Image source: Pixabay
In my previous blog about diversity in the classroom I focused on 3 strategies: team teaching, mixing student groups and mixing modalities (Brookfield, 2015) as a way of addressing diversity in the face to face classroom. I briefly touched on addressing diversity in the online classroom in regards to gender equality and even revealed my aha moment when I realized that I did not even consider “how the curriculum and its delivery would be perceived by a male student” (para 3, Teachingadventuressite, 2017). (Which I am glad to say I have since addressed).
I have not, however, actually plunged into a full examination to see what the “ . . . pedagogical challenges” (p 235, Bowen) are in regards to addressing diversity an online course and what steps I should take to mitigate these as it seemed, quite frankly, overwhelming. Given that this is my last PIDP course I feel that this issue is no longer something I can and should avoid, so here are my interpretations and decisions regarding what aspects of diversity I feel are relevant for me as an instructor of an online, 13 week, perinatal course for post RNs, and what strategies I need to employ.
As noted by Brookfield (2015), the differences between students can be almost endless:
- Citizenship status;
- Racial background;
- Primary language;
- Preferential learning style;
- Talents and skills;
- Level of:
- Extroversion and introversion;
- Sexual identity;
- Social status;
- Religious affiliation;
- Cultural background.
Additional considerations unique to the online learning environment include:
- Student access to internet may not be universal (Peterson, 2015);
- Students may exhibit varying degrees of computer/technological skills (Narozny, 2010);
- Online searching skills may be variable (Narozny, 2010);
- Communication is heavily focused on the written word by way of content delivery, discussion forums, instructor feedback with grades (ie through rubrics) and the use of social media platforms for classroom discussions. This may be challenging for some students, particularly English Language Learners (Milheim, 2017);
- Peterson (2015) notes that instructors have to work to find their voice in the online environment and that it is challenging to ensure that communication is clear and not misconstrued i.e., humour can be difficult to communicate through text only.
- Building community in an online learning environment can be challenging, particularly if teachers attempt to apply the strategies they use for face-to-face classes (Peterson, 2015);
- Thompson (2012) states that it is “ . . .extroversion that is praised and rewarded in our society, and the classroom sometimes mirrors the social values of society by favouring extroverts, who naturally dominate socially because they are three-quarters of the population and are skilful in dominating socially” (para 11). The online environment allows for the more introverted students to have a voice;
- Peterson (2015) notes that some students may find that the anonymity of the online environment may allow them the freedom to break free of cultural norms of conformity.
This last point makes for an interesting segue into whether student cultural and racial information should be actively solicited by online instructors.
After surveying 41, American, online instructors Milheim (2014) states: “(a)mong nearly all of the participants there was a general acknowledgement that culture plays a critical role in the classroom. One individual stated that cultural difference “changes the landscape of our classes when we share” (p 5).
Milheim (2017) feels “(n)o doubt, a student’s cultural background is an important part of this conversation. Not only does culture have an impact on the overall classroom experience, it has been shown to affect learning, motivation, and satisfaction in a course” (para 1).
Laskaris (2015) suggests creating culture-sensitive content to increase productivity in learners in addition to improving the marketability of a course. Laskaris (2015) supports this claim by relating an experience of redesigning of a course for a particular cultural group. This is different from most online University or College courses where “ . . . it is difficult to identify cultural difference in an online setting since the online environment gives a sense of anonymity and masking of culture” (p 5, Milheim, 2014).
Conversely, in his qualitative analysis of five American, online instructors, Peterson (2015) states: “ . . . the instructors expressed sentiments indicating they felt that either student race and backgrounds are not important in an online environment or they felt they maintained a course of total inclusion” (p 65, 66). Peterson (2015) goes on to note that “(a)lthough this method of dealing with people of differing backgrounds does help avoid complicated conversations, it can potentially be a source of dissonance for students because their personal situation or experiences are not addressed or recognized” (p 66).
Language and culture can also impact how written feedback may be interpreted (Milheim, 2017). Western students “for example, are more apt to view the instructor as a facilitator, rather than non-Western students whose cultural norm is to view the instructor as more authoritative in nature” (para 5, Milheim, 2017).
Visual culture “refers to how people see and interpret images, art, photography, movies, and so on” (para 6, Milheim, 2017). Laskaris (2015) also stressed the importance of finding images, vignettes and even names that students can relate to.
Eisner (2001) as cited in Peterson (2015) noted that basing curriculum on critical thinking activities versus tests is a sound pedagogy that allows for the diversity essential for mastery of the subject. Utilizing curriculum that is heavily text based is not, however, well translated across cultures, for while western culture relies heavily on written arguments where the writer’s arguments are supported through referenced quotes, “(e)astern discourse is based on the audience already having a shared knowing of previous works, and, therefore, the reader is expected to actively remember where the reference is coming from without attributing the quote to the original author” (p 12, Peterson, 2015).
Indigenous safety and competency is a topic that is relevant for the students I teach as they come from rural and remote regions throughout BC (and some even from as far as Nunavut). Presently, the online perinatal course I teach includes readings, videos, case studies and journal activities regarding this topic. It has not, however, been reviewed for how compatible the course design is with the Indigenous worldview.
Challenges that have prevented me engaging in this process prior to now is that I recognize that Indigenous populations are far from homogenous. Sammual (n.d.) makes the following suggestion for educators working in Saskatchewan.
“For an educator, the Medicine Wheel offers the possibility to reflect on resources or unit plans to see whether all four aspects are in balance. It is a chance to see whether our teaching is focusing more heavily on the mind or body, heart or spirit, or whether it is lacking one of these aspects. To integrate Saskatchewan Aboriginal perspectives into the teaching and learning of science education, all aspects of the Medicine Wheel must be in balance “(p 2).
Finally, the last topic that I would like to highlight is generational differences. There is much air time given to Millennials regarding the particular attitudes and emotional needs they have but for me, the most salient issue is a person’s exposure to digital technology in their lifetime and the affect it has had on their consciousness. McNeill (2011) notes that “(t)his most recent generation of college students has distinctive characteristics and a persona unlike those of their teachers. They have unprecedented access to technology and instant online information. They are globally connected to peer-groups spanning international boundaries. They are the first generation to come of age in a truly global society” (p 1).
Prensky (2001) identifies the students that have grown up in this digital age as ‘Digital Natives’ and describes them as “ . . . “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet” (p 1); while those of us who have adapted and adopted the new technology are described as ‘Digital Immigrants’ (p 2). Prensky (2001) goes on to state: “the single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language”(p 2).
Strategies for Navigating the Challenges of Diversity in the Online Classroom
- Identify culture (Milheim, 2014).
At the start of the online Perinatal course I teach there is an introductory activity called ‘Room with a View’ (p 56, Conrad & Donaldson, 2004) where students are prompted to provide a brief description of who they are professionally as well as a brief paragraph about the view from their favourite window. They are also encouraged to weave in some biographical material about themselves. In the revision I will encourage students to include some cultural as well as biographical material about themselves. I will role model this by doing the same and will also show respect for the Indigenous people on whose lands I am a settler on by acknowledging them in my introduction.
I will, however, also allow students to remain relatively anonymous (aside from name) if this is what they choose.
- Reduce barriers.
For barriers created by things like limited access to the Internet, I need to be flexible. This means being flexible with due dates for assignments, and helping students identify what online resources they may need to print off ahead of time so that they can read them at home.
Many of the discussion forums include finding credible resources for new parents. Students are given support tools to help them with this process. I will now include a link to my infographic and podcast on Digital Literacy as an additional resource.
Last semester I tried out Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and hosted an Orientation to Blackboard session. It seemed to cut down considerably on questions about where to find folders/material etc.
I will continue to recruit a variety of mediums to present material as suggested by Peterson (2015). I am very excited about creating 10 new podcasts – one for each module to highlight key learning points and to increase engagement with the material by providing a narrative for the patient in each of the module’s case studies.
To ensure that the course content is balanced, I am very honoured to say that the local Aboriginal Patient Navigator (who is also an educator) has agreed to review some of the content. I am looking forward to hearing her feedback.
To ensure that my feedback and presentation style are appropriate and received in a positive and constructive manner I will include in the fall revisions a feedback assessment tool that will address feedback provided by the instructor as well as student perceptions of my role as a teacher.
Case studies and names already include a diversity of patients with learning incorporated into the case studies in regards to identifying the patient’s unique needs and possible barriers to care.
As a Digital Immigrant, I come with an accent that I need to ensure does not get in the way of learning. To do this, I need to ensure that I am well acquainted with the medium I am using as well as its applications. If I am not comfortable using a technology or medium, I am best not to use it. I am very grateful that the PIDP 3240 has provided me with the opportunity to gain more skills using technologies including the podcast.
Finally, a perinatal course is not a writing course, but does rely heavily on evidence-based material for making clinical patient decisions. In the revisions to the course I will reduce the weighting for case studies from 15% on writing skills to 5% and increase weighting to analysis and recommendations. Students are instructed that they are expected to follow APA format, however, and links for more information about this are provided.
3. Create safe places (Milheim, 2014).
Kennedy (2017) states: “(t)hat for faculty, modelling caring professional collegial behaviour that creates a we are in this together atmosphere underscore that learning isn’t just a one way street. Modelling also helps to create a safe space in which students are not afraid to post their understandings or make mistakes, allowing them the freedom to learn” (p 21).
I hope that by acknowledging the importance of culture in the content and by role modelling cultural sensitivity in my feedback, it will create a safe place for students. I also need to be open about my mistakes and acknowledge that learning is messy. I also feel that being flexible is an integral part of creating a safe place for students; if they need extra time for an assignment I give it to them. The resultant thoughtful and well-executed assignments I receive back from students has been inspiring.
4. Build community.
So far, in the 3 semesters I have taught the course, there has been a sense of community as evidenced by students posting more than the required number of posts to each other in ways that are supportive and thoughtful and by very collegial and engaged groups for the face-to-face portion of the course. I feel that there are a few external factors that help to make this happen; students from the same hospital are often taking the course; students know each other from past working experiences; or they feel a kinship with other students as they are working in a site that they have worked in before.
Another component is that I work very hard to provide students with lots of feedback to their questions via the 5 ‘Muddiest Point Survey’, through supplemental material provided on the ‘Course Updates’ and with weekly case studies and discussion forum posts. I feel that this too creates community as students see that all of their questions matter and that I am carefully reading all of their work.
No matter what culture students come from, the top 3 top student expectations of an online course are (Mupinga & Carole-Yaw, 2006, as cited in Peterson, 2015):
- Explicit communication with professor;
- Instructor feedback;
- Challenging course curriculum.
To help students learn, we need to respect them, be aware of how our own culture and the students’ cultures impact learning, acknowledge barriers (and try our best to mitigate them), increase the richness and cultural sensitivity of the course by involving members from different communities to provide feedback, mix modalities, use authentic assessments that employ critical thinking skills and use technology wisely. Acknowledging and allowing for diversity will only help to improve learning.
Bowen, J.A. (2012) Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. San Francisco, USA: Jossey-Bass
Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Conrad, R., J.A. Donaldson (2004) Engaging the Online Learner Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Retrieved from: http://eltandtech.pbworks.com/f/engaging+the+online+learner.pdf
Kennedy (2017) Designing and Teaching Online Courses in Nursing Springer Publishing Company Retrieved from: https://books.google.ca/books?id=NFICDgAAQBAJ&pg=PA228&lpg=PA228&dq=creating+safe+spaces+online+course&source=bl&ots=kdcFBsDPSk&sig=eGuBT3VAP-nIzIhlKIpuSbzjqtc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjjzveF_rLYAhVQ4GMKHUimAfI4ChDoAQhPMAg#v=onepage&q=creating%20safe%20spaces%20online%20course&f=false
Laskaris, J. (2015) Culture and Language Diversity in Online Learning Environment Talent lms Retrieved from: https://www.talentlms.com/blog/culture-and-language-diversity-in-online-learning-environment/
McNeill, R.G. Jr (2011) Adapting Teaching to the Millennial Generation: A Case Study of a Blended/Hybrid Course. University of Massachusetts – Amherst ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst International CHRIE Conference-Refereed Track. Retrieved from: http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1747&context=refereed
Milheim, K. (2017) A Fundamental Look at Cultural Diversity and the Online Classroom. eLearn Magazine Where Thought and Practice Meet. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3041614 Retrieved from: http://elearnmag.acm.org/archive.cfm?aid=3041614
Milheim, K. (2014) Facilitation across Cultures in the Online Classroom International. Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research Vol. 5, No.1, pp. 1-11, May. Retrieved from: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:laOM4bNf2rkJ:https://www.ijlter.org/index.php/ijlter/article/download/66/31+&cd=10&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca
Narozny, E. (2010) Designing Online Courses to Meet the Needs of a Diverse Student Population Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magma Publications. Retrieved from: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/designing-online-courses-to-meet-the-needs-of-a-diverse-student-population/
Peterson, J. (2015) Honoring Diversity in the Online Classroom: Approaches Used By Instructors Using an LMS. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Retrieved from: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1061&context=teachlearnstudent
Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001). Retrieved from: https://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
Sammel, A (n.d.) Aboriginal Perspectives into the Teaching and Learning of Science Education: Beginning the Conversations in Southern Saskatchewan. Collaborative Inquiry Committee. Retrieved from: http://ourspace.uregina.ca/bitstream/handle/10294/1142/Aboriginal_Perspectives.pdf;sequence=1
Teachingadventuressite (2017) Trends in Adult Education Part #3: The ‘Aha’ Moment Retrieved from: https://teachingadventuressite.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/trends-in-adult-education-part-3-the-aha-moment/
Thompson, S., (2012). Introvert? Extrovert? Tips for a Balanced Classroom. Jan/Feb Canadian Teacher Magazine. Retrieved from canadianteacher.archives http://www.canadianteachermagazine.com/archives/ctm_teaching_ideas/janfeb2012-introvert-extrovert.shtml