Reducing the Costs

If we want to give all of our students the opportunity to perform, and to learn, to the best of their ability, we must be attentive to the learning environments we preside over, and the cues we send about achievement. Humans learn most when we stretch to the limits of our abilities, but students can only extend themselves intellectually when they can trust their environment. If they feel like outsiders, or sense low expectations, they may find themselves “over-efforting”: attempting to prove themselves by expending immense resources in solitary work, without the proportionate gains in learning.

The good news is that many strategies for designing powerful learning experiences are also strategies for establishing trust and reducing stereotype threat. Here are a few:

High expectations, coupled with support: Our expectations of students have a powerful impact on how they perform (Rosenthal and Jacobsen, 1968); so we must be demanding, and emphasize our confidence that students can meet those demands. What Cohen et al. (2014) call “wise feedback” breaks down mistrust and helps students improve, by assuring them that they will be able, with appropriate effort, to meet the highest standards. Well-scaffolded assignments and assessments provide the structure within which students can succeed.

Practice and feedback: Highly-structured learning experiences, with frequent, low-stakes opportunities for practice and feedback, help all of our students make better progress, and help them view errors as part of the learning process; these strategies also minimize “achievement gaps” (Freeman et al., 2014). Shifting our focus “from proving to improving” helps students adopt a growth mindset–a view of ability as incremental, rather than fixed–which enhances motivation. 

Working in heterogeneous groups: Students who feel like they don’t belong tend to study alone; this robs them of the opportunity to learn that their peers may be struggling, too. Working with diverse groups will help them to see that we all make errors, and that deep learning can be frustrating and effortful for everyone.

Transparency: Making instructions precise and concrete, explaining why we ask students to complete particular tasks or assessments, and making the standards for success explicit all serve to improve learning. It’s also important that we ensure that our measurements are fair—that they don’t elicit differential performance from some groups—and that we tell students that we have designed them to be fair, and learning-centered.

Instructor “Immediacy”: Humanizing yourself is surprisingly useful: sharing your own struggles helps students to see that bumps in the road don’t mean they’re not cut out for the major, or for college. Projecting warmth and care for students is easier for some of us than others, but it’s not just a popularity issue: students learn more when they trust their instructors, so even if we’re not warm and fuzzy, we need to convey our respect and concern for all students.

Talking about stereotype threat: Students who understand the phenomenon of stereotype threat are less likely to be subject to it. Knowing they’re not alone depersonalizes their performance, and lifts the burden of representing their group.

Role models: Minority faculty are the best antidotes to stereotype threat. Students need visible examples of in-group members who have succeeded in the field. Citing Black, or Latinx, or female scientists or authors, for example, or inviting diverse experts and guest speakers to your class, shows students in these groups that there’s a place for them in the discipline, or in the classroom.

If you’d like to learn about more strategies, or discuss implementing them, please get in touch at


Florida State University Libraries will host a one-day Open Education Symposium on March 8th in Strozier Library’s Bradley Reading Room. The symposium is a free professional development opportunity for faculty and students, focused primarily on raising awareness about Open Educational Resources (OER) and their potential to support student success by reducing textbook costs and creating opportunities for open, learner-centered pedagogy.

“This symposium will provide faculty with effective strategies for relieving some of the financial burden on their students, advancing the University’s strategic goal of ensuring an affordable education for all students regardless of socioeconomic status,” said Julia Zimmerman, Dean of University Libraries. “In addition, the symposium will also surface innovative ideas related to open pedagogy, including open assignments that empower students to connect with a global audience, engage with real-world issues, and develop their skills as digital citizens.”

The symposium will feature a number of distinguished speakers, collaborative sessions, panel discussions, and a keynote address from Dr. David Wiley, Chief Academic Officer of Lumen Learning. Registration is free and participants are welcome to attend the entire event or individual sessions. Participants can also attend remotely via a live webcast. This program is sponsored by FSU’s University Libraries, College of Education, and College of Communication and Information.

For program details and to register or view the live webcast, please visit

There’s also a survey about textbooks, affordability, and OER. You can respond here: