Diversity in the Online Classroom
by 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.