By M’hammed Abdous 

Earlier this semester, I was privileged to have a thought-provoking conversation with an ODU faculty member. After asking her permission to relay our discussion, I'd like to share her unique approach. She noted that "I can tell which students are going to do well in my class from day one." This belief, stemming from her extensive teaching experience, reminded me of the human tendency toward “first impression syndrome”. But it also prompted a pertinent question: Is it really fair to rely primarily on intuition, even if it is accurate? This perspective highlights the critical challenge of ensuring fairness in teaching, especially at a diversity-valuing institution like ODU. The following essay offers some ideas, suggestions, and examples for faculty on how to embrace fairness as a teaching practice. 

Founded in 1930 during the Great Depression as part of the College of William and Mary, ODU has a long history of valuing inclusivity and diversity. With a student body of 25,000 individuals from over 100 countries, many of whom come from underrepresented groups or are first-generation college students, the importance of fairness is paramount at ODU. Fairness means fostering an environment in which academic decisions are based on merit and achievement, over and above any potential bias. Each student, regardless of background, brings unique value to the classroom. Recognizing and celebrating this diversity is essential not only to ensuring equal access but also to fostering students’ academic and personal growth (Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, & Gurin, 2002). 

At ODU, faculty and staff already demonstrate a commendable commitment to fairness and equity in the learning experience. However, as the educational landscape evolves, there is always room for growth. In that spirit, faculty members are encouraged to consider, adopt, or adapt the following suggestions to fit their specific disciplinary content, activities, and assessments: 

  • Acknowledge Implicit Biases: Ongoing self-reflection is crucial in teaching. Utilizing Schon's (1987) reflection-in-action technique, faculty can examine and mitigate biases, such as those of confirmation, affinity, and overconfidence, to foster a more equitable and inclusive educational environment.  A “fairness journal” can be an effective tool for tracking and reflecting on these efforts (Thompson & Thompson, 2023). 

Example: A history teacher might keep a journal to track how often he engages his students, especially those who reinforce his own perspective. 

  • Detect Hidden Biases in the Curriculum: Curricula, often perceived as neutral, may have inherent biases, either by historical or unintentional omissions. It is important to recognize and to address these biases by diversifying the curriculum and by critically evaluating its content (Orón & Blasco, 2018). 

Example: Traditional science textbooks often emphasize Western achievements, overlooking pivotal contributions from non-Western cultures. 

  • Adopt Inclusive Teaching Techniques: Faculty should diversify teaching methods to foster student engagement and participation. Meta-analytic studies show that prioritizing active learning activities over predominantly lecture-based teaching can foster a more inclusive environment (Freeman et al., 2014). 

Example: Instead of solely lecturing, a language teacher might use role-play and group activities to engage her students. 

  • Standardize Fair Grading: A transparent grading system is essential. Incorporating peer review, rubrics and unbiased assessment tools is beneficial. Anonymous student feedback can provide further insight into perceptions of grading fairness (Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia, 2019; Ribeiro-Silva, Aparicio-Herguedas, & Batista, 2022; Winkelmes, Boye, & Tapp, 2023).  

Example: In a writing class, students review each other’s work, and the teacher collects anonymous feedback on grading. 

  • Foster Open Communication: Teaching platforms such as Canvas, Teams and Zoom can significantly improve communication between faculty and students. They allow for feedback to be shared, concerns to be voiced, and academic discussions to take place (Bond et al., 2019). 

Example: A finance teacher might host weekly Q&A sessions with students on Teams or Zoom. 

  • Leverage Institutional Resources: Units such as the Center for Faculty Development and the Office of Faculty Diversity & Retention offer regular workshops, events, best practices, and ideas that promote fairness and inclusivity. Participating in these events can refine faculty perspectives, enrich faculty knowledge, and promote adaptive teaching practices (O’Leary et al., 2020). 

Example: To enhance his methods, a health science teacher might regularly attend workshops on teaching and learning practices. 

  • Engage with Community Partners: Engaging external community partners in discipline-related dialogues and workshops can offer faculty a platform to share challenges, insights, and best practices, thereby collectively strengthening faculty’s approach to fairness (Compare, Albanesi, & Pieri, 2022). 

Example: Collaborating for enrichment, an urban planning teacher might invite a city planner to discuss how residential zoning might limit educational opportunities. 

  • Tactfully Approach Complex and Multifaceted Topics: Addressing complex topics requires careful handling. Balancing discussions and exposing students to multiple perspectives ensure a full understanding (Kraatz et al., 2022). 

Example: When discussing topics like immigration policy, climate change or gun control, a political science teacher might offer perspectives from various political ideologies, encouraging students to understand the perspectives, motivations, and concerns of each side. 

Looking Ahead: 

In summary, given the prevailing national and global landscape, it is more important than ever to embrace fairness as an ongoing teaching practice. Fairness is enhanced when faculty adopt a growth mindset that is nurtured through ongoing reflective practice, sharing of insights, adoption of inclusive curricula, and transparent dialogue. By engaging our shared humanity, recognizing the dual impact and rewards of our teaching, we can further strengthen our university into a beacon of hope and justice. The future remains unwritten, it begins in our classrooms.  


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