Dr Monica Chavez, Centre for Innovation in Education, University of Liverpool
Designed for Evolution
As we come out from a year of lockdown, we will see more conscious humans emerge from the aftermath of Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. More than ever, being confronted with the realities of ‘otherness’ were maximised during Covid-19: disparities in healthcare provision, inequalities in the workplace, and digital poverty, among other complex issues, were unveiled by the equalising experience of a lockdown.
As a community, we should be ready to see changes in our practice and ask ourselves difficult questions: How do we design for inclusion from the outset for staff and students? How do we allocate work to diverse teams in the classroom and in the office? How do we make everyone feel that they belong?
Matt Lingard and I discussed in our first Anti-Racism & Learning Technology CoP blog post that communities tend to favour the status quo. However, according to Wenger, McDermott & Snyder (2002), one of the seven principles for cultivating communities of practice is to ‘design for evolution’. This year’s conference theme Shared Experience, Different Perspective offers the perfect opportunity to explore how we are doing in crucial conversations and issues around Inclusive Practice and evolve into more conscious professionals and practitioners.
Personally, I would love to see representation of different ethnic groups as conference chairs, panels, editorial teams, and to learn from the inclusive practice not only in terms of digital tools for learning, teaching and assessment, but also in creating more equal workplaces and seeing inclusive leadership operationalised.
The pursuit of belonging
Coming to the United Kingdom to study was my childhood dream and eventually became a life-changing experience. Little I knew of the politics of academia, publishing, and the struggles of non-native speakers of English to succeed in the Anglophone educational system, even less so about inclusivity in higher education.
I was part of a deeply ‘colonised’ subject (English linguistics) for years. It was understood and passed on as a subtle message that I didn’t have a voice, that my profile would never be favoured, that I didn’t belong. I escaped a patriarchal system in Latin America and eventually in an academic discipline, only to find out it existed wherever I went, in society, in academia, and in the expectations of a brown woman that should ‘know her place’. To thrive, I developed a double ‘self’ or double consciousness to operate in predominantly White professional communities with a set of expected behaviours and rules. This split of the self, although detrimental at times, has also inspired my work.
I describe my work as the intersection between digital education and Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging (EDI&B). There are typically three types of conversations I have around race with colleagues from across the digital education sector:
Conversations with ethnically diverse people. My conversations tend to fluctuate between pain and hope, empowerment and resentment. I urge them not to fall victims and give their power away. To heal and move forward to their own journey of belonging, where professional and personal growth is normally the only way forward.
Conversations with White colleagues. A large number of people are interested in race equality, whether race biases directly affect them or not. When I have these conversations we go through the motions of curiosity and education.
Curiosity is key because it allows for an exploration of the other and of the self (self-awareness), whereas education involves doing the work, researching and reading on the experiences of others who don’t look like them. The more conversations I have, the more I realise compassion is key to allow you to see from someone else’s point of view, to really understand the experience of other people.
Conversations with the Community. These conversations should be happening all across the different communities we belong to professionally and as a society. It is not enough to say ‘I am not a racist’, one must strive towards something, not only be against something. I think it often involves a shift in consciousness that only comes through personal development and curiosity. An increasing awareness of one’s past of either the ‘coloniser’ or the ‘colonised’, the present reality, and having a clear vision of where we would like to go as a collective.
The change, however, will not only come from those already ‘woke’, it will also come from those who are ready to be uncomfortable and explore their privilege and know who they are and how they can help.
So, do I feel like I belong?
Over time I learned that I belonged to the core person and professional under the layers of race, gender and nationality. I have experienced the forces of racism, sexism, ablesim, ‘gradism’, tokenism, and just blunt ignorance. But I have a choice, we all do. I choose to belong to my core values and to never give my power away.
Belonging is a journey and a practice. A personal journey to who you really are infused by lots of learning, and a practice that is both personal and collective. We all have a role (beyond the occasional tweet) to be active and create a more inclusive culture and practice in the digital education sector.
How would you like to see our community evolve? Share your thoughts or an image on the Vision board for Inclusive Practice in Learning Technology
Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Harvard Business Press.