Learning from Interaction with Course Material

In a class with both majority and minority students, it is not the job of minority students to help other students understand issues such as prejudice, exclusion, and discrimination. The instructor can focus student attention on demographic realities, on a reading, or on a video segment. Students are then asked to analyze or respond to the information, an author's point of view, or a character's actions. There are a number of approaches:

Have students apply census data and other demographic information.
The United States has become one of the most racially and ethnically heterogeneous countries in the world. In Wisconsin , there was a 42% increase in members of ethnic minority groups from 1990 to 2000, to 11.1% of the population. When students are asked to consider the implications of these changes on their own future, this can increase their motivation to develop skills and understanding necessary for working and living in a diverse society and world. Two excellent websites for census information are The U.S. Census Bureau and the University of Wisconsin's Applied Population Laboratory.

Especially with issues like prejudice and discrimination, many white students may be unaware of the current pervasiveness and impact of prejudice and discrimination. Students can read recent studies on hiring, lending, and housing and respond as to the likely impacts on those affected.

When students are reading first person accounts, ask students to compare and contrast the experience of the authors/characters with their own.
We all have multiple social identities. In written work and class discussion, students can respond to questions like:

  1. In what way was that person's experience similar to yours?
  2. In what ways was it different?
  3. How does the reading (and maybe the difference between that person's experience and yours) illustrate . . .?

Personalize student response to readings by asking them to agree, disagree, and apply the material to their lives.
Students can not passively read assignments when they are prompted to ask questions that make them point out what they agree and disagree with, or how they could utilize the information:

  1. What in the readings was particularly interesting, surprised you, or was new information for you?
  2. What are some things you agree with? Explain how or why?
  3. What are some things you disagree with? Explain how or why?
  4. In what ways might the information in the reading be useful to you?
  5. How do the readings illustrate . . . ?

Help students sharpen their ability to determine the credibility and truthfulness of information
What students “know” may not be factually true. One approach to countering erroneous preconceptions that may be based more on anecdote than the preponderance of evidence is to have students examine the certainty of the truth of their propositions and to examine the credibility of the source of information.

Instructors who have taught a class before have an understanding of common preconceptions. A pre-test can be used—in class or on Desire2Learn—that gives the instructor an idea of student on student knowledge on a topic and students' level of conviction of their knowledge. One format is to ask a variation of True-False statements and then have students circle one of the following:

I'm absolutely
sure that it is true

I'm pretty sure
that it is true

I have no idea
whether it is
true or false

I'm pretty sure
it is false

I'm absolutely
sure that it is
false

In the discussion of student responses, students may then be asked for the source of their answers. A presentation on source credibility may also be useful.

Stating that it is not the job of minority students to educate their peers is not to say that students will not learn from each other. In a class in which students feel safe to discuss issues, students may learn as much from each as from any other source. The distinction is that there is not the expectation that some students will teach other students.