When it comes to teaching, Assistant Professor of Sociology Alanna Gillis strives to see through her students’ eyes. She’s passionate about identifying inequalities in higher education to design more inclusive curricula.
“Most Americans view higher education as a pathway for opportunity, but a lot of social science research shows that students face different barriers to equal access,” she says. “One of the things that I try to understand is, from a student's perspective, how are they navigating through college? What sort of barriers are they facing? If we can identify these barriers… then we can work to address them and make higher education live up to the ideal that we all have for it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic magnified these barriers when it forced an abrupt transition to remote learning for college students across the country. Gillis and a former colleague were curious about student perceptions of the switch.
“Almost everyone in the higher education community went through the same problem in the spring where courses that had been face-to-face suddenly had to be online with almost no notice and no training,” Gillis says. “I collected research on how the transition went in my class and worked with a colleague to see how it went in her class. Students compared how the transition went in their other courses so we could analyze from the student's perspective what was effective for their learning, what was accessible, what was enjoyable, but also what barriers they faced.”