There is an old adage that says, “If the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail”. We know that we have a diversity problem in academia but what are the tools that we have at our disposal to deal with it? This is a broad question – one that probably underscores every single discussion we have on this blog. For the next discussion I’d like to introduce a paper that I gave at the 2015 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology conference as part of a special symposium on “Leading Students and Faculty to Quantitative Biology Through Active Learning” which was organized by Laura Miller and Lindsay Waldrop.
First a little background: Lindsay asked me to give a talk about how we can use digital technology to enhance learning in the class and as I sat down to write it, I realized that the really novel aspect I could explore with this talk was not so much the technology and learning aspect, but rather that by thinking about these topics through the lens of increasing diversity, specifically in STEM fields (Fig. 1).
As a result the paper became a really fun piece to write. I feel like too often we don’t give ourselves permission to read outside of our fields, and with this paper I suddenly had permission to read into educational theory, sociology, media studies and many other fields. The result, I hope, was a theoretical framework with which to view three worked examples from my lab over the past few years. The first was working with students in high schools in Fiji and Chicago to build an on-line class about marine conservation. The second was an impromptu use of Twitter to teach a class in New York City two days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged most of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Lastly was a project run by Columbia University and the University of the South Pacific to train conservation students and practitioners from Melanesia to use low cost technology to improve marine conservation.
These three examples span the range from high cost, high labor interventions to spur of the moment adaptations of technology, but they’re united by the desire to expand the classroom and to allow new voices to be engaged in learning.
While I freely admit that technology is not going to be the only tool we should have when thinking about improving diversity, I think by adding tools problems become more nuanced and suddenly there are more than just nails. I want to ask those of us who stand in front of classes to think critically about some points, particularly as we are in the planning phases for next semester’s teaching:
1) Whose do we privilege by gatekeeping authoritative voices into the class?
2) Whose voices do we exclude by making the decisions above?
3) Can we use new tools to give both authentic and recognized self-expression in the classroom to underrepresented groups?
4) How can technology help erode internal and external stereotypes about expectations of what a STEM practitioner looks like?
I’m really looking forward to seeing what you have to say about this. This is one of those papers you write not to get citations but to spur on conversations among the community. I may not have gotten everything right, but I’m willing to be wrong if it means we can have an honest conversation about how we can do things better.
Here’s the paper:
Drew, J.A. (2015) Using Technology to Expand the Classroom in Time, Space, and Diversity. Integr. Comp. Biol. (2015) doi: 10.1093/icb/icv044
#DiversityJC Monday, July 13th, 2pm EST. Hope to see you there!