Teachers, School and Society
This course focused heavily on the social ramifications of education – how education fits in with the broader social goals of our culture. As an example, we discussed the increased focus on math and science in American K-12 curricula after the Soviets launched Sputnik, and how consciousness of multiculturalism is increasingly coming to the fore in a culture with a burgeoning minority population.
I gained some insights in this course that I might never have otherwise even considered. I’m predominantly a techie; I’m very interested in the learning process, but I’ve been pretty specific in focusing on learning strictly within the purview of how we apply technology to it. In other courses, I studied the interface between learner and content – whether that interface was a software agent, an application or a multimedia presentation. Well or poorly implemented software design has a direct bearing on a successful learning outcome. What this course emphasized to me is that the learner is no small part of that equation, either.
In Dr. O’Bannon’s web design class, when we created our instructional site, we specified a target audience, and geared the content toward that audience. A site designed for college graduates wouldn’t use a third grade reading level and similar graphics. By the same token, our CSE 504 class really underscored that cultural differences can play a potentially large role in how two different people can perceive and respond to the same information. We had a Latino student in this class who said he had had a really difficult time in literature discussion courses. He had been raised being told in no uncertain terms, to always, always, always respect his teacher – to the extent that he felt uncomfortable verbalizing disagreement. If the teacher says, “this is what this passage means,” that’s the end of it. He said it took him literally years to essentially reprogram his behavior so that he didn’t hesitate to express his differing opinions in situations like those. We also talked about pervasive gender bias in the classroom, and in textbooks. On another day, we had a guest speaker come in and give a lesson and quiz on Feng Shui – completely in Mandarin Chinese. No one in the class understood a word of it, which was exactly the point in emphasizing the challenges faced by students for whom English is a second language.
It comes around to this: In instructional design, you do well to remember and plan for the different places from which your learners are perceiving your lessons. I wrote a paper on technology in education, that discussed how one of the goals Americans typically attribute to our educational system is to provide equality of opportunity to our citizens. In our course readings, we learned that students who grow up with computers in the home typically enter school with greater math and reading skills. Those same students also typically come from backgrounds with higher socioeconomic standing. I stated in this paper that, given that there are a number of career fields which require computer proficiency, schools are basically thrust into a position of having to level the playing field if we’re going to see students from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds having opportunities to enter technical fields.