Why diversity is hard to embrace

This week readings about diversity reminded me of one TED talk that I have listened a while ago. I don’t remember it exactly, but the speaker might have begun to tell a story by asking the audience who they would have come along with there, whether their companions are same nationalities, gender, age group, and looking like themselves. The point was that people tend to stay in their social comfort zone and get along with people that seem familiar and similar socioeconomic identities.

It is obvious and scientifically proven that diversity can increase innovations, creativity, and problem-solving abilities, as Katherine W. Phillips discussed (“How Diversity Makes us Smarter”) Also as our society has become more culturally, ethnically, religiously diverse, diversity matters for not only practical reasons but also for ethical and philosophical reasons. However, it is also very difficult to embrace diversity in reality, if it is not informational diversity in particular. Let me illustrate my observation of tension that social diversity has brought. It was through my research on community gardens. I have four case study sites with different characteristics. One of my findings from those four cases was that strong sense of community emerged in a community garden that is composed of more homogeneous neighbors. On the other hand, one community garden, which was territorially embedded in one neighborhood, encountered tensions and conflicts because the organization that operated the community garden brought gardeners from outside of the neighborhood. Original gardeners wanted to keep the garden for their own neighborhood’ asset and did not want to mingle with outside people. Eventually, most neighborhood gardeners had left and the community garden ended up being isolated from that neighborhood. I cannot say that this is the case for every community garden, but it was really hard to integrate socioeconomically and ethnically different group of people in those community venues.

The scientific results Katherine W. Phillips suggested are mostly the cases in workplaces, education, higher levels of decision-making and teamwork, which require more information and innovation, not in informal social relationships. As the TED speaker, I mentioned earlier, pointed out, our desire to be with people like us and maintain the status quo might be a big hurdle to engage with diversity.

My experience with grading systems

The reading materials regarding assessment this week reminded me of my school days. I have taken grading or ranking for granted quite a long time because I only experienced that kind of assessment since I entered into the regular school curriculum in Korea. I hadn’t recognized it as a problem much, but looking back, the ranking system made not only teachers have preconceptions about each student, but also students form social groups according to their grades. The students were generally classified into model students who study well and poor students who don’t study well. The focus of teachers and schools was more on the former because the school’s reputation and success are evaluated by how many students go to top universities. This test score-oriented educational atmosphere was also prevailing amongst students. They tended to socialize each other whose ranks are similar because sometimes top students studied separately with others. I assume this grade-focused assessment in school might affect widespread prejudice and discrimination in various fields of Korean society.

On the other hand, from the perspective of a parent of a Kindergarten kid, I admit that sometimes grading assessment makes me easier to identify how my child has been improving briefly and clearly. When I first received my son’s first report card last year, it helped me to understand which subject he needs to help and he is doing well. But without teachers’ narrative comments and conference, it must be difficult to know how to help him to improve some abilities (even though Alfie Kohn pointed out the inefficiency of adding narrative reports).  Another thing I was not able to figure out through his report card was his interests or talent of physical activities, music, or art because it was more about his literacy, math, and sociability.

Although grading must be the easiest and simplest way of assessment of academic achievement, it does not correspond to the primary goal of education as well as assessment. Assessment needs to play a role in discovering and improving students’ interests, capabilities, and talents, not harming them. As more and more innovative endeavors are being carried out in schools, I hope better assessment tools will be developed and spread out.

Mindful learning and teaching

Mindful learning, introduced and discussed by Ellen Langer, brings a new perspective on education, teaching, and learning. She suggested the seven myths that have shaped our educational practices and environments for a long time and dove deeper into how they have negative impacts on both teaching and learning. The 7 misleading but most popular myths of learning are 1) practice basics to they become second nature; 2) focus means paying attention at one thing at a time; 3) delay gratification; 4) rote memory is necessary; 5) forgetting is bad; 6) intelligence is knowing what is out there; and 7) answers are either right or wrong.

What really appealed to me was the idea that why remembering is not always the way to learn, and even decrease retention of information. Ellen Langer said that repetition and practice without reflection and doubt, which means mindlessly learning, does not work well. Also, mindless memorization might lead to being insensitive to contexts and situation. Rather, forgetting what you have learned and how you have learned will help you improve the performance and allows to have innovative thinking and new perspectives. Let me illustrate my experience of mindful learning when I was studying history in high school. I had only relied on simple memorization and repetitive learning techniques for tests, and it worked in the short term but after the exam, every knowledge and information was just gone. At that time, there were several historical dramas being on air, and I found it helpful to learn history, even though they were partly fictional. Watching TV and talking with friends and teachers helped me not only to understand the historical contexts and contents much better and much longer but also to get interested in them. My experience also corresponds to the third myth of delayed gratification. If my learning had been only with books and lectures, I wouldn’t have had an interest in learning history.

In order to provide our children, students, and ourselves with more positive possibilities, just let negative and unnecessary memories go, and let us see the world in new ways.

Networked Learning and Academic Citation

Frankly speaking, I haven’t taken web-based resources and communications like blogging, Twitter, or YouTube seriously as academic resources until last Wednesday. It was due to my lack of pedagogic experiences and knowledge as well as technology, and partly cultural differences from my country, I guess. Although one of my course, which was online, used the blogging activities every week, with just almost same way as the GEDI, I just thought it was because of the limits of the online course.

So, I not only read and watch the materials this week, but also explored what networked learning is, and why it has been emerging as critical teaching and learning methods. I really enjoyed the TED talk particularly, assuming most of you might be the same.

Anyway, they were totally new fields of discipline for me, but I found the fundamental values under the practice would be what I pursue through my research and teaching. I am all for the ideas of sharing and interacting knowledge, information, and materials through open and public channels, so that students can get themselves engaged in the learning activities, and also diverse kind of people are able to access to them. I believe the exclusive access to privileged knowledge would harm social dynamics as well as its quantitative and qualitative development.

In this writing, I would like to pose a possible issue of networked learning that we could face and might already happen. The first one is how that web-based informal information could be integrated into academic environments. For example, so far as I know, universities or scholarly journals might not be allowed for students to use the information and data borrowed from the blogs or YouTube. I’d like to share the blogging, titled “The legitimacy and usefulness of academic blogging will shape how intellectualism develops”. She provides pros and cons of citing blogs as formal academic resources.

The legitimacy and usefulness of academic blogging will shape how intellectualism develops