DEI and the Student Voice


Last year we shared our Ease Learning DEI Rubric for Equitable Course Design. Our approach to DEI focuses on inclusion of many voices in the learning experience as a major tenant of course design. This takes place in many forms throughout the rubric. As an organization focused on learning experience design, we have a strong ability to engage all learners. One of the most important ways to draw learners in, is to make the content relevant to them and to their lives. We make learning real by putting the learners in the center of the learning.

Each and every learner has their own voice, their own story. Their own personal reality and narrative runs within the cohort. Their level of engagement is dependent on how relevant we can make the course narrative intersect with their own on some level. In her Ted Talk, Danger of a Single Story, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie articulates beautifully the concept of “Nkali” which loosely translated means “to be greater than another.” Her introduction of her own storytelling as a child that mirrored the stories she was exposed to, while comical, illustrates the dangers of a “single story.” She says, “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” Without many voices all learners are not engaged, and single stories promote a power structure in which diversity and inclusion can not thrive, and some learners are made to feel irrelevant, invisible and ultimately disengaged. 


So many images come to mind around the concept of voice in learning. An image from Lord of the Flies comes to mind….the one holding the conch shell has the power to speak! This may seem silly, but the one who is given a voice has the power and, very often, we unintentionally choose pedagogy that does not foster more than one voice, or a very limited subset. Passive learning methods are prolific. Most online courses still rely on recorded lectures, instructor chosen resources, instructor generated prompts for discussion, and objective forms of assessment. There is little regard in this model for who the learner is, what their life experiences are, and we treat learners in this model as an empty shell into which we pour wisdom. It is not until learners integrate information into their own schema, into who they are, and into their life experiences that they have truly learned something they can use and apply. Simply presenting content is not fostering this type of inclusive learning. 


Pedagogy is not a requirement in most doctoral programs, and thus many instructors are experts in their content disciplines and not in how to deliver it to others. A typical DEI conversation centers on unconscious bias, not around effective pedagogy. While we can and should be aware of unconscious bias, we can ensure more inclusive, engaging pedagogy with the application of a good rubric and pairing with a learning experience design expert to create learning environments that foster DEI through good design practices. Consider this a way of making our unconscious bias conscious simply by thinking about opportunities to allow for the voices of others in our design process. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s story reminds us of the dangers of a single story, and our rubric is designed to facilitate the creation of an environment that is consciously allowing for more stories to co-exist. 


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