Home Spotlight on Teaching Diversity in Online Education

Diversity in Online Education - A Framework to Shatter the Mirror PDF-NOTE: Internet Explorer Users, right click the PDF Icon and choose [save target as] if you are experiencing problems with clicking. Print

The next time you pull up to your computer to conduct the practice of instruction, consider putting the following recommendations into place to help shatter the mirror. These work synergistically for me, although I would encourage all instructors to adapt and make them their own rather than adopt them blindly.

1. Be aware of your own potential for self-identity projection (i.e., online narcissism).

The fact that you have this propensity does not make you morally corrupt. It makes you human! The hustle and bustle of online instruction (which, incidentally, can be far more labor intensive than face-to-face instruction) makes falling prey to the mirror far too easy. Acknowledging this is the first step to avoiding or breaking it.

2. Change the mirror to a picture window.

If you are so fortunate as to have an office with windows, pause from reading this to gaze at the outdoors. Note the diversity of images and colors that greet your eyes. Now log into your online roster with the same mindset. Make it a point to look through rather than at the names in Times New Roman font, 12-point, basic black. See the students those names identify. Realize you just might have the world hidden away in the circuitry before you.

3. Adopt a critical theoretical component within your teaching philosophy.

Every instructor should have a codified teaching philosophy to guide his or her practice. In an article for Teaching Theology and Religion (Arroyo, 2010), I detail some of my own framework as it relates to appreciating diversity in the online experience. Foundational to my approach is the liberation and (trans)formation of students, which is consistent with critical theory and dovetails well with religious studies.

To be clear, this does not entail the professor becoming a chaplain. Rather, the instructor in my philosophy dislodges him/herself from a Eurocentric “location” that objectifies persons and ideas from non-Western cultures (Asante, Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change, 1993), appreciates students as critically conscious ends-in-themselves (Freire, 1993), and creates spaces of freedom where they can interact as cocreators of new knowledge. This requires, in part, that they are encouraged to bring their racial/ethnic diversity to bear on the subject matter at hand.

Well-managed asynchronous discussion boards are one vehicle for this goal. Asynchronous boards are ideal because students can carefully consider and edit their thoughts prior to posting. They are generally allowed one “original post” each week, which is to be followed by at least one reply to a classmate’s original post. More dialogue is encouraged beyond that, of course. The original post should be no more than 200 words (or no one will read it due to its length), include a combination of summary, critique, and analysis, and evidence clear interaction with the week’s readings. The reply should challenge or build upon a classmate’s thoughts and should be no more than 100–150 words. Well-crafted posts should take multiple hours to complete in order to meet expectations.

The key to shattering the mirror, however, is in encouraging students to incorporate their own diverse perspectives so that the dialogue is infused with the rich racial and ethnic cultures that make up the class. This must be done intentionally rather than waiting for it to happen accidentally. The outcome is a conversation we never intend to have (Gadamer, 2004). The fact that we do have it speaks to the liberative and (trans)formative potential of a critically conscious online environment.

Of course, many students need to warm up to the idea that they have such power at their fingertips. They might also need coaching along the way. Short podcasts of 3–20 minutes in length are useful tools for connecting with them on both an explanatory and a visionary level in this regard. Clear explanations of how to liberate themselves and incorporate their cultural perspectives into the discussions point the way, and visionary encouragements inspire students to rise to the occasion. I also have condensed my teaching philosophy into a short three-page document that I make required reading the first week of class, and I refer to it throughout the semester to keep it alive in the students’ minds.


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