How do I engage with (my own) perspectives?
Teachers everywhere find themselves in rapidly changing contexts driven by global forces. These globalized forces co-construct and propel each other, resulting in unique contemporary challenges. Most recently the world experienced the drastic effects of a global pandemic on all areas of life – including (higher) education. We witnessed an acceleration in the transition to online education as a result of safety measures that were taken to protect the health of students and staff. The experiences of COVID-19 lockdown education show that individual students were affected differently by these measures. Those in particularly vulnerable situations were disproportionately compromised by the adaptations made to education, putting precisely those groups that were already in a precarious position at an increased risk of exclusion (Mhandu et al., 2021). Data at the institutional level as well as regional and European research provide hard evidence that inequality of opportunities persists all throughout higher education online as well as offline. Characteristics such as sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, skin colour, religion, able-bodiedness, or socioeconomic class among others often influence access to, success, and belonging in higher education (Heide, 2022).
Teachers thus find themselves in continuously changing contexts within as well as outside of the classroom that influence each other. Situating oneself on a personal level in these ‘contexts within contexts’ can be daunting, overwhelming, and difficult.
Yet, it is important to reflect on the relationship between our individual attitudes and these contexts because our fundamental beliefs shape what values we uphold, our understanding of the world, and how we assign meaning to all that occurs around us (Marsen, 2008). Moreover, it informs the rationales that we carry with us into the classroom and our conduct in that space. The way our behaviour influences classrooms and the interactions taking place in them are complex because of the myriad of factors at play. The act of situating oneself on a personal level in a given context refers to an awareness of the ways in which one’s presence and positionality – including personal values, preferences, and power – produce certain dynamics that affect an environment.
Positionality is a concept through which to understand what role we take on in certain social interactions. It is the social, cultural, and political context that create your specific identity, and how that identity influences the way you view and understand the world. For digital education, positionality entails the awareness of the ways in which our personal experiences and background influence our interactions and perceptions in the digital classroom environment. In this way, positionality helps putting into words the invisible social dynamics of the virtual classroom. Reflecting on positionality, by exploring your perspective of a given situation and how this shapes your behaviour, helps better understand how your personal background and lived experience shape – and bias – that situation. The identity wheel (Figure 1) can be useful for reflecting about your identities. It shows the multiple and different ways that people socially identify themselves.
As a teacher, it is important to reflect on the effect you have on the digital classroom environment, especially considering how much influence teachers have in comparison to students in the hierarchical structure of educational institutions. Put differently, in comparison with students, teachers generally have more agency in the classroom context, which is the ability to actively govern one’s experience through specific interventions that produce desired outcomes, as opposed to being passively subjected to circumstances.
Figure 1. Reprinted from Kalish, C., Medley, T., & Adams, D. (2021, June 3). How medical practices can continue the journey toward diversity, acceptance and inclusion. MGMA. https://www.mgma.com/resources/human-resources/how-medical-practices-can-continue-the-journey-tow