Making Values and Culture Manifest and Manifold

Over at his blog, Mark Guzdial has raised questions about the ability of (a) curricula and (b) instruction to be value-/culture-neutral. I wonder whether it isn’t more important that they be manifest and manifold in education.

In other words, we need value transparency, to express the values and cultural biases in our designs clearly and publicly. When we choose what learning outcomes to include in a curriculum and when we create instructional plans intended to help learners attain those outcomes, we make value choices based on our own prior experience, and often do so unconsciously. Probability examples that rely on a 52-card deck and programming exercises that remake western-style games are necessarily rooted in our past experience. That implies that some learners– those who don’t share our experiences– will have a higher cognitive load when faced with these tasks, working to attain not only our intended learning outcomes, but also to build knowledge and skills related to the new (to them) problem context.

We need to be sensitive to this and provide the supports necessary to promote success. One way to do this is to represent core ideas in multiple ways, creating banks of culturally diverse, parallel examples of instruction that speak to the same set of intended learning outcomes. For example, do we need probability examples to rely on dice, cards, and coins? How else might one think about probability, assuming that those objects aren’t part of your daily life?

I can imagine a rich collection of activities, presentations, etc. that could be used not only as teaching aids, but also as tools to train teachers about diverse ways to represent ideas. Even within my own cultural context, I find myself often looking for new ways to introduce learners to a topic (nifty assignments, anyone?).