Diversity in the Online Classroom

Rathi pictureby Rathi Krishnan, Full-time faculty, Department of Composition, School of General Education, Kaplan University

I presented at the IJAS   — International Journal of Arts and Sciences Conference on  May, 28th., 2013, which was  held at the Harvard Medical School. My topic, ” Salad Bowl or Melting Pot: Fostering Diversity in the Online Classroom” was received with a great deal of curiosity and commentary from participants who were eager to learn how individual authenticity can be established for work done online.

The participants were also curious to know how diversity can truly be fostered, for this is an issue with on ground classes, as well.  I discussed how stereotyping and labeling by students can best be dealt with through the discussions, readings, and assessment.  

There has to be the casting aside of stereotypes and the bonding and integration of the student body and this is generally achieved on a case by case basis, by being keenly attuned to the underlying assumptions and beliefs that students express in the discussions, during the seminars, or in their written work.  Sometimes a topic on the discussion board can veer off into a tangent where one student is castigating another’s political orientation, or is upset over another’s views of abortion.  In such instances one must display sensitivity and an awareness of the subtext of the discussions and must set an example for the class by professing liberal and egalitarian views.

I discussed how diverse our student body is at our University.  In my classes, I find a grandmother from Ohio, a military student in Afghanistan, and a young mother from Georgia.  As they are from diverse backgrounds, they may sometimes express opinions that may not reflect mainstream opinions.  In such instances, one can open up the discussion to the whole class by inviting other views and also comment about an individual’s rights, as stated in the Constitution.

When the instructor himself or herself expresses a liberal attitude, there is a melding of the diverse views and often the class will take a cue from the instructor and will then hesitate to label and stereotype. 

In doing so, greater tolerance is demonstrated towards all and cohesion is achieved in the class. At the presentation, there were attendees from Malaysia, Germany, The United Arab Emirates, Poland and the U.S at my presentation. They presented many viewpoints and questions and this led to a fruitful discussion.  By demonstrating sensitivity and a keen ear for these issues, online instructors can model an attitude in class which promotes diversity in the online classroom.

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6 Responses

  1. mlambert16 says:

    Sorry I wrote this for a discussion board for my training and accidentally posted it to the article. Please delete or disregard.

  2. mlambert16 says:

    As I am a new tutor, I have yet to have any specific tutoring experiences around diversity. However, as an undergraduate at University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business I worked with students from many diverse backgrounds. Occasionally, someone who was an English language learner would ask for help editing a project or paper. I was always impressed at the motivation and effort put into taking classes in a second language. I was a Spanish minor myself and took classes for nine years, but never felt completely confident speaking and learning in Spanish. I experienced firsthand how knowing the words and rules of a language is very different from speaking and understanding conversational/professional speech. There are many expressions and ways of speaking that differ in real life compared to what is taught in a language class and it takes a lot of practice to be able to respond quickly in a new language.

    It is clear that Purdue Global has many great resources to help English language learners and to foster diversity in online learning. As stated in “English Language Learner Support and the Making of an Inclusive Writing Center”, it is very helpful that students can now get 24-hour paper review without the recommendation of a professor. As an online learner myself, I know how important it is to have flexibility and to be able to quickly get feedback on an assignment. It is also helpful to be able to get one on one assistance and to be able to review that tutoring session later. This shows Purdue Global is using technology to increase educational accessibility.

    In “Diversity in the Online Classroom” I found it interesting advice that when the instructor expresses a liberal attitude, the class will follow and avoid stereotypical comments. It is interesting how much power the instructor has to “set the tone” for the online learning space. I believe that students and tutors also have the ability to foster an inclusive learning environment. In my online classes through Purdue University I have seen professors encourage sharing personal backgrounds, differences, and cultures through introductory discussion boards or assignments involving sharing personal experiences. When students see others’ differences being valued they are more likely to share their own. I also think it is helpful to review content through the lens of cultural differences. I have read articles about test questions that inadvertently ask questions that are more challenging to students with culturally diverse backgrounds. If the questions include words or activities that students from other cultures are not familiar with, they will not have the same context cues to reach the correct answer. This is helpful to keep in mind when tutoring students and using examples or making connections to their personal lives. I am excited to be working for an organization that has resources in place to support diverse learners and I look forward to building my skills to support a culturally diverse student population.

  3. Hi Rathi! Loved your post! All students need to know their beliefs and experiences matter, so I completely support your call for sensitivity and awareness in the classroom by fostering more than tolerance but also a liberal environment (and I too love how you re-situated the term “liberal” in the educational versus political context—Go Liberal Arts!). I hadn’t seen before what a great precursor your post was for mine too on providing feedback on religious writing in particular. You’ve given me even new ideas for my continued research in this area too. Thanks!

    • Thank you, Chrissine. I appreciate your kind words, but what actually happened in my presentation is that the slides were missing, I forget now for what exact reason, but I had to give my presentation without my slides. I had actually had lots of better ideas on the slides, but as I was speaking extempore, I just said what came into my head to say at that moment, based on the questions from the audience. Later, when I wrote this blog post, also, I seem to have forgotten that I had these slides and just scrambled hastily to write a piece for Melody. I had given a presentation at Sloan in 2009 on the issue of diversity, so I think now I am ready to put together a paper on this subject. 🙂

      Your post on faith based and ethics based writing was excellent and has given me some avenues to explore. It’s great we can all germinate and cross fertilize our ideas and continue this academic conversation both within our classrooms, at the Writing Center, and amongst ourselves as faculty. Let this inspiration spin our tops ( I’m referring to the toy– the spinning tops on the ground that children play with) onto ever-widening circles of exciting research!

  4. Molly, thanks for your post and the ideas you have shared here. Going back to the Merriam Webster Dictionary for a definition of the word “liberal” got me to start thinking about what education itself tries to accomplish, for instance, what is the value of a liberal arts education? I have always believed a liberal arts education, with a grounding in the humanities to be the best training for life and for almost any endeavor. The best education would be one which has a good liberal arts background, followed by a specialization in the sciences, mathematics, and philosophy.

    When I looked up the word “liberty” I was also reminded of the French tripartite motto of ” Liberté, égalité, fraternité .” This has given me some ideas as to how I could deepen this discussion to include logic and ethics based arguments with students and in the larger academic context at conferences.

  5. Molly says:

    Very happy to read this post! I appreciate the use of the word “liberal” in its educational context, as we have seen in the Liberal Arts, vs. the political context that sometimes clashes with higher education. Liberal in the sense of the higher education classroom means that we are inclusive of many disciplines– and, of course, that we are inclusive of many people. I love the Merriam-Webster definition of the word here: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liberal

    I also notice that the second definition of “liberal” in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary (definition 2a) refers to generosity, and that word fits our mini-melting pot classrooms as well, where we as instructors must be quite generous with our students.

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