What is Multicultural Learning & Teaching?
Okay, Salford colleagues and friends, what I’m going to aim for in this first section is a sort of call, response, question posing. The call will be the quoted / indented passages that are from a complex definition of Multicultural Learning that I was invited to write with my colleague Carol Chomsky, a University of Minnesota law professor with whom I launched a fellowship/grant program for instructional staff creating MCTL courses or programs in their departments. The response will be some thinking I’ve been doing in light of my interactions and experiences in the Salford, Manchester, Liverpool context, will be where I try to align cross-cultural thinking about MCTL. The question posing will be more directly phrased questioning that I’m inviting you to jump into – on your own, together as a cohort, with colleagues outside of pgcap modules, and with us all here in the reply/comment space.
A full copy of the text that I’ll parse out in segments below is in the “Integrated Aligned Design Essentials” document Cristina has made available to you (and there’s a link to at the end of this post in a resources section). That said, I’m going to let the text jump into the first call, response, question posing cycle. Where something is in italics that’s the font we used in the original text. If something’s been bolded, I’ve added the emphasis while writing this post.
What is MCTL – Call 1
Multicultural Learning is learning that integrates and explores the rich tapestry of perspectives reflected in our diverse world. It occurs when differences among learners are both valued and explored. Multicultural Learning recognizes and reaches across boundaries of ability, age, class, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation and other personal, social and cultural identities so that learners will more thoroughly understand the multifaceted dimensions of knowledge.
Response 1: The policy section of syllabi for all the courses I teach includes a segment specifically addressing Diversity & Collegiality in addition to segments on disability/inclusion, classroom conduct/climate and harassment. The final three of these are among the policy statements required by the University of Minnesota, for which the regents (the controlling board) has approved officially recommended wording – which I modify quite a lot for the same reasons I add the Diversity & Collegiality section.
I advocate that all teachers find some way to personalize passages about “difference in the classroom,” whatever the course they’re teaching, as whatever the course we’re teaching the students in those courses are likely from any number of backgrounds, personal identities, and cultural experiences. In this, they’re likely also experiencing their first forays across the very boundaries Carol and I set out in the passage above. To include a sentence or more, then, that acknowledges valuing of the active presence of such diversity can be welcoming. As I say in one syllabus:
- The diversity of participants’ academic experience, assumptions regarding learning, and ways of approaching teaching enrich this course. The perspectives and values of participants who come from various ethnic, cultural, national and educational backgrounds also influence the course dynamics and speaking/listening to these differences will deepen course learning
In a follow up statement, I acknowledge also valuing exploring divergent thinking, wide-ranging interpersonal communication and intercultural groupings by noting that I also value making the classroom as safer space for study of complex content, course concepts and materials by stating: “Every attempt will be made to deal with interpersonal, behavioral conflicts in the most timely, direct, educative and respectful manner.” My aim is to make the classroom climate congruent with my teaching philosophy and practices – especially since the social science, education and humanities courses I teach are laden / embedded with ideas about and practices requiring interpersonal communication and intercultural interactions.
Question to You 1: What does it mean for you and in your context and to your students for learners to be – feel and know they are – valued as students, as peers, as people? What does it mean for you and your context and your students that there are opportunities to meet, discuss, participate and be together – with an awareness that they are crossing boundaries as part of learning new ideas, concepts, interactions?
What is MCTL – Call 2
Multicultural Learning re-examines and expands what is taught, and attends to who is in the classroom and is transparent about why this matters. It embraces the lived experience of the students, their families and their communities, connects with concepts of social justice and power, and teaches students how to investigate and integrate diverse ways of thinking and doing.
Response 2: In a seminar session we lead on course design and creation of meaningful/authentic assessments, one of my faculty colleagues from a civil engineering program noted a student’s question posed in a then recent class: Why anyone would want to design the same bridge in, for example, Kuala Lumpur as we’d design here in Minneapolis – or why would a bridge spanning the Mississippi River in a St. Paul neighborhood need to be like one in a Minneapolis neighborhood next door? Wouldn’t the community transportation, recreation, and public space needs be different. This student was re-examining what he’d learned about bridge-making, who was impacted by designs and was clear about why thinking through these questions mattered.
A graduate student in one of my courses began to wonder how he’d construct an early discussion about bringing water into communities with students in a class he’d likely teach: student who’d be from urban and rural areas, who’d be diverse in a wide range of domestic and international cultural contexts, and who’d have a mix of experience regarding in what ways water was brought into their homes in daily ways. This student was similarly aware of what he was teaching – improving water quality and access, to who was in his classroom, and becoming clear about why this mattered: He couldn’t assume that students in his class had experienced growing up with one water system nor that they would know more than the system they grew up with and the one in which they were currently living (if these were different) nor that they would fully understand the practical context and philosophical considerations (how was water valued in local belief systems, for example).
By paying attention to who, what and why, these graduate students who were also learning to teach, began attending to when they had to learn more about their student, to where where they needed to engage students/peers in divergent culturally and technically aware thinking, and how this could positively impact both learning and delivery of context specific products.
Question to You 2: Who? What? Why? Then When? Where? and How? are as essential acts of questioning for teachers as for journalists. In thinking through the two examples I’ve just offered from my context, what are ways in which you could look at your own course and community context to appraise how you get students to investigate and integrate diverse ways of thinking and doing?
What is MCTL – Call 3
Multicultural Learning must be cultivated. Learners need practice and guidance to become active listeners, readers and writers striving to understand what others are saying and meaning. Sustaining Multicultural Learning involves creating classroom climates in which students and teachers can acknowledge and address the discomfort of working across boundaries, learn how to respond to difference, and grow intellectually and personally as a consequence. To make multicultural learning both possible and effective, instructors must structure classroom interactions to be respectful and challenging, creative and meaningful, engaged and transformative. In such an environment, inaccuracies, mistakes, hasty generalizations and intolerance are addressed with honesty and care.
Response 3: My wonderful colleague A.T. Miller points out in “The Multicultural Lab: Diversity Issues in STEM [Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics] Classes” (which you can access at a later point here):
Whether in the US or the UK, we teachers are responsible for teaching both technical and communication aspects, cognitive and affective components, “hard” and “soft” skills necessary for proper professional learning, engagement and development related to the topics we teach and the fields into which our students will enter. That means getting the students to work together – and to do this not just in affinity groups they merge themselves into, not just in the classroom, not just for the doing of a discrete task that anyone of them might just be able to do on his or her own. This means using the tools of active peer interactions, engaged group inquiry, and discipline-based problem solving teams to structure some of the course time and some of the learning assignments. To do this mindfully – to have a course outcome attached to communication, affective, soft skills aspects of the course; to set up the task, purpose and membership of peer groups structured for complex learning and meaning making; to arrange for small-scope peer interactions (pairs and trios) in which students respond to questions we pose during lectures, labs, discussions.
Question to You 3: How do you build interactions in your classroom so that students interact with diverse others in a purposeful way? So that students gain the full range of topic and field related skills – ways to use the content not just ways to take it in? So that they are exposed to other ways of learning in ways that foster respect for one another as a replacement for fears of another?
What is MCTL – Paragraph 4
Through regular and purposeful interactions that encourage students to reflect on and explore the implications of diversity and power, Multicultural Learning is education for life in our multicultural world.
Response and Question #4 in one: How will you transfer and apply what you can, might, will create in a face-to-face classroom environment to a hybrid or online environment where, as research studies assure us, the social and interpersonal dimensions of learning are only more important?
What is MCTL?
While I do think of multicultural learning and teaching as including principles and practices linked to inclusive learning and teaching as well as to the teaching and learning aspects of universal design for instruction, lots of folks do not align those considerations into course design. For me and my frequent collaborator Tim Kamenar (Disability Services student services manager at the University of Minnesota) these things are intertwined – in life and in course design. On pages 2-4 of the “Integrated Aligned Design Essentials” document you’ve gotten from Cristina (with the virtual link for ease of access), you’ll find pages Tim and I created for workshops on what we call integrated aligned course design. While we acknowledge the nine core principles of Universal Design (set out on page 2), we tend to focus our discussions on backward design as advocated in the integrated course design principles and practices set out by John Biggs and Catherine Tang (for future references, see the post here). We suggest questions, resources and examples regarding what might come of the merging of MCTL and Universal Course design in the final 3 pages of the “Essentials” handout. Feel free to explore this on your own, posing questions now or at some later point – this post, after all, won’t go away any time soon, nor will our need as teachers to keep thinking about “this stuff.”
The big question: What is your philosophy of multicultural learning and teaching, and why – as well as how – is this important for 21st century learning and teaching? How does your philosophy align with the way you design your course – especially to support constructivist, active, engaged learning? Once again, “yes, and” thinking, please. Replying to the post would be great.
Multicultural Learning and Teaching in Online Spaces?
For this last part, I really just want to set up a framework for reading a bit about, then thinking and writing a bit about how as teachers we might: foster cross-cultural conversations among students whatever the course or discipline; organize discussions of culturally complex matters when inclusivity needs to move from a tacit to explicit place in a course of study; shape interactive small and large group discussions as part fostering creative, critical analysis of course materials that will make room for dissent and consensus building.
One thing I see in common to both setting up online discussions that work for learners and learning, and setting up a classroom that works for students with a broad range of learning to learn difficulties is this single idea: an “accommodation” may be dropped into the course process to meet the needs of just a single student while an “accommodating” mindset will create courses that support multiple modes, multiple platforms and multiple opportunities for learning as part of course design to align learning outcomes, teaching activities, learning assignments and course assessments.
Like the curb cut or dropped kerb that was designed to facilitate movement of people, primarily, in wheelchairs but that has come to benefit people using walkers, with joint injuries, pushing prams or computer cases, riding bikes or making a delivery with a handcart. And like that dropped kerb the adjustments we make to how we run something “ordinary” like a discussion or an exam – contrary to the cartoon below – an accommodating mindset will generally end up benefiting the many rather than the single user / student and more folks move on to where they need to land – in this case, moving on to more learning for more learners.
Now to the thinking task, I’m going to suggest that you complete one of two options, then share some of your ideas with your small groups of your peers, then circle back as a whole group to hear what others have to say or will venture to ask questions about regarding the task you’ve chosen to pursue. The two – distinct and interrelated – tasks:
- Actively read two of the texts noted in the recommended handout – specifically to read “A Dialogic Approach to Online Facilitation” (available here) and “I’ve Done All the Reading for this Class…” The Role of Low Stakes, Online Writing Prompts (find it here). Then consider 3-5 questions you’d construct for an online discussion that would mindfully engage your students in a dialogic conversation related to a course reading, assignment or activity that has been difficult for students in the past. Ideally, you’ll share the context and the possible questions here as a reply to the post. ** OR **
- Review the cases at the end of the recommended handout – there are seven in all, and share your ideas about ways you could respond to two of the cases in your own teaching context. Remember this in responding, an inclusive, divergent response begins with YES, AND.. rather than builds from Yes, but… As in, Yes, these ideas / situations / contexts pose these problems or possibilities or positively wonderful improvements to my course in these ways, and so I’ll have to think about, do this in order to, need to learn more about. As in, open up your own divergent thinking rather than closing down the possibilities by arguing alongside the scenarios. Again, ideally, you’ll share the context for ideas / resolutions / questions you uncover as a reply to this blog post.
So, that’s it from me – for now. I’m even able to say let’s talk in person in the new year as I’ll in Salford at the start of January.
“Integrated Aligned Design Essentials – 4 docs included in that file, which is available here.
- What Is Multicultural Learning? – an illustrative definition
- “Bridging Emotion and Intellect” – key concept excerpts
- Universal Design for Instruction – some central ideas
- What is Universal Course Design? – a matrix of key questions, examples and resources
“Universal Design Recommended” – 3 docs included in that file, which is available here.
- Perry’s Scheme of Intellectual and Ethical Development linked to Belenky et al and Baxter-Magolda
- Determining Essential Requirements for Courses/Programs – with seven short scenarios
- For Further Information Resources
“Ida’s MCTL Philosophy, the almost done version” – presenter bio of sorts, which is available here.
Pretty much what it says it is. I’ve never had to write a learning and teaching philosophy for anyone but my undergraduate students, but I coach graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty at all stages of their careers in the writing of these. Decided that it was my turn to walk the talk for audiences of my peers – and from that to communicate in a new format with my undergraduate students. So, I’m working on a screencast version – pecha kucha like slide style, written words in notes field, and a voiceover to come.