When students sign a labor-based contract with their instructor, they commit to learning by doing. It’s perhaps among the best practices in higher education and one of 24 research-based methods showcased in UNLV’s Best Teaching Practices Expo. The expo kicks off on Jan. 24, and includes a panel of distinguished presenters on Feb. 10.
This annual event organized by the Faculty Center features a collection of posters by a select group of gifted researchers and instructors, who have developed innovative teaching practices, resources to support others adopting the practices, and ideas on how instructors in other fields might use them in their classroom.
A Contract Rather Than High-Stakes Tests
Erica Marti’s poster on labor-based grading contracts, for instance, illustrates how engineering students benefit from having multiple opportunities to revise, reflect, and resubmit their work to earn their desired grade. Marti, an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering and construction, reports that the practice helps students focus on quality projects and honing skills rather than the score they might get on high-stakes exams.
“Students reported that the contract grading makes them reflect on their assignments before submitting and to recognize their own ability to improve and grow as learners,” according to Marti’s research.
“Contract grading or ‘ungrading’ is gaining popularity in higher education, and can enhance inclusivity,” said Melissa Bowles-Terry, director of the Faculty Center.
She added that many of this year’s posters demonstrate UNLV’s commitment to serving a diverse student population.
Inclusivity in Course Materials
This year’s presenters are critical to advancing UNLV’s mission as a minority-serving institution, said Juanita Fain, vice president of Student Affairs and interim chief diversity officer.
“First, I must say how pleased and encouraged I am that inclusivity and equity are prominent themes for this year's Best Teaching Practices Expo,” Fain said. “This focus epitomizes the dedication of these faculty to improve the experiences of students who have been traditionally marginalized in higher education. As one of the most diverse universities in the country, we must continue to place an emphasis on equity-based education where all students can be successful and thrive.”
Jacimaria Batista’s approach to teaching civil and environmental engineering brings real-world context to the principles of water and wastewater engineering to make the course relatable to her students on a personal level.
Upon reviewing the racial and gender diversity of her 60-student course on water and wastewater treatment, Batista replaced previously assigned articles with eight others that focused on water issues affecting minoritized communities in the U.S. She also added to the course articles featuring prominent women and people of color who contributed to water and wastewater engineering. The goal was to make students aware of water and wastewater issues facing minority communities in the U.S.
“Often, the media portrays Africa or South America as places where safe water is not available, ignoring the needs of minoritized communities in the U.S.,” Batista said, adding that by expanding the variety of expert voices, she hoped to bring more fair and balanced perspectives for emerging engineers to learn from.
“Including historically marginalized and excluded voices in the syllabus speaks volumes to our students about which scholars matter,” Bowles-Terry said. “This is an awesome practice, and very cool to see it happening in engineering.”