Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Diversity Makes You Smarter

Just came to my email box:

Do Faculty Interactions Among Diverse Students Enhance Intellectual Development?

A fundamental assumption that underscores the position of those who support incorporating diversity into the dynamics of the college classroom is that positive intellectual and social outcomes will occur. A growing number of studies support this finding (Astin, 1993; Chang, 1999; Goon, 1999); however, most did not use a strong research design. While surveys, focus groups, self-reported data, correlational designs, and ethnographic studies yield important information, what is needed are the results generated by an experimental design. A recent study that appeared in Psychological Science not only provides such an experimental framework but also reports results in an extremely valuable area - cognitive development.

Antonio et al. (2004) used a research design that permits examination of the effects of diversity on integrative complexity (IC), which refers to the degree to which students' cognitive style involves differentiation and integration of multiple perspectives. Low IC students take a simple, less complicated approach to reasoning, decision making, and evaluating information. High IC students evaluate, in a reflective way, various perspectives, solutions, and discussion. The researchers used small-group discussions and varied group racial composition and group opinion about a target social issue. Among the significant findings was that the presence of minority students in a group of White students leads to a greater level of cognitive complexity. In addition, the racial diversity of a student's close friends and classmates has a greater impact on IC than does the diversity of the discussion group. This latter finding implies that prolonged contact may have a stronger effect on cognitive complexity than does singular or intermittent contact.

The interaction among diverse student groups within a formal classroom setting forms the basis of mandatory diversity requirements that generally range from 3 to 12 credit hours on many campuses. For example, the University of California, Berkeley has an American cultures (AC) requirement for its undergraduates. Faculty thread comparative analyses of their teaching and research across complex discussions, and the AC requirement is treated as a living, evolving effort that expands in scope as the need arises. Unfortunately, on many campuses, the learning outcomes associated with such requirements are not always evident, nor are they linked to effective teaching strategies.

Concrete Success Strategies and Programs

While many institutions exhibit both symbolic and verbal support for the academic success of diverse student populations, a smaller percentage of colleges and universities have committed to long-term support of concrete programs with proven records of success. Such programs emphasize various aspects of the teaching/learning paradigm and are especially important for science, math, engineering, and technical courses-areas that historically have been problematic for diverse students. The consistency of such programs results from a merger of proven techniques and identification of the students' needs, weaknesses, goals, values, and expectations of diverse populations.

The programs share certain characteristics that establish the framework for the more specific approaches, including:

* They move students from individual levels of academic self-esteem to a sense of collective identity.
* They front-load their activities so that diverse students develop a firm foundation and are better prepared for the more difficult upper-level courses.
* They align entering students with upper-level students, graduate students, and faculty members, in many cases establishing formal mentoring efforts.
* They sustain program excellence by maintaining high standards, rigor, and scholarly nurturing.
* They use a developmental or phase-development process that moves students from lower to higher levels of analytical thinking, problem solving, reasoning, and active learning.

The University of Washington has supported a long-running successful program in physics and biology for students of color; Table 4.3 identifies the classroom strategies that are aligned with successful program outcomes.

This program recognizes that even students with good academic profiles can vary significantly in their conceptual and analytical abilities, critical thinking skills, and general level of academic preparation.
To commit to a model of diversity and inclusive teaching, faculty must accept the roles and responsibilities associated with transforming a classroom. The shift from a traditional classroom to one that is transformed is no easy task. Many factors can influence such a shift and they may not all converge at the same time. Table 4.4 compares how characteristics change in the transformative shift.

The move from a traditional to a transformed curriculum connects curricular and pedagogical change. Because such a shift engenders political ambiguity in many, it is important to keep the relationship between diversity and excellence front and center in all discussions.
You can read more here...

Nothing here would shock me, that is, it confirms what I've thought for a long time. I suppose this is just preaching to the choir since those who spout off about diversity-enhancing programs such as Affirmative Action are not looking at the research much anyway, or they are possibly looking at partial research..

Update and other thoughts...

As a prof at the most diverse private liberal arts school in the country (Whittier College), I can only agree that diversity is good. I see it every day on an anecdotal level. Yes, it has its challenges--diversity is the opposite of factory schooling, uniformity--but that is also why it is so effective.