Diversity Online

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The chapter on “Addressing Diversity in Design of Online Courses” by Madhumita Bhattacharya and Maggie Hartnett in Education for a Digital World reminded me of a strategy for effective intercultural communication I learned about in another course I took earlier this year. In proposed and ODIS (Observe, Describe, Interpret, Suspend evaluation) strategy for reflecting on intercultural encounters. While I recognize that online learning may prevent some more nuanced details important in communication – body language, tone, physical presence – I wonder if ODIS might be easier to practice in asynchronous teaching and learning. I know that for me, in digital encounters sometimes I have more space to make take the time to look more closely, and take more time to suspend evaluation than I would in face to face teaching.

Furthermore, topics covered by Bhattacharya and Hartnett reminded me of the importance of universal design for learning (UDL). What I appreciate most about UDL is it approach to curriculum design that starts with a consideration of accessibility. Instead of altering courses to accommodate students with disabilities, designing a course through a diversity lens means that instructors are constructing courses with accessibility at the forefront.

Bhattacharya and Hartnett further provide a list of characteristics for teachers as leaders and designers of learning environments for embracing diversity:

• Respect—for others, for differences, for ourselves.
• Tolerance—for ambiguities in language, style, behaviour.
• Flexibility—in situations that are new, difficult and challenging.
• Self-awareness—be sure you understand your reactions and know what you bring to the diverse workplace (learning environment).
• Empathy—to feel what someone different from you might be feeling in new and strange surroundings.
• Patience—for change that can be slow, and diversity situations that might be difficult.
• Humour—because when we lose our sense of humour, we lose our sense of humanity, as well as perspectives (p. 9).

Finally, I love their prediction for a universal design for learning that celebrates diversity:

In future students will develop their own personalized learning environments and build their learning communities. Students will be equal partners with teachers in designing assessment activities. Students will have the freedom and right to choose how and when they would like to be assessed (p. 46).

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