of North Dakota. (2023). Student success through academic excellence.
Garcia, M. (2020). The Syllabus as a Social Contract for Restorative Justice.
Daniels, T., & Schoem, S. (2020). Preparing Inclusive Educators through Transformative Learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 163, 83-90.
Stewart, S., Lim, D. H., & Kim, J. (2015). Factors influencing college persistence for first-time students. Journal of Developmental Education, 12-20.