On Diversity and Inclusion

Participants in learning environments have been members of society; affected by a variety of factors in society and have been exposed to different sorts of assumptions and judgments. They bring their rich experiences into the environment, unless their background and experiences are acknowledged; the environment may not welcoming and their learning experience may not be productive.

Diversity and inclusion matters. Katherine Phillips in her article highlights a particular benefit of diversity, informational diversity; the fact that participants have a chance to get exposed to different perspectives and beliefs. Phillips argues that people in an environment, in which they see/consider alternatives, work harder.  Georgetown’s Center for New Design in Learning and Scholarship reports that the efforts in creating inclusive environment students have positive academic and health effects for students who have been traditionally marginalized in the educational setting.

How can instructor create such an environment? Before making any agenda or action plan, instructor as a member of learning community needs to be aware of unconscious bias. Shakar Vedantam argues that our hidden brain unconsciously and without our awareness contribute in making unsupported judgement about individuals. To overcome this, a facilitator of a learning environment needs to be aware of her hidden brain when it works in “autopilot mode”, as Vedantam calls it. In addition, she needs to be aware that children get exposed to different biases from early ages influenced by family, educational system, media and so on. Her role, then, is beyond creating different sorts of learning opportunities and having different methods of assessment, indeed.

Thinking about different aspects of diversity, the issue of race and racism is perhaps the most difficult aspect that needs to be addressed. On the Heinmann podcast, “Dismantling Racism in Education”, panel members have paid close attention to systemic root of the issue and discuss exclusion of Black and Brown as an intentional problem in the schooling system. We cannot ignore it. Cornelius Minor, one of the panel members invites us to put humanity at center and see individuals’ backgrounds as shared struggle that solidify friendship. ,

This is not going to be an easy conversation, needs to have foundation and ground rules…

 

 

Teaching: Who I am, What I Do

Who is my favorite teacher? How  does she interact with students? How does she teach? Sarah Deel in her article, Finding My Teaching Voice, addresses two major criteria in order to answer the questions like the ones mentioned above; having a good sense of humor, and being charming and easy to relate. One may address some other characteristics of a good professor. Regardless, as Deel points out, there are many ways to be effective teacher, what important is that find out who you are and express yourself in class. Shelli Fowler highlights the importance of authentic teaching self and finding out who one is as a teacher. There is interconnection between who we are and what our philosophy in teaching is, and how we implement practices and adopt strategies in classroom. These two inform one another.

Back to the questions posed earlier and reflecting on myself and experiences I have had, I believe there is a connection between what Deel called as having easy-going attitude in seeing students as individuals and what Alfie Kohn called it as learning orientation approach. Kohn in his article, The Case Against Grades , argues that focusing on details and too much attention on assigning grades and assessment prevents seeing a bigger picture of what students learn.

Teaching: Who I am, What I Do

Who is my favorite teacher? How  does she interact with students? How does she teach? Sarah Deel in her article, Finding My Teaching Voice, addresses two major criteria in order to answer the questions like the ones mentioned above; having a good sense of humor, and being charming and easy to relate. One may address some other characteristics of a good professor. Regardless, as Deel points out, there are many ways to be effective teacher, what important is that find out who you are and express yourself in class. Shelli Fowler highlights the importance of authentic teaching self and finding out who one is as a teacher. There is interconnection between who we are and what our philosophy in teaching is, and how we implement practices and adopt strategies in classroom. These two inform one another.

Back to the questions posed earlier and reflecting on myself and experiences I have had, I believe there is a connection between what Deel called as having easy-going attitude in seeing students as individuals and what Alfie Kohn called it as learning orientation approach. Kohn in his article, The Case Against Grades , argues that focusing on details and too much attention on assigning grades and assessment prevents seeing a bigger picture of what students learn.

Cultivating Imagination: Bridge Between Thought and Reality

Higher institutions in the United States today host hundred thousands international students, some of them come from a culture that varies in different ways with the U.S. culture. It seems that students need to go through the process of adaptation to be adapted with a new culture. Treating culture as statistic notion, as a product rather than process, one either adapts new culture or reject it. In another word, a foreign student coming from different background may accept and embrace new concept of culture, or reject it, in latter case she may face significant cultural challenges even may lead to abandoning of education. But there is a different notion of culture, which is dynamic and process-oriented. Treating culture in this way, one may question her own culture and background as well as new culture. There is a continuous negotiation and interaction between different cultures which may lead to creating a new reality. Douglas Thomas and John Brown in their book A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change use two categories of culture as metaphor to facilitate differentiating between teaching based and culture based approaches to education. In teaching based approach culture is environment, rigid and individual oriented. It shouldn’t be surprising to see that such approach focuses on the results rather than process. In contrast with teaching based approach, in learning based approach, culture emerges from environment, fluid and community-based. Education in this approach, focuses on transforming the world and recreating reality through engagement with and within the world. How we can move towards the latter approach, granting the benefits of that, which may need elaboration beyond what discussed so far.

 

Education as Practicing with and within Community: Some Pieces of Puzzle

It wouldn’t be surprising to see students who aren’t interested in topic and not motivated to learn, at best they may put efforts to get good grade and that’s that. Despite advances in learning sciences, classroom often treats as rigid environment isolated from the real world, in which teacher is authority. In such environment, the existence of mere communication between members wouldn’t help that much to increase relational capacity among students as well as teacher and students in a way that the setting serves as creating a community of scholars. In such environment, if there is attention to acquiring knowledge, it’s more often because of earning high grade and not necessarily enhancing knowledge. One may picture a chilly climate where nor teacher neither students care that much about learning. And even if teacher really cares about students’ success how much she can do to change pedagogy considering existing institutional pressure. Can she make growth priority rather than proficiency, for example? Michael Wesch in his inspirational talk about learning, illustrates grading as climbing mountain; he emphasizes on experience rather than final destination. There is not such thing as failure in this system, if one couldn’t get to upper stages during the process, student is not done yet, she needs more work. Climbing happens in a group, it is a community-based process.

Building on the notion of community and the importance of working together, Gardner Campbell sees the role of community, looking at broader picture. He addresses experiential learning, not necessarily in its traditional meaning, but practices within community with emphasis on connection and collaboration. One may think of community engagement as one particular approach to implement experiential learning which encourages participation and connection, though its effectiveness can remain under questions, deepening on a a variety of issue and more importantly power relations. But what Garner argues is that in digital age “connected learning” through internet offers unique opportunity in which students can collaborate within a social setting and benefit from educational experience that change lives, he emphasizes. Regardless of existing benefits of such network and potential concerns over it, one may doubt if this can be part of a picture to address the major issue of education as Garner argues, becoming more about career and competencies rather than knowledge inquiry and understanding. It is worthy to explore…