In the last section of our online course ONL181 we thought about what we have learned. For me, it’s mainly two insights that I take with me and want to continue working on.
One aspect is diversity. There’s no need to explain that we’re all unique and different, that we have different learning styles and that we record content through different channels. While some are primarily visually receptive, others prefer analysis through text, others use their ears to focus on a topic. We usually use multiple channels.
The question that concerns me is how we address diversity in teaching and learning settings. The main question here is how students can perceive their diversity and use it profitably.
One idea would be to include diversity as a topic for reflection right from the start. At every opportunity for reflection, students would also think about diversity and formulate ideas as to how they can best learn themselves, how they can differ from other approaches and how they can learn from others. They should also discuss what they themselves have to offer and how they can support others.
In this respect, we are moving here on the level of reflection, where diversity is a theme.
On the other level, learning facilitators should draw attention to diversity and encourage groups to discuss how diversity in the group enables or even simplifies learning. For example, awareness of diversity in the group could make students more self-confident, as it could lead them away from a right-wrong mentality.
In our group we had many levels of diversity. One is that we all live in different countries, that many of us live and work in a different country than when we were born. So there are some cultural differences in our group. This diversity already manifests itself in the language. Only one person was a native English speaker, for everyone else it was a foreign language. In addition, each English of the other group members has a different character (accent; syntax etc.). [Google map link: https://goo.gl/3BB8pV]
Another aspect of diversity was that one person in our group repeatedly distanced herself from the academic world by stressing that she had no academic background. However, she was very experienced in working in groups via webinars and video conferencing and was able to successfully bring her competence to bear. Her business background also allowed her to ask very specific questions and to steer our discussion in a new direction, which might not have worked so well if she had not been in the group. So happy to have had her in our group!
Embracing diversity in a constructivist environment
One way to address diversity in the learning group is a constructivist didactic design. Constructivism is based on the assumption that every person has to develop his or her own understanding of a certain content and can and must refer to his or her own experiences, abilities, skills and attitudes. If something does not exist in the constructivist world view, then it is the absolute truth. Von Förster has already pointed out that “the truth […] is the invention of a liar” (Von Förster, 1998). In constructivism, learners construct their knowledge, their competence, based on existing research and knowledge. However, this also means that one’s own construction of reality is based on reasoning and argumentation. Constructivism does not mean laisser faire, that everything is allowed. On the contrary, the challenge is to ask oneself one’s own questions and to find one’s own approach to a topic based on scientific criteria. It is essential to be aware of the differences in the group regarding the approach to a topic and even to accept diversity as an object of learning itself.
In this respect, diversity is even a constitutive element in the learning of the individual. It has been to my everyday life for a long time now. Nevertheless I am surprised that I did not let it flow more prominently into my educational environment. In this sense, this is a beautiful process of increasing awareness of an aspect of teaching that I don’t want to miss out on in the future. In my opinion, this is the right direction, especially in university teaching, to give students more responsibility for their own learning in the future and to free teachers from the restricting feeling that they are responsible for the learning success of their students.
Literature and Links
Von Förster, H., Pörksen, B. (1998), Die Wahrheit ist die Erfindung eines Lügners. Gespräche für Skeptiker. Heidelberg (Auer).
Holzl, A., (1999) DESIGNING FOR DIVERSITY WITHIN ONLINE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS;