New Century Students and culturally relevant pedagogy #MHAnnualLecture19

close up of multi colored pencils
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I recently attended the Moray House School of Education Annual Lecture, given by Professor Gloria Ladson-Billings, titled “Going Global: Teaching New Century Students in a Diverse and Digital World“. Aimed at those in the School of Education, there was naturally some application to work I do as a librarian supporting the information literacy of Higher Education students.

Professor Ladson-Billings explored how young people are reshaping the world and rethinking things which we take for granted; and how we as teachers can more successfully engage with these students. Ladson-Billings coined the term “culturally relevant pedagogy” in the 1990s, to describe how teachers are engaging with youth culture (though, she emphasised, of course they’re not calling it that themselves!) to support students’ learning, cultural competence, and socio-political consciousness.

It seems like common sense, surely, to make lessons as relevant to the students as possible? Of course, but Ladson-Billings brings a minoritised group, African American students, to the forefront in her work on pedagogical theory. How often, she asked, are they considered the norm? And culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) is a standard for teaching that will work for all students.

Ladson-Billings, a university professor, pointed out Universities’ preoccupation with coverage, rather than depth. This leads to the notion among course leaders that high failure rates equal rigor. As a librarian, I hope we resist this (though we are not exempt from the need to critically review how we maintain this status quo, of course) because the type of teaching (at least that I do) is around enabling the students to succeed as students and researchers. If there was a high failure rate for library and information related activities, I wouldn’t be doing my job properly. At least, that’s how I see it.

Ladson-Billings said in her talk, “My course had the highest grade-point average in the university. I didn’t know that was supposed to be a bad thing!”

She went on to explore how CRP can meet the needs of New Century students. These students have different tendencies: they see multitasking as efficient; see themselves as ‘consumers’ of universities; email is an old technology; have very different conceptions of copyright, IP and plagiarism rules. Ladson-Billings emphasised that’s not say we have to adapt to meet their standards, but that these can help us understand their experiences and where they are coming from.

She laid it out for us: kids haven’t changed, but the experiences kids come to university with have changed, and technology has widened the generational gap. These tendencies have implications for how we are supporting information literacy; in our teaching activities, and the content we are teaching.

The lecture reinforced my feelings on doing the Edinburgh Teaching Award, a route to work towards Higher Education Academy fellowship, to strengthen my knowledge of pedagogy and teaching theory.

Ladson-Billings ended with some examples of graduates from her programme at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I really enjoyed this video in particular.

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