Diversity Initiatives in Higher Education: Teaching Multicultural Education Online

By Limburg, Florina; Clark, Christine | Multicultural Education, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview
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Diversity Initiatives in Higher Education: Teaching Multicultural Education Online

Limburg, Florina, Clark, Christine, Multicultural Education


In the fall of 1995, I-the second author of this article-began teaching multi-cultural education at New Mexico State University (NMSU) as an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. At that time, I had only been using a computer for two years, and only to word process. I did not even know how to back up a text document on a disk. How ironic, then, that I would join a department engaged in a discussion about distance education, even though at that time this meant only remote site face-to-face instruction.

Located in southern New Mexico, NMSU was one of two teacher education programs available to aspiring and in-service teachers in the Gadsden Independent School District, a geographically large district that abutted Las Cruces, New Mexico to the west, and El Paso, Texas to the east. Thus, teaching assistants and teachers alike in this district had two options for pursuing certification and/or other continuing education, both within a thirty-minute drive. Yet, an increasing number of these education professionals were pursuing bachelor's degrees with teacher licensure and/or advanced degrees in education through online programs offered by higher education institutions in northern New Mexico, four hours north.

Resultantly, there was some sense in the department that we needed to broaden our conceptualization of distance education to consider online instruction or we would run the risk of becoming instructionally obsolete to a growing body of students-students juggling career, child-rearing, elder care for aging parents, and other activities of daily life; students who preferred the flexibility of "logging on," from home or work to an asynchronous course at 10 p.m., 2 a.m., or lunchtime, over driving to a regularly scheduled "ground" classroom.

While some of my departmental colleagues were receptive to the idea of teaching online, I was particularly hostile to it. I perceived it to be an assault on good pedagogy in general, and wholly antithetical to multicultural education pedagogy in particular-the heart of which is centered around relationships established between and among students and teachers (Nieto, 2002). I was certain that trying to teach multicultural education online would compromise relationship building.

Other colleagues took a position somewhere in the middle, suggesting we establish "standards" for online instruction. But the standards these colleagues were concerned with had to do with catchment area issues, such as whether or not colleges and universities in northern New Mexico should be allowed to recruit online students from the face-to-face student geographic territories of institutions in southern New Mexico and southwestern Texas, as opposed to standards focusing on pedagogical quality control concerns in the virtual classroom.

Teaching Multicultural Education Online

Since my tenure in New Mexico, I have become technologically seduced-the result of a University of Maryland colleague's contention that, because multicultural education and technology are both forward thinking pursuits, it is imperative that forward thinking people embrace both in order to reconcile any problematic tensions between them toward progressive resolutions. Since that time, there has also been more attention focused on the complexities of content development and pedagogical approach in both the online teaching arena in general, and with specific respect to the teaching of multicultural education online (Clark & Gorski, 2001; 2002a, 2002b; Gorski & Clark, 2001, 2002a, 2002b, 2003).

Some of this attention has suggested that a benefit of teaching online is that power and oppression dynamics that manifest in the ground classroom-related to race, gender, and socioeconomic class in particular-are "neutralized" in the online environment because of the relative anonymity online interaction affords. As an online faculty member for National University1 teaching multicultural education courses in a multicultural/bilingual teacher education certification and licensure program, this has not been my experience.

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Diversity Initiatives in Higher Education: Teaching Multicultural Education Online


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