A recent LLI meeting reflecting on how we could apply the University wide Equality and Diversity training to our teaching, revealed a strong connection to criticality. To critically question the assumptions, viewpoints, power dynamics and other issues that we hold to be the accepted norm can cause us to challenge barriers around race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and religion that we may not consciously be aware of. As Einstein said “Question everything”, not least our own points of view.
Socratic questioning is a deceptively simple tool that I’ve used for several years, both for myself and with students, to develop their criticality. Its beauty is in its simplicity; suggesting that any question falls within one of six categories – clarification; assumptions; viewpoints; evidence; implications; the question itself. I ask students which categories they are most comfortable with, and which categories they do not use. Critical as ever, we then consider “if not – why not?”
But, can I reflect on my use of critical analysis and develop it further – to encourage both myself and students to challenge assumptions and viewpoints around equality and diversity within a discipline?
This is what I came up with:
Clarification: What do we mean when we talk about “equality and diversity?”
UK Law highlights several protected characteristics such as gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability. It is illegal to discriminate against individuals on the basis of these protected characteristics. Discrimination, however, often goes unseen, and may happen, to differing extents, unconsciously through the design of teaching activities.
Assumptions: What assumptions do I make around equality and diversity?
That people should be encouraged to voice different perspectives. But what happens if this impacts on another individual’s freedoms or goes against the thinking of the discipline?
Evidence: Is there evidence around the impact of equality and diversity issues on my teaching?
I don’t explicitly consider equality and diversity within my teaching. So for future evaluations both by students or myself, I will include a question that prompts consideration of barriers to equality and diversity.
Viewpoints: How does my perspective of equality and diversity contrast with UK Law and University policy?
UK law and the University emphasise the importance of there being “protected characteristics” and so perhaps focus action on those groups. I, perhaps naively, prefer to see everyone as valuable, complex individuals, and to acknowledge that we will share similarities and have differences. It is from these different perspectives that we can learn, through challenging what we think we know.
Implications: How can I apply this idea to my teaching?
I can actively encourage individuals to share their perspectives by aspiring to:
• Create activities where participants share relevant aspects of their prior knowledge/experience.
• Allow time for discussion during teaching sessions.
• Allow time for individuals to think, before asking them to engage in discussion, when dealing with challenging ideas
• Acknowledge and value participants’ contributions, even if I do not agree.
• Critically (and constructively) challenge participants’ ideas, whether I agree or disagree with them.
• Encourage participants to share their reflections on their experiences of our teaching session, including potential barriers to learning related to equality and diversity.
Questions about the question itself: Why should I care about equality and diversity?
Encouraging the development of a heterogeneous learning community means that ideas are generated by and challenged from a broad range of different perspectives, potentially leading to a more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of a given topic. Removing barriers to equality and diversity may lead to a professional community from broader backgrounds, which would be better able to understand an issue from a wide range of viewpoints, and identify approaches and outcomes that are desirable for a greater range of people.