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Culturally Responsive Online Teaching and Learning

In these unprecedented times, as instructors, we need to make sure our students feel supported. The unpredictability in every student’s lives can contribute to harbouring negative emotions, experiences, and opinions. In addition, our classrooms are filled with students with diverse backgrounds and we must not be trapped in our comfort zones that rely on teaching strategies we have traditionally relied on. Therefore, instructors need to foster students’ social supports that are culturally responsive and motivating. Culturally responsive teaching is an asset pedagogy designed to increase motivation by using teaching practices with those grounded in students’ experiences and ways of knowing. For a culturally responsive course to be developed, pre-work is essential, so when a student enters the course for the first time, the stage is set for them. Here are some ways you can enable greater awareness in your online course: –

Know who is in your classroom

  • In your synchronous online classes, it is good to remind your students and yourself where your students are currently located. Lehman and Conceição in their book “Creating a Sense of Presence in Online Teaching” suggest an activity entitled “Where in the World Are You?”, This activity allows you to acknowledge the different time zones students are living in, discuss current affairs in certain regions, and creating opportunities for students to connect over shared lived experiences. Poll Everywhere allows you to create a live poll where students can highlight on a map where they are joining from. The populated map can be pinned on your course website to appreciate students’ diversity and current situation.
  • Helping students develop a critical perspective and social-cultural consciousness can be accomplished by helping students connect course content to their own cultural experiences or the cultural experiences of others. A great way to start this process is to know about your students’ names – how to pronounce it, who named them, and does it have a cultural meaning? Often, we are exposed to names that we haven’t across before and perhaps difficult to pronounce them. You can ask your students to record themselves and let the class know how to pronounce their names, the pronoun they go by, and their preferred name. You can use Flipgrid to get students to do this exercise before the course begins, and this remains as a repository to which you and your students can always refer to before interacting with others.

You need to be open about yourself

         Addressing the relevance of the course content to students’ lives and creating opportunities for student decision in taking up your course allows learners to see the relevance of content when they can relate it to their identities and lived experiences. It is essential to realize that often, textbooks and curriculum are designed for mainstream, majority cultural groups.  Asking specific questions about students’ cultural identities and backgrounds (and providing examples) can help students feel comfortable in sharing their own information. To create a culturally responsive tone, instructors can share their own cultural backgrounds in their introductions and how it may have influenced their professional life.

Providing students opportunities to have a voice

  • Giving voice to students’ opinions is an important aspect of establishing inclusion, can start at the beginning of the course, with activities in which students introduce themselves and tell the class about who they are. This can be challenging in online learning environments therefore these opportunities can be orchestrated through discussions and chat sessions. If you are holding synchronous sessions, you can send a quick survey to students to know what went well, what seemed difficult, what was surprising and what can be changed. You may expect a low response rate at the beginning, but you’ll begin to see when you start mentioning about a change you did or maintained a specific feature because you read the surveys, students will be motivated to contribute.
  • It is easier to establish private interaction in an in-person class setting as you can proactively check up on students without setting up a meeting. You may have virtual hours set up to show you are open for discussions; however, it is important to note that certain cultures equate asking for help as to losing face. This awkwardness may be amplified in an online setting. Find ways to make private interactions with your students – such a private note/e-mail, one-on-one feedback of assignment, and so on.

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