This exercise has lead to at least a few mini aha moments. My initial consideration of diversity lead me to pursuing diversity in the traditional (my) sense, most especially the differences between male and female or those of different ethnic or religious backgrounds. One avenue of research I followed out of interest was that of the use of humour in the classroom, in particular the impact of humour in a diverse room. I come from a workplace culture that has historically been quite homogenous (white, male, rough edged) and because of that, classroom humour no doubt trended to what many would consider to be inappropriate or even offensive. Humour is a terrific tool for connecting with students, but to be most effective needs to be constructive, engaging and relevant for the entire classroom. Humour in the classroom is not about the instructor or facilitator performing as a stand-up comedian, nor just the telling of jokes or funny stories – it is about establishing a positive, engaging and, when appropriate, fun environment.
Further exploration of Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences expanded my understanding of another level of diversity, in that “since human beings have their own unique configuration of intelligences, we should take that into account when teaching, mentoring or nurturing” (Howard Gardner FAQ March 2013). This theory of multiple intelligences would seem to have obvious cross-over to learning styles, but of course style is a preference and does not guarantee an intellectual capacity. Awareness of these multiple intelligences as well as different learning styles strongly supports the need for a varied delivery of key content to engage a diverse group of learners. While the VAK/VARK model of learning styles (visual, auditory, reading-writing, kinesthetic) is a widely accepted model, there is not universal acceptance of the validity of learning style assessments. What does seem to be widely accepted though, is that we process information using all of our senses and thus a diversity of instructional method and sensory stimulation will be more effective.
As mentioned above, the learners in my field historically were not the most diverse group in a traditional sense. That being said they were no doubt very diverse in as far as their intellectual strengths and capacities and in their preferred learning styles. The Coast Guard classroom is now also a much more visibly diverse place with more women, visible minorities and of course learners that keep getting younger (it can’t be that instructors are getting older).
Younger learners are also much more attuned to modern communications technology, including the various social media. One thing this modern media affords is that people (learners) can and do find on their own content, be it for learning or entertainment, that is immediately engaging for them. And if it’s not engaging or does not speak to them they will simply switch it off or connect to the next link until they do find a media and message that resonates with them. To paraphrase an old expression, they may not know instruction but they know what they like! And what they don’t like! One of my children, in middle school, described to her younger brother a teacher that he should avoid if possible. Her harshest criticism; “She’s boring, she reads to the class from the text book”! If we bore or do not engage and challenge our students we are wasting their time.
What can I take from this in my environment? A greater appreciation for the diversity of learners, knowing that diversity is more than skin deep. I need to review and refresh my instructional strategies. Am I addressing the varied cognitive strengths in my classrooms? Are the materials and strategies stimulating and engaging to a variety of senses on a variety of levels? Is the humour that I use appropriate and relevant? Because of this exercise I joined Facebook for the first time, and this is my first attempt at blogging. I will look at greater incorporation of these and related media as a part of and in support of my training. The use of these media in the Coast Guard at sea environment is not without challenge as access, connectivity, bandwidth and perhaps policy all can be expected to rear their heads.