A new model for teaching to a diverse population of students

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:30 PM
Gary S Weissmann and Roberto Ibarra, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, United States
Why do the geosciences suffer from low diversity in our students and workforce? We wonder if something is missing in the way we approach Earth Science learning. Diversity is important not only to produce a population of students that better reflects the overall US population, but also to draw on a diverse approach to understanding important concepts such as found in integrated approaches like Earth Systems Science or Environmental Science. By exploring social science research in culture and diversity, my exposure to Context Diversity Theory appears to show ways to enhance our ability to tackle these large-scale problems in Earth Sciences while attracting diverse students and helping them thrive in the academic setting. The theory postulates that a growing number of individuals now entering higher education bring with them a mix of characteristics described as their “cultural context” (high and low). Context Diversity Theory represents ways of knowing and doing as a binary continuum. One end member of this continuum has individuals approaching the world through a reductionist approach (e.g., low context). The other end member uses a more constructivist approach to science (e.g., high context). While both approaches are successful at describing various aspects of the natural world, our educational system emphasizes the low context perspective. However, many of our students from underrepresented groups may understand the world from a high context perspective. A Multicontextual model would use a balanced approach to evaluating our world, expanding on the commonly low context approach in education. Thus, a reframing process based on Context Diversity Theory may help develop strategies that expand disciplinary culture(s) while not changing the cultural approach of people participating in it. This Multicontextual approach may significantly enhance our ability to develop new approaches to interdisciplinary research while building a strong framework that allows all students to thrive in our programs.