In today’s polarizing political climate, it is critical that educators allow and encourage multinational perspectives in classrooms and assignments, including those taught online (Sargent, Gautreau & Stang, 2014). This can be challenging if the instructional designer does not reflect on his or her own perspectives on teaching and learning in order to understand how that is reflected in their course designs, and which may unknowingly exclude other perspectives. This premise is expanded by Billilngs and Kowalski’s (2008) interpretation “multicontextuality” by Giddons (2008) which “refers to the ways learners from various cultures interpret and communicate information. For example, high context learners (such as native Americans, Asians, and African Americans) rely on a variety of modes including verbal, stories, and interactions with others, whereas low context learners (such as those from cultures with roots in northern Europe and Anglo Americans) prefer working alone and emphasize analytical thinking” (p. 296). Instructional designers who develop curriculum for online multi-cultural contexts need to develop competencies that incorporate multicultural perspectives (Sargent, Gautreau, & Stang, 2014), address cultural diversity, and promote inclusion through course design and activities. Thus, instructional designers should learn about non-traditional forms of teaching and learning and their importance to instructional design in a global context. This article provides one approach that was used in a course on Adult Learning Theory for instructional designers at California State University, Fullerton.
Students in the Master of Science in Instructional Design and Technology (MS-IDT) program at CSU Fullerton are often reflective of the global society, with multiple nationalities, languages, cultures and perspectives in each cohort of approximately 25-28 students. This global student body provides the basis for rich discussion and exploration of differences in experiences and perspectives with teaching and learning. In practice, however, it is not always easy for students who are rooted in traditional, Western perspectives to accept non-traditional views of teaching and learning as applicable and relevant to the profession of instructional design and technology.
Western heritage has defined learning as taking place in the mind, with a focus on thinking and cognition (Merriam & Bierema, 2014). A more current view is informed by the globalization of society; this view, or stance, is the understanding that learning is not just situated in the mind but includes body and spirit and is interpersonal. Learning is an experience that is immediate, physical, and emotional, such as the passion that drives investigation and discovery. The arts are deeply rooted in this type of learning (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007; O’Donoghue, 2011).
All students in the MS-IDT program study Adult Learning Theory in their second semester to learn the fundamental differences between pedagogy (teaching children) and andragogy (teaching adults) and to explore a variety of learning models associated with teaching adults. Part of this curriculum requires them to investigate other ways of knowing by reading about non-Western perspectives, critical theory, and embodied learning. In the spring semester of 2015, students read a unit from Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner (2007) that included chapters titled Embodied, Spiritual, and Narrative Learning (p. 189-216), Learning and Knowing: Non-Western Perspectives (pp. 271-240) and Critical theory, Postmodern and Feminist Perspectives. One of the assignments that followed required students to “choose a picture from any source that reflects their understanding of the ideas presented in the readings and in the lecture”, then go to a closed Padlet board the professor created and post their picture with an explanation of “why this picture spoke to you and what it symbolizes for you in terms of non-Western teaching and learning.” As suggested by O’Donoghue (2011), this use of pictures as the center of the assignment provides an approach that “is less concerned with answering predetermined questions than it is with generating new insights that are not easily available through verbal modes” (p. 6). The creation and evaluation of this assignment and the student’s products loosely followed the qualitative methods of visual research suggested by Margolis and Pauwels (2011), specifically, the methodology of “researcher-initiated production of visual data and meanings” described by Wagner (2011) “that encourages subjects to disclose their perceptions, sentiments, and ideas. In some versions of this method, researchers invite (or instruct) subjects to make drawings, photographs, or videotape recordings that reveal how they think or feel about matters” (p. 13).
The result was a collaborative and beautiful collage that illustrated numerous forms of knowing and understanding. The interaction between the text and pictures illustrated both individuality and a collective social understanding. Most students pinned several pictures and explanations to the Padlet digital board. Interestingly, it seemed that some students, no matter what their culture of origin, were deeply challenged by the idea of including spirituality, art, and mind-body connections into their learning. For others, it was freeing! Evaluation of the results was purposely open to multiple interpretations because, as O’Donoghue (2011) suggests, the layers of meaning inherent in an image depends on “who is doing the looking” (p. 8). Thus, the visuals and text alone did not tell the whole story.
The following are examples of several student’s postings, illustrating the diversity of perspectives of the learners enrolled in the course. All quotes are taken directly from student posts, with no corrections for punctuation or grammar. Please note that the pictures were chosen by the students for a class project, so no photo credits are included in this case.
One of the most controversial topics was that of spirituality in teaching and learning. One student wrote that the entire topic of spirituality in teaching was “uncomfortable” and another wrote that spirituality is an “immensely and intensely private affair and is totally inappropriate in a classroom or in anything but a personal setting. Who is to say that a teacher is more qualified to provide guidance on this topic with a student rather than the other way around?” His picture, however, did not expand on these feelings. He posted a picture that illustrated “Music is a universal language. Carl Orloff, 1895-1982, developed a music education curriculum for children that encouraged musicianship and fostered creative problem solving in areas beyond music and the arts. His Orff Schulwerk is still taught throughout America today.”
Another student posted a picture that illustrated an understanding that learning about non-Western ways of knowing and spiritual learning was important and in a way, freeing: “This picture reminds me of breaking out of the mold of how we currently think and start looking at non-Western perspectives. It really applies to many areas of learning, breaking free from what we know and are bound by and opening up our horizons.”
Another student commented on the importance of “embodied” learning through movement: “I chose this picture because it made me think of affective, physical, and spiritual expression through dance, song, and story that is learned and understood by all members of this culture.”
Another student wrote that spirituality was an “uncomfortable” topic and posted a picture that emphasized family and familial bonds, which was an expression of non-school learning, which as her interpretation of “Non-western ways of knowing and learning: I chose this picture because it represents many types of learning that this week’s reading labeled as non-Western, but that are part of my life. I see a grandparent teaching his grandchildren (or other
children) about gardening. Gardening involves the body and somatic learning in how to hoe, dig, rake, and plant. It is spiritual refreshing to work with nature, and, not only will they talk about gardening, but grandpa will tell stories about his life as they work together (narrative) and the kids will probably tell their own stories as well. This is also family-oriented learning, passing knowledge from one generation to the next.”
Another student commented on his view of spirituality as distilled through popular culture: “This picture symbolizes how the spiritual stance has been marginalized. Additionally, it expresses the attempt to reinvent it through Disneyland or virtual reality.”
The interpretation of non-Western ways of knowing displayed multiple perspectives. One post, from a Chinese student, gave others a deep understanding from her own experience and a perspective not available in many classrooms in the U.S. It also expressed learning through the senses, which was part of the assigned reading chapter: “I hear and I forgot, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” is my learning philosophy since I was a little child. Chinese believe in Confucius. However, the Cultural Revolution almost destroyed Confucius’ culture, and fostered a less-educated and mis-educated generation of transmitters and receivers – teachers forced to lecture by reading straight from books, and students listening without seeing too much, without remembering much at all, and not realizing they do not understand. Fortunately enough, the Cultural Revolution was ended before that generation got too old to learn. Some of them, like me, those who did not graduate before the end of the Cultural Revolution, still had chances to learn formally. I have seen it work on myself. I hear, I see, and I do, so I know I understand, and I can use my knowledge in my career.”
Several students posted pictures about the mind-body connection, specifically how it relates to physical activity, and in many ways, the spiritual aspects of physical immersion into an activity: “For me, surfing is spiritual. It is western and non-western. It is how I connect to something greater than myself.”
“I chose this picture because it resonates the idea of embodied learning. The body, mind and spirit connect and allow for experiences and learning on a number of levels to take place. This cultural dance reflects the history, tradition, and power behind the experience.”
A few pictures focused on the importance of visual design to ancient cultures and reiterated the theme of the importance of family and community: “Some Aboriginal paintings function as maps, a different kind of map that is non-Cartesian, but they demonstrate a different way of teaching and learning about stories and geography. This group of people didn’t normally see their land from above – a perspective informed by a lot of walking on flat land. Although the paintings look abstract to our eyes, they are often figurative and narrative.”
The picture below symbolizes indigenous knowledge and shows the importance of local community and knowledge passed on from generation to generation.
“The below image depicts the cultural values and practices as a group, while also displaying the importance of family traditions. Our own Western ways can sometimes be side tracked by our own individual growth but to see and understand different cultural perspectives helps remind us to be thankful for our family.”
Finally, one student posted an elaborate explanation of his understanding of the text, the ideas, and the picture in relation to his role as an instructional designer that provides a nice summary to this assignment: “I’ve long been a fan of Yinka Shonibare’s art, and this gives me an opportunity to share a compelling image his work. He explores ideas of cultural hegemony and the vestiges of colonialism. Not only the commodifying spirit of the “western” perspective (or as Walter Benjamin described it, as like “the dint of a secret heliotropism”) but also the construction of the non-western “other”. The headless mannequins are wearing bespoke Victorian era gowns made out of fabric that while superficially connect to African culture are part of a global supply chain of Dutch designed cotton fabrics often produced in Asian countries and then subsequently sold as being “African”. If we are to design instructional programs that effectively connect with our intended audience, we must appreciate how those learners construct identity.”
The assignment and posts to the Padlet digital board reveal personal insights about students. Providing students an opportunity to express themselves through digital pictures in an unrestricted format is one method that supports critical thinking and active engagement among instructional designers. Including both Western and non-Western perspectives allowed students to reach beyond their comfort zone and consider a different perspective.
Billings, D. & Kowalski, K. (2008). Inclusive teaching. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 39(7). 296-297.
Margolis, E. & Pauwels, L. (2011). The SAGE handbook of visual research methods. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781446268278
Merriam, S. B., & Bierema, L. L. (2014). Adult learning: Linking theory and practice. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
O’Donoghue, D. (2011). Doing and disseminating visual research: Visual arts-based approaches. The SAGE Handbook Visual Research Methods in E. Margolis, & L. Pauwels, (Eds.). London: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Sargent, B., Gautreau, C., & Stang, K. (2014). Multicultural considerations for curriculum developers of online courses. International Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design, 4(4), 31-43.
About the Authors
Professor Barbara Glaeser
MS Instructional Design and Technology
California State University, Fullerton
MS Instructional Design and Technology
California State University, Fullerton