Thursday, 11 October 2012

GLTLT- Assessing and Evaluation: What does cultural diversity in relation to assessments mean to you?

10 August 2012 - What does cultural diversity in relation to assessments mean to you? Discussion 1 for Ass 3.   
Kia ora koutou
As most of the class has already mentioned, cultural diversity is a complex yet rich term that as facilitators we can use to our better our professional practice. I like Monaghan,J. & Just, P.(2000) description of cultural anthropology whereby they explain that the discipline studies ‘social relations’ and ‘cultural logic’ of people. I think these phrases can also be applied to tertiary facilitators/teachers where we are not only working out the relationships between groups of students/colleagues/wider community etc, but also the cultural logic that drive the individuals within these groups. When I think of the cohort of students I teach- it’s working out how I can encourage the best learning without falling into the trap of trying to be everything to everyone which means I have to think of ways of getting to know their learner needs and aspirations .
I also agree with many of the postings that culture can encompass ethnicity but I also understand that the two terms are significantly different (as are ethnicity and nationality). Some students may be quite comfortable identifying with their ethnicity/ies- whereas others are more comfortable identifying through their occupations/ nationality etc.
In relation to cultural diversity and assessments- this means I accept diversity- I don’t ignore or generalise diversity. What has helped me in meeting this challenge is being flexible in offering multiple pathways for how students can access information and/or support to engage with the assessments early on in the paper I teach and having clear expectations and explaining/demonstrating  these expectations to students in a variety of ways.
• What factors need to be considered?
“Cultures make sense of the world through values, norms and behaviour they acquire and assessments need to resonate with their beliefs. By not recognising factors of diversity in the assessment we as educators run the risk of failing to meet educational needs and therefore increase social disadvantages in communities” (Rameka,2007).
I was interested in Rameka’s (2007) comment above as on one hand I fully understand what Rameka is saying as you only have to look at the latest Maori post-secondary qualifications to recognise the systemic failings in our educational system. I think to meet this challenge however, is that tertiary facilitators need to practice and gain feedback about ’ how’ this happens because without this I find that teachers either continue to do what they do (which is ignore diversity and do nothing) as we don’t want to make a ‘mistake’. Liz Ditzel’s posting (24/0/12) is great in giving practical tips.
I challenge my students when they ‘see’ me about what assumptions are made about how I might teach? Because I’m Maori, Tongan and Pakeha- am I going to communicate a certain way, am I going to deliver course material and assess in a different way say compared with my Pakeha colleagues? Do I want to teach in groups or at an individual level, do they think I prefer face to face or is online going to be OK? Do they have higher or lower expectations from me?
 They all tell me that’s rubbish and they will ‘judge’ my skills and abilities as they get to know me. But we all make judgements about each other – that part is normal- it’s how these effect our professional practice that we all need to work out.  There is now extensive research that shows how teachers’ beliefs and values do impact on students’ learning (both positively and negatively) – (see Russell Bishop’s work in this area in the compulsory sector:  So for me a factor I have to consider then; is to what extent do my judgements impact on my teaching?
When I look at this statement in OP’s assessment policy: “Assessments improve student learning. In the design of the assessment the values need to be acceptable including fairness, relevance and respect to all the students”, then I can’t help but challenge how the terms fair, relevant and respect are defined? And how these may differ between me/students/ other colleagues?
 I can explain why to my students we don’t eat in class, sit on tables, and give koha when we have guest speakers in, but that’s not only because of my own ethnicity, but because I understand (and tell students) the institution I work for has a MOU with our local runaka and in this agreement it states that as a whole institution we will abide by our runaka’s tikaka (cultural) practices as per the Treaty of Waitangi. I find once students have context and logic presented to them for cultural practices- then the communication (i.e. social relations) flows a lot better as they can then participate in a meaningful way (sharing in cultural logic).
• How can consideration of diversity benefit the learner?
It actually benefits us all by teaching patience and tolerance- (but only through maintaining high standards). By acknowledging diversity amongst learners means I don’t expect my students to be the ‘same’ so I have to have different ways of communicating and presenting information so they can access learning.
It also allows the culture of learning (ako) and facilitation to be challenged in different ways. As part of an in-class activity this year  I submitted a short piece of work to students that I wrote and I then asked them to award a grade with a short rationale as to why. Apart from the ‘joke’ that they were now assessing me, I encouraged them to use my marking criteria as a close guide and to help them come to terms with ‘assessment speak’. They then had to present back as to what mark they would give me and why. I then marked my own work in front of the class, and explained why. I was at least a grade or two below the students’ grades and although they said I should be nicer to myself- it was a good activity to clearly show where the expectation was. We then worked as groups to change, edit and develop the work I had done to gain a higher quality of work. This exercise took about half an hour but I think it was valuable as it offered an alternative method to explaining about assessment, by instead demonstrating marking in real time to students and through the discussion we had.
• What are the challenges?
One of the big challenges is breaking down the myth that Culture diversity is about being ‘different’ from the ‘norm’. I find that once students can articulate clearly about their own cultural context (which we do in one of their assessments) this helps ‘tease’ the term culture out. Culture is a concept that; applies to groups, is learned, includes beliefs, values, ideas , material artifacts and behaviours and changes over times (although it ‘roots’ are in the past), (Peter Morris, 2000).
If we accept Morris’ ideas about culture, then we are all cultural begins! The other challenge of course is trying to be continually ‘savvy’ as to how you use your time with students- to get the most ‘benefit’ out of the learning context….
Ka mihi Gina

Monaghan,J. & Just, P.(2000). Social and cultural anthropology: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Morris, P. (2000). Culture a brief look at it’s definition. Retrieved from:

Otago Polytechnic (2009) Otago Polytechnic Academic Policy: Assessment. Retrieved from:
Rameka, L. (2007). Mäori Approaches to Assessment.Canadian Journal of Native Education. 30 (1), p. 126 - 191.

1 comment:

  1. Gina I can really relate to this statement you made about the meaning of cultural diversity: "we are not only working out the relationships between groups of students/colleagues/wider community etc, but also the cultural logic that drive the individuals within these groups."

    You also mention the culture of learning, and this is probably a significant driver in the classroom. How do teachers and students together manage to make sense of learning in their context? A structure is followed and perhaps some negotiation of the learning process occurs. Each class develops rapport and respect for others' views and differences. But is that enough? At the moment learning is still pretty traditional even with terms such as experiential learning and active learning etc being bandied around. Learning is still relatively mechanistic - a series of activities and content then assessment. I think we are still stuck in a traditional model on the whole even when 'blended' though within that teachers are becoming more creative.

    From my perspective, if we moved into what is being described by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011) as the "new culture of learning", diversity would disappear, since learning would become more personalised. Any boundaries or differences that existed would not be seen as hurdles or barriers but as exciting challenges to which students would be supported to explore to find creative solutions. Learning would naturally become more inclusive.

    In this new culture, apparently teachers and students develop their learning environment in response to the situation at the time rather than in response to standardised tests and specific content that has to be covered. As such, learning occurs through engagement with the world rather than about the world. The use of digital media networks is key according to the authors, as is play and imagination.

    Our world is in a constant state of change, so can this new culture of learning deliver do you think?

    Thomas, D. & Seely Brown, J. (2011). A new culture of learning. No publisher mentioned.