As a Political Science instructor, I have taught a wide range of courses for diverse groups of students representing different cultures and ethnicities. These experiences of teaching in multicultural settings have led me to develop a pedagogical stance centered upon critical inquiry based on respect, active engagement, and critical thinking.
By respect, I refer to respect for diversity of cultures and perspectives, which includes the instructor’s recognition that our own stereotypes may influence how we behave toward others. I try to foster an environment that is safe from the threat of stereotyping through pedagogical strategies that maintain fairness. To this end, I design in-class questions that allow students to approach political issues from diverse perspectives. In one activity that incorporated art, students were asked to draw an image of a terrorist. Drawing allows students to actively engage and visualize their thoughts. In the discussion that followed, students reflected upon the similarities of their drawings and what it revealed of their own stereotypes in examining world affairs.
A critical role in the process of learning is discussion grounded in assigned readings and lecture material. This type of material-centered discussion helps emphasize multiple perspectives on topics that are relevant to the contemporary world. For example, I use the think/pair/share method of discussion. First, I ask students to think individually about a question posed in class, then divide them into small groups to discuss their thoughts. Later, students discuss their thoughts as part of a large group. This method allows students to revisit concepts and build their comprehension of the course material collectively. At times, groups are asked questions that challenge their initial views. For instance, after reading about a case of terrorism (e.g. the March 11 bombings in Madrid) students come to class prepared with their own opinions on the incident. After surveying their original perspectives, they were asked to consider the reasons behind the terrorist attack. In so doing, I instructed students to pay attention to how economic and political factors might influence terrorist development. These exercises encourage students to formulate their ideas, provoke their imagination, and explore different viewpoints. In this process, students come to an understanding that various points of views may exist and to respect the ideas of others by responding constructively. Also, as questions serve to construct knowledge, discussions facilitate students’ ability to recall information and push them to critically engage the material. The grading scheme on discussions does not depend on whether the students’ positions are aligned with my political ideas, but on their understanding of the material and the reasoning they employ to support their positions. This allows students to feel safe to explore their own views in the classroom.
I also use extra credit opportunities to engage students on supplement topics relevant to the course. For example, students are encouraged to pick lectures that are organized by different departments on issues related to politics. Using a problem-focused approach, I ask students to write a reflection paper about the lectures that briefly summarizes the topic, identifies controversies or problems addressed in the lecture, and states the students’ own arguments, explaining why they hold the views they do. For example, in one EC task students wrote a reflection assignment after attending a lecture on the U.S. presidential race. This encourages students to be actively engaged in a political learning environment outside of class and become involved in current political developments relevant to society. The written reflection also pushes students to further use critical thinking skills in analyzing the lecture, applying theories of politics learned in class, and organizing their ideas in a logical, argumentative sequence. In this process, students gain an understanding of objective and subjective information framing, which they identify through their critical analytical skills.
By designing and teaching courses with the purpose of encouraging critical thinking, engagement, and an environment that respects diversity, I help my students learn the material, acquire critical skills, and become more accepting of different views of the world.