Social Diversity, Implicit Bias and Inclusive Pedagogy

I come from India which is home to people from different religions, cultures, race, ethnicity etc. There are around 1600 languages in India. It is hard to find another person with a similar set of thoughts, looks, language etc. in India. Even with so much of social diversity, there are instances of bias based on diversity everywhere all the time. I want to cite a few I have seen or heard in India since my childhood. It is common for men to do engineering in India and for women to become a doctor. One does not expect women to do civil engineering for example. One does not expect women to reach higher levels in a corporate job. Men in India feel women are meant to be housewives. This is obviously changing but is still prevalent.

One will think there won’t be any racial bias in India since we are all Brown. Well, you are wrong. It is very common for parents to find a relatively fair girl for their son for marriage. People in India mostly think that someone with relatively darker skin is not well off and not educated. Now, since we are talking about bias, it’s not limited to India. I think it has nothing to do with the country or place. It is prevalent everywhere around the world all the time. It has to do with the wiring in the Brain I think. Shankar beautifully describes the human mind having 2 modes – conscious (pilot) and unconscious (autopilot). The unconscious mind very quickly thinks of something and makes a judgment. It does not process the thought. For example – One does not see many women in an engineering college in India. So, the human mind thinks maybe women can’t do good in engineering.

Let us think of this in a classroom setting. Let us suppose you are an instructor and see two raised hands in the class. Instinctively, your mind chooses one of them. One does not think of it as bias at that time but it is biased in a way. If you allow a man before a woman or a white person over a black person, you are being biased. You also find biases when you are asked to make a group for a group project in a class. Most of the people look for known people or people with similar background. Why? Why does one do that? Because it is bound to happen. Because there is no perfect society. Until there is inequality across all the spheres in life, the bias will stay. Question is how to tackle it? How to counter them?

There are many strategies (Strategies). First of all, avoid assuming and judging on the basis of partial or no knowledge. It is better to know a new person or understand a new situation before making any comment or coming to a conclusion. In a classroom, it is better to know every student individually if possible.  It is important to give every student an equal chance and not let any bias come in mind while correcting exams or assignments. It is impossible to remove all the bias since some of it is related to the society in general but at least working on own biases is the first step. It is good to work in a diverse environment. A plus point of a diverse classroom is that it makes you more creative, hardworking and diligent. In a diverse setting, people are bound to work harder in solving problems in spite of differences. There is research backing this (Diversity Makes You Smarter). Do try the Implicit Bias Test. It is fun.

Were there any incidents involving biases in your life? Do you think biases are to stay forever? Do you think we can get away with them using some of the strategies? Let me know what you think.

Are grades good motivators?

Dan Pink puts forward the fact that incentives at a workplace do not help in improving the work or achieving a task faster.  Moreover, sometimes they hamper the task at hand. In short, incentives are not a good motivator.  He further talks about the importance of Autonomy (desire of self-driven), Mastery (desire to learn and improve without any incentive or recognition) and lastly Purpose (something you can align yourself with, want to achieve through work and contribute to the world). These points made by Dan Pink makes me think that in a way grading and assessment at the school or university level are supposed to be motivators. The question is how good are they?

Well, getting good grades might land you a job but does not necessarily guarantee mastery, autonomy, purpose or even creativity. The only way these things can be achieved is if we start to adopt a new way of learning which focuses more on learning and mastery rather than grades. If we want students to retain knowledge and transfer it further, written exams and tests alone won’t help. Practical knowledge along with the use of creativity and problem -solving needs to be adopted as well.

There is no way we can get away with the exams completely. They have their place. But there is a need for change in student attitudes. There is a need to make them think that learning is also important and not only grades. This I think can be done by incorporating new assessment techniques. Group projects involving real-life problems is one of the ways. Group projects also lead to peer assessment which is very close to the real world job scenario. I also feel that exam questions should be set more in a practical way rather than a theoretical way. Real life situations in exams will make students think of the problem at hand, analyze it, question it, use existing approaches to solve it and identify the consequences. Self-assessment by the students at the end of the class is something that is gaining popularity as well. This is where students assess their performance in the class and submit the assessment to the teacher. In the end, it is all about adjustment and change for the betterment. It does not motivate students to do better but moreover, stops their creative thinking by narrowing their approach to learning. Bad grades may also sometimes shatter you completely. So, I think a mid-way approach (improving our current grading system) is the best way forward. I am of the view that grading and exams should stay but their importance should be minimal. Learning is the main focus and should always be.

What do you think? Are the grades necessary? Are they motivating students to perform better? Is there a middle way? Can we improve the current grading system and make it more learning-centric?



Mindfulness in Education

Ellen Langer explains beautifully why most of the human beings adopt mindlessness over time? She goes on to explain that we always take the safer route in life. We tend to learn things the way we are told. Take the example of school education. We learn things according to a set curriculum that a group of educators and administrators decided. Now think of a baby. A newborn baby who does not know how to stand, talk or even crawl on its own, learns to do so by observing at other people. A baby is not forced to follow a routine but is guided by the laws of nature. A baby falls, gets up and tries again until success. As babies, we are free to think, free to move, free to observe as well as free to take the risk. There is no feeling of fear in the mind of a baby. There is no past which guides life in the future. As the baby grows, there are increasing questions in the mind about the surroundings and life. There is curiosity. This is called Mindful Learning. Learning which involves being in present, engaging, observing and learning new things without the fear of past or the goal in the future.

But as one becomes a teenager, the rules and regulations in this world start to control the thinking. This is the beginning of the mindlessness. We start to follow a set routine of school learning, homework, exams etc. We forget to learn things innovatively and creatively. We do not question the set notions of the world. We start to lack self-esteem and self-satisfaction. It is important to live and focus on the things in the present. Future is unpredictable but that does not mean the easy safe way in life is the only way forward. The more one explores, the more learning and interesting it becomes.

Mindless learning in education is very common nowadays. Bookish knowledge is good but not everything. It is necessary to explore beyond the traditional classroom teaching. New teaching techniques which encourage discussions, activities, technology, different cultures, perspectives, and contexts are becoming the need of the hour. The students need to learn mindfully so that they incorporate skills like productivity, innovation, problem-solving and increased attention span. The teachers and the present education system which is generally slow in changing needs to catch up with the changing world for the betterment of human learning. What do you think are the different ways in which the teachers and educators can encourage mindful learning in the classroom?

Two Cultures of Education

The traditional classroom teaching approach is something that has been there for a long time. Listening to someone delivering a lecture and taking notes is the common way of education we have received. But it is changing slowly and if it is for the good or bad is a subjective question. We are shifting to the new active learning approach or better known as a learning-centered approach where various digital learning techniques in a learning environment are used. I personally feel both the techniques have merits.

Traditional lecturing approach is good for hands-on learning from the expert on that topic or subject. But taking notes by hands during lectures is not an effective way of learning. One tends to focus more on writing rather than learning and understanding new information. But then the new classroom teaching through presentations and fill in the blanks in the notes is a solution for that. If the teacher is able to deliver an interesting lecture without boring you, it is a good method of learning. But the truth is there is not enough practical, experiential or active learning. Classroom lecturing is a must for learning a basic set of information and worldly knowledge but other skills necessary to survive in this world like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, learning through competing etc. are missing.

Digital learning is a new culture in which technology is used as a medium for learning. Human beings learn the most when they are faced with a problem they have never seen before and are eager to solve. Computer games are one of the ways for effective problem-solving, teamwork and learning. Quest to Learn School  is an initiative in this direction. The curriculum involves game-based learning along with the traditional lecture-based learning. Developing individual games allow students to succeed by failing and trying on their own. It also allows them to think creatively and use their imagination  which we do not generally learn in a lecture-based approach

Students need an environment in which they can learn and experiment. A mix of traditional lecture learning, game-based active learning, communication through dialogues and discussion is the best way forward in my way. The world is changing and we need to accommodate to changes as well. Which approach do you like more? Feel free to share any experiences or thoughts.

Networked Learning and Higher Education

In the article (Networked Learning as Experiential Learning), Gardner Campbell believes that George Kuh missed a very important form of experiential learning in his monograph. Indeed, it is true that networked learning in the form of online technologies is a handy and emerging tool for the students.  As Gardner points out, it is not only about learning apps, social media, and the web but about learning the organizing principles of networked learning. Digital libraries and electronic journals are some examples of the experiential nature of the cyberspace.

Nowadays, it has become easier for students to network with other professionals across the globe. Social media platforms like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter,, ResearchGate and, Linkedin make it possible for an emerging student researcher to share work. According to Tim Hitchcock in his article (Twitter and Blogs ), blogging and tweeting regularly helps to spread your work to an eager audience who sometimes like it and sometimes critic it. A healthy debate and discussion are always fruitful – it might lead to finding collaborators for your research work.

Martha Stone in the article (Unleashing the Power of Networked Learning ) poses some good questions on this hot topic. She says, “The educational design of any course in higher education institution has not changed much in the past few years, so what has changed?”.  She goes on to answer that “The top-down, center-out approach to traditional education is dramatically diminished. Learner-generated, informal interactions, short messages, and nonverbal media are the norm in these networked learning situations”.

I think the students are accepting the norms of Networked Learning in Higher Education and it is high time that the teachers, education administrators and course designers understand and incorporate this. What do you think about Networked Learning in Higher Education? Are there any changes? Are we going in the right direction?