NEWSLETTER: VOL III, # 8, December 22, 1998
Using Technology to Build A Gateway to Diversity
Rea Kirk, Assistant Professor
Tom LoGuidice, Professor
John Nkemnji, Professor
School of Education, UW-Platteville
The student body population at UW-Platteville is over 90% Caucasian. Creating partnerships among and between students and professors, inner-city schools and our university, and Caucasian people with people of color was our goal. How to do this was our dilemma. We wanted to explore issues of race, culture, class, and gender in an atmosphere of honesty and openness knowing that we were addressing issues which would make many of our students uncomfortable. We wanted to do more than superficially study these issues, but conduct an in-depth exploration of them and have our students truly become reflective thinkers. Yet we knew that to do so would require a safe atmosphere, one in which students would feel free to take risks to express their real feelings and thoughts.
We decided to do an action research project using technology. The objective of this project was to determine if an electronic environment is conducive to the development of reflective thinking, honest and open discussion, awareness and acceptance of divergent views, and creative and lasting partnerships. Towards this end, we have conducted a three-pronged technology approach.
First, a private chat room entitled "Learning Encompassing the Exceptional Learner and Education in a Multicultural Society" and open only to our graduate students was established in January, 1998 through NiceNet (www.nicenet.org). In the chat room, students talk about their field experiences, the classroom, the textbook, and other reading experiences. They read and respond to comments and suggestions made, and questions posed, by their peers. All students in the class are required to generate responses in the chat room as part of their course responsibilities. In addition, we set up a distance learning experience where our students could communicate on a weekly basis with a classroom of middle school students from inner-city Milwaukee. These middle school students were mostly African-American, with Latino being the second, Hmong the third, and Caucasian the fourth largest ethnic groups respectively. The third prong of project was the use of e-mail partners to encourage discussion. Our students were paired with students from the two Milwaukee middle schools and each pair became "tech-buddies." They could e-mail back and forth and thus build a personal relationship. Our students learned to erase their stereotypes of inner city students of color with the help of this project; and the Milwaukee middle school students learned that college could be part of their vocabulary and their dreams.
Through this project, we have learned new ways to use technology to improve student learning and growth. And, together, we have used technology to create lasting partnerships, to create bridges across ethnic, gender, class and sexual preference boundaries.