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NOTES ON: Teaching to a Diverse Student Body

  

The student population at today’s universities is much more diverse than in the past. A basic understanding and respect of different cultures and expectations, while being careful not to over-generalize or stereotype, is important to being an effective teacher. The links and information below are meant to be a starting place for university teachers and teaching assistants to gain awareness on diversity and reduce unintentional bias.

 

TOPICS

  • The changing student landscape
  • Gaining awareness of student’s diverse educational backgrounds
  • Understanding differences in cultures
  • On the other hand: Understanding hidden biases and preventing stereotypes
  • Teacher Diversity Training
  • Engineering-Specific Research on Teaching and Teaching Styles
  • References

 

The changing student landscape

  • A review of the research shows that “non-traditional” student populations are growing and that “the need for traditional college faculty to better understand non-traditional cultures is at least numerically founded.” [Milligan, N.D.]
  • Also, almost all traditionally taught classes are “unintentionally but nevertheless deeply biased” and this bias substantially affects the performance of many students. [Milligan, N.D.]

 

Gaining awareness of student’s diverse educational backgrounds

  • Students may have greatly different educational backgrounds, especially international students
  • Therefore, it may be useful to know:
      • Subjects studied
      • Years in pre-college training
      • Expectations of US education
          • What do they expect to get out of it? Just a job or an experience or both?

     

Understanding differences in cultures

  • Classroom attitude/environment
      • Students may behave or react differently because of their cultures
      • Example: East Asian vs. American cultures differ in views of positive communication environments [Tsai, 2007]:
          • HAP and LAP/high- and low-energy: “…excitement, enthusiasm, and elation can be described as high-arousal positive (HAP) states, and calm, peacefulness, and serenity can be described as low-arousal positive (LAP) states.”
          • Findings “…clearly demonstrate that American culture values HAP states more and LAP states less than do Chinese culture and other East Asian cultures.”
      • Office hours student-teacher environment and expectations:
          • How do these expectations differ by culture (?)
      • In general:
          • Nearly all classrooms will be diverse in one way or another, and students will have different learning styles, so it is important to use a combination of teaching techniques to most effectively teach all students
      • Student Diversity Training: beneficial for students to discuss diversity in the classroom setting as well
          • There may not always be time for this, but it may be useful to do some diversity teaching in the classroom itself
          • Diversimilarity approach: may be beneficial when teaching a diverse student population to expose students to both similarities and differences of cultures [Milligan, N.D.]
      • The importance of eliminating ethnocentrism:
          • See the “Ethnocentricism Must be Quashed” section in the Cultural Diversity in Higher Education article [Milligan, N.D.]
              • “The purpose of providing these examples of ethnocentricism is to shock readers into thinking about ones personal thoughts concerning multiculturalism--"multiculturalism” being antiethnocentricism…”

       

On the other hand: Understanding hidden biases and preventing stereotypes

  • Test Yourself for Hidden Bias” from tolerance.org has a great description of hidden biases, gives a link to a website to test your own biases, and tells you what you can do about unconscious biases
      • “Hidden Bias Tests measure unconscious, or automatic, biases. Your willingness to examine your own possible biases is an important step in understanding the roots of stereotypes and prejudice in our society.”
      • “Scientific research has demonstrated that biases thought to be absent or extinguished remain as "mental residue" in most of us. Studies show people can be consciously committed to egalitarianism, and deliberately work to behave without prejudice, yet still possess hidden negative prejudices or stereotypes.”
  • Stereotypes can affect a person’s performance
      • “Stereotype threat” is “the experience of being in a situation where one faces judgment based on societal stereotypes about one’s group,” [Spencer, 1999]
      • Dr. Claude Steele of Stanford has found in many studies “… that when a person’s social identity is attached to a negative stereotype, that person will tend to underperform in a manner consistent with the stereotype.” [College Street Journal, 2004]
      • Women performed worse on math tests when before the test they were told that studies found men were better at math [Spencer, 1999]
      • Similar studies have shown how minorities have been affected both positively and negatively by such stereotypes
          • Note that there also seems to be conflicting results from other similar studies
      • Stereotype threat is not limited to historically disadvantaged groups and can have an affect on other types of performance, i.e. white males in basketball
  • Be aware of your own biases in teaching students:
      • Example: culturally specific personal examples (such as referring to popular American TV shows) will not be helpful to all students

       

Teacher Diversity Training

  • What is available at UC Davis?
      • Please refer to: UC Davis Diversity Education Program
      • “The mission of the Diversity Education Program is to provide various educational opportunities for students, staff and faculty related to cultural awareness, the Principles of Community, and the development of a safe, respectful and inclusive campus environment.”
  • Should Teacher Diversity Training be required?
    •  

Engineering-Specific Research on Teaching and Teaching Styles

  • “Learning and Teaching Styles in Engineering Education” [Felder, 1988]
      • Cited by over 1200
      • The paper explores:
          • “1) Which aspects of learning style are particularly significant in engineering education?
          • 2) Which learning styles are preferred by most students and which are favored by the teaching styles of most professors?
          • 3) What can be done to reach students whose learning styles are not addressed by standard methods of engineering education?”
      • Excerpts from Conclusion:
          • “Learning styles of most engineering students and teaching styles of most engineering professors are incompatible in several dimensions. Many or most engineering students are visual, sensing, inductive, and active, and some of the most creative students are global; most engineering education is auditory, abstract (intuitive), deductive, passive, and sequential. These mismatches lead to poor student performance, professorial frustration, and a loss to society of many potentially excellent engineers.”
          • “Although the diverse styles with which students learn are numerous, the inclusion of a relatively small number of techniques in an instructor’s repertoire should be sufficient to meet the needs of most or all of the students in any class. The techniques and suggestions given on this page should serve this purpose.”
  • The future of engineering education II. Teaching methods that work. [Felder, 2000]
      • Excerpts from Summary:
          • “We have discussed a wide variety of teaching techniques that have been repeatedly shown to be effective in the context of engineering education. The techniques are variations on the following main themes:
            • 1. Formulate and publish clear instructional objectives.
            • 2. Establish relevance of course material and teach inductively.
            • 3. Balance concrete and abstract information in every course.
            • 4. Promote active learning in the classroom.
            • 5. Use cooperative learning.
            • 6. Give challenging but fair tests.
            • 7. Convey a sense of concern about students’ learning.”
          • “Our hope is that readers will consider all of the suggestions in the paper in light of their teaching styles and personalities and attempt to adopt a few of them in the next course they teach, and then perhaps a few more in the course after that. While we cannot predict the extent to which the techniques will succeed in achieving the instructors’ objectives, we can say with great confidence that their use will improve the quality of learning that occurs in those classes.”

        

References

  1. Milligan, D. (N.D.). Cultural Diversity in Higher Education. Retrieved November 12, 2009 from http://shell.cas.usf.edu/math/mug/diversity.htm
  2. Tsai, J. L. (2007). Ideal Affect: Cultural causes and behavioral consequences. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(3), 242-259.
  3. “Test Yourself for Hidden Bias” from http://www.tolerance.org/activity/test-yourself-hidden-bias
  4. Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4–28.
  5. College Street Journal. (2004). Steele Discusses “Stereotype Threat”. Retrieved December 8, 2009 from http://www.mtholyoke.edu/offices/comm/csj/092404/steele.shtml
  6. UC Davis Diversity Education Program from http://diversity.ucdavis.edu/
  7. Felder, R. M. & Silverman, L. K. (1988). Learning and Teaching Styles in Engineering Education. Engr. Education, 78(7), 674-681.
  8. Felder, R. M., Woods, D. R., Stice, J. E., & Rugarcia, A. (2000). The future of engineering education II. Teaching methods that work. Chem. Engr. Education, 34(1), 26-39.
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Webpage made by Jacob J. Setterbo (jjsetterbo@ucdavis.edu), with input from L. VanWormer & D. Chun, as part of the Fall 2009 Seminar on College Teaching at the University of California, Davis.

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