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Diversity in Online Teaching

 Our presentation today is focusing on diversity issues in nontraditional course delivery formats (our fancy way of saying weekend, short course, and other alternative delivery methods  - i.e. not traditional face to face). We call these nontraditional although statistics show that they are rapidly becoming the norm as the 18-22 year old population shrinks.

I'm going to focus on distance education which is contributing to a transformation in the way classroom interaction is done - one of the fastest growing movements in American education

 Distance education: any education not conducted in a face to face classroom.

          Traditional correspondence - voicemail - long-distance learning - online education

          Online environment is becoming more pervasive

          Creating new opportunities for learning communities

          Creating new problems as faculty is not trained to teach in this new environment

          Creating new problems even for faculty who are trained


Distance education is being used at all levels of education - high school and college -

Legislation has provided funds for Star Schools, a government program which provides funds for science, math and foreign language to underserved schools. Schools can give courses not previously probable due to low enrollments and thus students in inner-city and/or rural areas can have access to higher level courses.

 As a result of the spread of online education, we are bringing together linguistically and culturally diverse students yet we don't deal with this diversity - only the content of what we are teaching. Language, race and ethnicity are generally peripheral to the content. We have acknowledged these elements in f2f classes - why not in online environments? There are some projects that are attempting to address this issue, not very many. A survey of the literature revealed almost no articles focusing on how instructors can deal with diversity in the online classroom. And as distance education reaches a more diverse population, we must develop techniques for dealing with that diversity online.

The problems of diversity in the online environment are different than those in f2f. First, unlike face to face, we don't know what the diversity of students is unless they self-disclose. And since we can't directly ask, we often don't know. Names don't tell us much (even gender (e.g. from this fall) and we don't have time before class for informal chats in which we learn a great deal about students. We do have informal chats in the form of email but those then to be issue focused.

Use of online discussions is an important component in most online courses and presents opportunities for great learning but also for potential problems. Discussions can create community so students don't feel alone and instructors can check understanding of content.  Yet these discussions are asynchronous which creates potential for misunderstandings to fester.

 What do we need to do:

 1)    Need to integrate cultural components in all courses, not just b/c we have someone of that ethnicity in our class

2)    Awareness of language is more critical

3)    Awareness of holy days, etc.

4)    Problems created when students whose first language is not English must communicate only in writing (screening needed for enrollment - many schools more interested in dollars)

5)    Problems arise because of misunderstandings - without body language we can't see when students may be offended by other students - time lags

 No clear answers yet.