THE ELEPHANT IN THE online classROOM: Addressing Challenges in the Culturally Diverse Online Learning Environment
Concurrent Session 5
Schools offer online programs that draw a diverse student body, which presents significant challenges and opportunities for learning. This is the “elephant” we will begin to consider; as for too long these dynamics have been ignored or simply not understood.
This session will explore some of the challenges and opportunities afforded by online programs that reach around the world (and around the United States) to serve diverse students. Collaborative learning in online communities is essential for dynamic, holistic education to foster student transformation, but how can honest and open processing of the learning occur with students who are so different? Although schools offer online programs that draw a diverse student body, little is done to address the challenges and opportunities — for faculty and students alike — that arise with that diversity. This is the “elephant” we will begin to consider as for too long these dynamics have been ignored or simply not understood. On the one hand, diversity issues have received considerable attention in traditional brick-and-mortar settings. Cultural turbulence over racial activist movements like Black Lives Matter, concerns about micro-aggressions toward minorities and other marginalized people, and sensitivity to gender equality has played out across the pages of newspapers and the Chronicle of Higher Education. On the other hand, attention to diversity in the online classroom is often limited to a boilerplate webpage on Internet etiquette, asking students to play nice on discussion boards.
During a Conversation That Works session on the pedagogical innovation track, three practitioner online faculty will provide resource materials and present an overview of cross-cultural issues relevant to online courses, some arising from the presenters’ own doctoral research. Then session attendees will participate in facilitated discussions about personal experiences, training problems, and possible instructional and institutional solutions. Some background from cultural anthropology may be presented, including individualist and collectivist orientations, and dichotomistic and holistic systems. Discussion of learner-centered pedagogical and andragogical approaches may include transformational learning theory, problem-based learning, situated cognition, and universal design for learning. Learning from these discussions will prove innovative and useful for application in online classes and programs. Our conversations will provide a case in point that meaning can be negotiated, constructed, and extended when learners engage complex situations and collaborate with people from different contexts.
- Evaluate the cross cultural challenges and benefits related to designing for and teaching culturally diverse online students
- Discuss pedagogical approaches to collaborative learning that embrace the value of cultural diversity for online programs and courses
A 10-minute introduction to the topic(s) will be presented and then the participants will divide into three discussion groups facilitated by one of the presenters. A brief article will be given as a handout for each person to read to provide the basis for discussing the following questions (and others that may arise):
- In your role as an instructional designer, instructor, or administrator, what is your experience with cultural diversity in specific online classes or in an online program in general?
- Colleges and universities devote considerable resources to promoting cross-cultural engagement in brick-and-mortar classes and programs. Can similar resources be devoted to online classes and programs to address these and other problems?
- student awareness of dynamics in a diverse community of learning
- faculty training
- program design
- Given the research about educational benefits of diverse learning communities, what practical solutions can you propose for making cross-cultural engagement an essential part of the DNA of entire academic programs rather than merely individual classes?
Five minutes before the conclusion of the session, each group will provide an overview of issues discussed and solutions proposed.
Digital access to academic research and resources will be supplied after the session.
Presenters and their Specializations:
All presenters are practitioner online faculty:
- Lori Nicholson, Ph.D. ICS — Extensive experience teaching internationally over 18 years
- James Tedford, Ph.D., M.S. IDT — Many years of experience supporting international online programs, and is an educational theorist and practitioner of universal design for learning
- Ronald Hannaford, Ph.D. ICS — Designed and administered international online programs, and has undertaken extensive work on holistic student formation in an online global context.