Basic Do’s and Don’ts in
the Classroom: Combating Bias,
Presentations, and Slides
by Henry M. Walker,
This column is the third and final installment in a series designed to help new and inexperienced faculty
get started in their teaching.
• The Classroom Vignettes column for
September 2016 listed 21 do’s and
don’ts related to the classroom environment, student-faculty interactions, and
general classroom parameters.
• My Curricular Syncopations for December 2016 presented practical tips and
techniques for planning and organizing
a course for the first time.
• This column presents another list of do’s
and don’ts for the classroom—focusing
on combating implicit bias, details of
slides, board notes, and similar day-to-day activities.
As with the previous columns, the reader
is warned that what follows is designed as a
starting point rather than a definitive or complete statement regarding effective teaching.
Although some elements of effective teaching may vary based on faculty personalities
and perspectives (as noted in my September
2016 column), the suggestions here are
widely observed as practices and approaches that apply in many classroom settings
with small and mid-sized enrollments.
Combating Implicit Bias and
Discrimination (e.g., Figure 1)
1. Do be careful in praising (or criticizing)
only some class participants.
Commentary: Selective praise in class
may be perceived as a bias toward one
student or group and against another.
For example, if one person provides a
nice answer to a question and receives a
“well done” comment, then
others providing helpful
answers should receive
2. Do and publicly advertise
blind grading, where the
instructor does not know
whose solution is being
scored at any time.
• A well-observed phenomenon, sometimes called
the “halo effect,” is that
graders tend to give the
benefit of the doubt to
students who generally
perform well, but are less
forgiving and sympathetic
to students who generally
perform less well—
independently of the answer written.
• When students take a written test, I ask
them to write their names on the first
page only. Then I grade all of question 1
responses, then all question 2 responses, etc. After grading each question, I
record the score and turn the paper to
the next problem before going on.
This allows me to grade each answer
fresh—without knowing whose paper
I am reading. (I might be able to guess
somewhat based on handwriting, but
even then, a similar handwriting might
be common to several students.)
This approach also ensures that I do
not know students’ scores on previous
problems when I am grading the next
one—again reducing the possibility of
bias when grading.
3. Don’t show bias in interacting with all
• As an extreme, do not address some as
“Mr. Walker” and others as “Donna.”
• Avoid use of terms, such as “guys,” that
some may consider a general reference,
but others will consider sexist and
exclusionary. For example, avoid “these
guys,” “those guys,” and “you guys.”
• With increasing cultural sensitivity to
matters related to gender, one must
be careful with the use of pronouns—
what is appropriate when referring
to a specific student: “he,” “she,” “ze,”
etc.? Some faculty recommend asking
each student to complete a note
card on the first day to clarify such
Figure 1: Two Lab-based Sections of CS2—Celebrate Diversity